The Best of Intentions
copyright 2012, Enfleurage
Chapter 6: Triage
It was endlessly long wait; fidget-filled minutes spent listening to communications between the various companies on scene come across the HT. His free-floating anxiety was only mildly distracted when a Mayfair ambulance arrived on scene, but ten seconds later, when Steve Ferrara climbed out the back of Mayfair, he was good and distracted.
Ferrara's head swiveled back and forth, gaze slowly sweeping the entire scene, and then he headed straight for Bobby Harrison at Engine 22, pace increasing until he was trotting and then jogging.
They were too far away for Roy to make out any of the words and Steve Ferrara was one of the more soft-spoken guys he'd ever known, so he contented himself with keeping a worried eye on 22's paramedic. If he were in Ferrara's shoes, his stomach would be a churning mess of snakes, writhing around and poisoning him from the inside. Maybe it was a good thing that the trip to and from Rampart with his smoke inhalation patient had taken so long.
"What do you mean they're still inside?"
Huh, Roy thought. For someone who you sometimes had to really listen hard to hear, Ferrara could project when he wanted to. Or needed to.
Harrison was waving his arms in the air, gesturing at the building, gesturing at Engine 51 and then he grabbed Ferrara's left shoulder and held on to it for a few minutes while he talked, and then talked some more. Ferrara listened, narrow face frozen, blindly nodding at whatever Harrison was saying. And then when Harrison finished saying what he had to say, or maybe just ran out of words, Ferrara looked around, spotted the very obvious triage area and headed straight towards it.
"How bad is it?" Ferrara finally said, voice raspy and terse, looking at the building instead of at Roy.
"I don't know, Steve. Our Engine crew is in there looking for them, but they're over five minutes past their scheduled check-in." He held up his HT. "To tell you the truth, I got a knot in my stomach too."
Ferrara took a deep breath and then sighed it all out, nodding as he did so and some life came back into his eyes.
"What can I do?"
It sounded to Roy's ears an awful lot like 'Give me something to do.'
A burst of static from the HT caught their attention. Silence. And then another burst of static.
Static, static, static….
"….alion 14, HT 51. Do you copy?"
Definitely Cap, and he was machine-gunning his words in that rapid, very clipped tone of voice he used when things were hopping. Roy found himself automatically leaning forward, anticipating orders.
"You're breaking up some, but I copy, 51," the Chief said.
"…delay in contact….we got 'em, Chief….entrapment from an interior wall collapse affecting the switch control room…." Another burst of static, longer than the previous ones and then, "I repeat, Code I times four."
"Those are the guys from 22, right?" Johnny whispered a little nervously, pacing back and forth along the side of the Squad, with a quick guilty look at Ferrara.
Roy started to nod but then changed mid-gesture into a shrug as he watched a group of what appeared to be civilians clustered around Chief Miller and pouring over blueprints.
"Yeah," he said. "Kelleher and the guys who went in after him: 22's Captain and their linemen."
"Your transmission is breaking up, 51. What is your exact location?"
"….get near a window…"
A few long, breathlessly long, seconds of silence, of more waiting.
"Battalion 14, HT 51. Do you copy?"
It was about a clear a transmission as anyone could expect over an HT spoken through a facemask amidst a hell of a lot of ambient noise from the scene. Roy sighed and saw a corner of Johnny's mouth tip upward.
"Loud and clear, 51."
"Chief, our location is almost exact midpoint on the North side of floor four…"
One of the civilians near the Chief pointed to something on the map and the rest of them nodded in agreement.
"….we are going to need assistance to get these guys out of here."
"Truck 86 is available, and Squad 51 is on scene and can assist you inside."
"Negative, Chief," Cap said, quickly enough that he either never gave it a thought or had considered and dismissed it already. "It's getting a little hot in here and these Code Is are not able to walk down a ladder. We need a rapid evac and treat on the ground. I'll knock out the window where we'll hand off."
In the distance, Chief Miller bent over the blueprints and then raised his head and looked directly at the fourth floor as if he could see his men inside.
"Snorkel 127, Battalion 14. Assist 51's rescue on the North side of the building. Floor four, window number five from the northwest corner. Look for 51's signal."
"Battalion 14, Snorkel 127. 10-4."
"Truck 74, Battalion 14. Assume Snorkel 127's assignment and keep water on that fuel tank and generator."
"Battalion 14, Truck 74. 10-4."
"Engine 51, HT 51. You copy my last transmission?"
"Every word, Cap," Stoker said, and even over the HT, Roy could hear the underlying sense of relief intertwined with Mike's calm. "We've got stuff prepped for you down here. Tell me what you need."
"Are Gage and DeSoto with you, Mike?"
Roy thumbed his HT before Stoker could answer. "We're here, Cap."
"Roy, we've got one case of smoke inhalation and loss of consciousness. The rest are injuries sustained in the interior wall collapse. Victim two has a fractured radius and ulna and probable concussion. Victim three has a dislocated elbow. Victim four has a fractured femur. Everyone ate some smoke so they're going to need O2 as soon as you get them but victim one is going out first."
He was pretty sure that victim one was Kelleher and what Cap wasn't saying was that Kelleher was in pretty bad shape. From Ferrara's anxious pacing, he'd heard what wasn't being said too.
"Mike, if there's anyone in the perimeter around midpoint, north side, you might want to give them a debris fall warning."
As Roy was turning to look, Stoker said, "You're clear, Cap."
He watched Snorkel 127 come lumbering around the back, the west side, of the building, crawling into position to approach midpoint in between Truck 43 at the northeast corner and Truck 86 which had been pouring water through the windows on the second floor in the northwest corner of the building since he'd come on scene.
Cap must have seen the Snorkel approaching too. Roy couldn't hear the window glass shattering, but he could see some of the falling shards, oddly beautiful in the reflected light from the Light Truck mixed with the streaming water that an Engine company on the ground was shooting into the first floor. The head of the axe came through the window again, clearing out framing and panels of glass that hadn't fallen the first time.
Axe marks the spot, he thought and smiled, his own small, only slightly lame joke that he'd probably tell his partner later, not that Johnny would find it funny.
Gage swiveled to look at him.
"Let's get set up. We're going to need O2 on everyone, splints for the arm injuries, possibly a traction splint for the femur, and probably Stokes for two of the guys."
By the time they had the triage center set up and ready, Snorkel 127 was in position, spreading its A-frame stabilizers.
Roy and Ferrara grabbed the two Stokes and carried them, huffing a bit towards the Snorkel. He could feel the sweat pouring down between his shoulder blades and the tips of his ears were growing hot. Engine 43 to their left had a hose stream trained on the second floor windows above them, and the spray that blew their way was refreshingly cool.
"Five bucks says that cable vault'll burn through midday tomorrow," one of the guys from 127 was saying as Roy passed the Stokes baskets up.
"No bet," 127's Lieutenant replied. "It'll burn through Thanksgiving if we can't get more water on it. Those cables come in underground. Wonder how far that fire extends."
Roy looked down at the pavement beneath his feet and had a few uneasy moments contemplating an underground fire moving outward away from the building, under the parking lot, underneath all the Engines and Trucks and their triage area.
Finally, 127's long articulating boom began steadily rising towards the fourth floor window Cap had cleared.
Roy glanced over at Ferrara but his gaze was trained on the rising boom and the fourth floor window, top teeth chewing away at his bottom lip as the bucket reached the fourth floor.
Above them, Marco appeared at the window and took the Stokes that was passed up, handing it to someone behind him. Then he grabbed the railing of the Snorkel's bucket and helped one of 22's crew step over the railing and down into the arms of 127's operator.
Roy released a breath; one on his way to safety.
The spotlight glinted off a yellow blanket in the Stokes about seventy-five feet above their heads, handed carefully down into the bucket and then secured across the railings as best as possible, with 127's operator in one corner of the bucket and the other injured guy from 22s diagonally across from him. Ferrara shifted in place, anxious to get started, needing to take care of his partner and his crew.
Roy knew from experience that standing inside the bucket as the Snorkel raised or lowered it felt like a controlled rush, a glide. From the ground, it felt more like watching a snail crawl; the long seconds were interminable as they waited for the bucket to reach them.
And then, just like every other time Roy had been on a scene where a firefighter had been trapped or injured, there were more hands than strictly needed to help carry Matt Kelleher, pale, motionless, with a definite gray-blue tinge to his face. Ferrara walked at the head of the Stokes, talking quietly to his partner the fifty yards to the triage area and then took a stethoscope from Gage with a silent nod of thanks. He unwrapped the blanket to begin a vitals check while Gage set an oxygen mask over Kelleher's face.
Roy walked 22's lineman, Alex van der Heijden towards the triage area. Based on his dazed expression and his lack of response to verbal queries, he was probably concussed and his right arm was tucked into his coat in an attempt to protect it from jarring.
"I got him," Gage said, meeting him midway. Between the two of them, they half-walked, half-carried van der Heijden to a yellow blanket.
By the time he returned to the Snorkel, the bucket had climbed most of the way back up to the fourth floor. He waited, watching as it reached its destination. Marco helped 22's other lineman, Carl Ostrander, step down into the bucket, steadied immediately by 127's operator.
43's Captain was standing by the Snorkel and nodded to Roy.
"Shafer and DeAngelo caught a ride on a Mayfair back here. They're about three minutes out, maybe less."
"Good," Roy said, meaning it. Three paramedics for four firefighters with mostly unknown injuries was less than ideal. "We're gonna need their help."
43's Captain was looking upward now at the window, his jaw tightening. Roy followed his gaze upward and watched Captain Stanley lean down and rest his hand momentarily on the last of 22's injured guys, clearly reassuring what had to be 22's Captain in the Stokes. Then Cap helped Marco maneuver the Stokes into the Snorkel's bucket, wedging it between Ostrander who grabbed for it with his right hand, and 127's guy.
Cap said something to the guy from 127s who nodded in return and then the bucket pulled away.
Roy watched it descend, ever so slowly, and then glanced back up at the window, surprised to not see 51s crew waiting for their ride. Cap probably had them cleaning up, making sure that any equipment they'd carried in was coming back out with them.
He waited in silence, relieved that 43's Captain didn't feel the need to make small talk; he was busy, mentally triaging. Ferrara was going to treat Kelleher; he'd made that clear. Whether that was a good idea or not, Roy wasn't going to argue. He knew that if it had been Johnny – and considering Kelleher's condition, he said a quick prayer of thanks that it was not - he would have insisted on that right too. Johnny was treating van der Heijden. Based on what he'd seen of the transfer into the bucket, it was 22's Captain with the broken femur. Ostrander could wait until 43's paramedics arrived on scene; a fractured femur took precedence.
He chewed on the corner of his right thumb and then spat it out, scowling; it tasted like smoke, the noxious taste of an electrical fire.
He turned around and glanced back at the triage area, yellow blankets overlapping, treatment areas laid out and organized so that one biophone, oxygen tank set-up, EKG monitor, defibrillator, trauma and drug box could be easily accessed by two different paramedics, each working on his own patient. With the equipment from Squads 22 and 51, they'd set up two separate and distinct treatment areas, each able to treat two patients with shared equipment.
Naturally, Steve Ferrara was in one, with the handle of Squad 22's biophone cradled against his ear, and John Gage was in the other, in the process of starting on an IV on van der Heijden.
Roy sighed and shook his head, and then, as he heard a noise behind him, turned a little to his left.
For a moment, it sounded as if he was at the beach and there was a wave coming in, crashing on shore and then he was falling forward, grabbing for the side of the Snorkel to keep his balance, hands sliding off its chrome. He hit pavement far harder than he should have from such a short distance, from a nothing fall.
There was a buzzing in his head when he opened his eyes, and the world was full of tiny, narrow cracks. He blinked once and then again and a third time, until he realized that the tiny little lines were real and not a product of out of focus eyes. There was a hand on his left shoulder and someone's fingers scrabbling at his coat and hauling him up from the pavement.
Someone was talking to him but Roy couldn't make out what he was saying. The ringing in his ears was drowning out the words and the buzzing in his head made it impossible to read lips. He let the other fireman – 43's Captain, he finally realized - pull him up into a sitting position and then, remembering that he was waiting for the injured men in the Snorkel's bucket to reach the ground, turned and looked over the shoulder of 43's Captain. He was facing the wrong way though; he was looking back at the triage area. He could see Gage put a hand on van der Heijden, lean down to say something and then he turned and started running towards Roy.
The buzzing inside his head was lessening and though the ringing wasn't going away, he could now hear just well enough that he heard the distant sound of someone shouting.
He turned to his left to try to figure out if they were shouting at him and then he froze, eyes widening, mouth opening. He pushed upward, trying to climb to his feet, and grabbed at one of the Snorkel's stabilizers for leverage. On his feet now, he took a step forward and stared up at the building. Stared up at the flames climbing out of the windows of the fourth and fifth floors, spreading and trying to devour the upper levels of the building.
The flames were spreading from all of the windows but one, and that was only because Truck 86 had already adjusted its position and was pouring water into the fifth window on the fourth floor. Big wet curls of smoke were rolling out of that window.
A hand grabbed the back of his coat and he turned into his partner's shell-shocked expression.
"You okay?" Johnny said slowly, making it easy to read his lips as if Roy couldn't have read his partner's face. "Roy, man, you were pretty close to that blast. Are you okay?"
He turned back to look at the Snorkel, at the bucket that was almost but not quite to the ground, at both 127's operator and Ostrander leaning dangerously far over the side of the bucket, Ostrander's face reddened, contorted in pain or concentration as he strained to hold onto his Captain's Stokes with only his right hand. 127's guy was leaning almost halfway out of the bucket but had both hands on the Stokes basket that swayed back and forth below him, Wozniak still strapped in place.
There were three or four firemen gathered on the ground below, reaching upward to the Stokes several feet beyond their extended fingertips. 43's Captain was shouting at someone from his crew to "bring a ladder, goddamnit!' 127's Lieutenant was scrambling up the boom, trying to reach the bucket, presumably to take over the controls or bring up a line that they could use to lower the Stokes.
Gage shook him to get his attention. "Roy, you stay here, and I'll be right back," he yelled, getting right up in Roy's face, his words coming from a distance, as if through a watery tunnel. "I'm going to head over there and help. You just stay here and wait for your head to stop spinning, okay?"
He reached out; his fingers slid off the heavy canvas of Gage's turnout coat, but that fragile contact was enough to draw his partner's attention back to him.
"Johnny," he said. And then since he'd run out of words, he looked up at the flame-engulfed fourth floor, at the blackened window frame gusting smoke.
Gage's expression completely dissolved for one second before Roy could see him make a conscious effort to pull all of that raw emotion back under control and harden his surface.
"Yeah, Roy," he said, voice gritty, a voice years older than Roy had ever before heard from John Gage. "I know."