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Finding A Way Out

By Ginger Fortune Smith

Drama / Action

Chapter 1

Today had started as most normal days do. The shrill beeping of the alarm clock had interrupted his deep blissful slumber. He had smacked it several times trying to stop the offending noise. Successful in his third attempt, he had actually managed to turn it off instead of simply just hitting snooze. A while later he jumped up with a start as he heard the ringing telephone. "Crap!" he said aloud to the empty room. He knew he had fallen back to sleep and had now officially overslept and would be late. Reaching for the telephone on the other side of the bed he lifted the receiver to his ear and spoke in a very hoarse whisper, "Hullo"

"Johnny?" Roy Desoto his paramedic partner at Station 51 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department knew it was his best friend, but he sounded funny.

"Huh? Um yeah Roy it's me. What….uh what time is it?"

"Nine thirty Johnny, you're late. Cap's kinda mad. You comin' or are you sick or something?"

Roy could hear Johnny coughing through the phone. "I'm comin' Roy."

"Johnny you sound like you have a pretty bad cough there. Are you sure?"

"Yes Dad I'm sure. I pulled some overtime yesterday at 16's and we had a big one, and I just woke up. You wanna tell Cap I'm on my way or should I."

"I'll tell him. Be careful Johnny. Dwyer's gonna stay 'til you get here."

"Okay Roy, I'm on my way. I'll just put on my uniforms before I…..oh man!"

"What is it Johnny?"

"My uniforms are at the dry cleaners. I'll have to stop and get them. Look Roy I gotta go if I'm ever gonna get there. Thank Dwyer for me. See ya in a bit." Johnny hung up the phone before he even heard Roy's response. He had showered the night before after getting in from the overtime shift and fire. He had been covered in smoke and soot. He grabbed his favorite tight, faded blue jeans, black fire department t-shirt from this year's picnic, pulled on his regulation black sox and his well worn cowboy boots, grabbed his wallet, keys and shades and practically ran for the door while running his fingers through his thick black hair trying to at least make it appear he had combed it. It would take a minimum of thirty minutes from his ranch to the cleaners, five minutes to get his uniforms, (He hoped they saw him coming and had them waiting when he got inside. He smiled as he remembered the sexy little redhead that worked there on most mornings.) and another ten to the station. No way could he get there in less than forty five minutes. Cap was going to give him latrine duty for a month. He groaned at that thought as he shifted his Land Rover into gear and threw gravel from his drive as his wheels hit the pavement.

Meanwhile back at the station Roy made his way slowly to Captain Stanley's office. If he delayed telling his superior for a few minutes it would make it seem like it took less time for Johnny to get there. Knocking on the frame to the always open office door he cleared his throat. "Um Cap. I talked to Johnny. He pulled an overtime shift at 16's yesterday; they had a big fire. He's on his way. He should be here in a little while."

"Well thank you Roy. I understand about the overtime shift I spoke with the Captain at 16's this morning. He said it was bad. He told me that John would probably be running on empty this morning, and that he took in some smoke. However, it is still his responsibility to either call in or be on time. I will need to see him when he is here, dressed and ready to begin work. You let him know when he gets here."

"Yes sir." Roy turned from his Captain and walked over to the squad's passenger side and began the morning inventories.

"Hey Roy did you find that partner of yours?" Chet Kelly asked smiling. "I know who has latrine duty today and probably for the next few shifts." He said in an almost sing song fashion.

"Shut up Chet. Leave Johnny alone when he gets here too. He pulled overtime yesterday and they had a big fire and he took In some smoke. You tell the Phantom to lay off. Got it?"

"Uh sure Roy I'll talk to the Phantom. Is Gage okay?"

"Well he's coming in. That's about all I know."

"Hey Roy?" Mike Stoker turned from polishing the engine. "You think Johnny will be up for some spaghetti today? I was thinking on that for dinner, but I don't want to fix anything too rich if he can't enjoy it."

"Thanks for the concern Mike, but we both know that Johnny would love your spaghetti any day or night of any week."

"Good, cause I already got the stuff to make it." Mike smiled at Roy and went back to methodically swirling the polishing rag against the bright shiny red engine.

Soon the squeal of tires could be heard rounding the back of the building. A white Land Rover blur whirled around towards the bay and flew into reverse as John Gage arrived. Backing into his spot the car engine had not even stopped before Johnny was lowering his long legs out the door. He grabbed his uniforms from the back and strode into the bay. He didn't speak or look up as he went into the locker room clearly on a mission to get changed. Roy followed his friend to tell him to report to Cap as soon as he was dressed.

Walking slowly up to his Captain's office Johnny cleared his throat as he reached up and knocked on the door frame.

"Come in John. Take a seat."

"That's okay Cap I think I'll stand."

"Suit yourself. John I know that you worked an overtime shift at 16's, had a big fire, and took in some smoke, however, you have to be on time for your shift. If you are not able to come in due to illness or injury you must call in advance so that arrangements for a replacement can be made. Understood?"

"Yes sir." Johnny looked at his hands and shifted from side to side nervously. There was a silence in the small office that made the younger man extremely uncomfortable. "Can I go now?"

"Yes. You can start on the latrines. That will be your duty for the next three shifts. Got it?"

Johnny sighed as he turned to leave. "Yes Cap I understand." He slowly walked across the apparatus bay looking utterly defeated. Johnny cared a great deal about maintaining the respect that he had earned from his superior. He was disappointed in himself for letting Captain Hank Stanley down. I'll just have to work extra hard to make that latrine shine like brand new. He thought to himself. Before he made it half way across in front of Big Red the tones went off calling the squad on a man down run. Roy and Johnny slid into their seats in the squad as Captain Stanley handed the call slip to Roy through the open driver's side window, and they were off. Like a Greyhound shooting out of the starting gate at the dog tracks the little red squad came out of the bay with sirens blaring even before the big door was all the way up. Both Johnny and Roy sat tall in their seats with their helmets on the adrenaline pulsing through their veins. "Wonder what happened?"

"We'll see in a few minutes."

"Roy, take the next left and then an immediate right. It will save us five minutes at least." Roy didn't question the directions supplied by Johnny. He was probably the best navigator in the county. Johnny knew short cuts that no one else in the department knew. He could shave time off of runs and get them there in time to actually make a difference in otherwise dire situations. Roy often wondered if Johnny drove around looking for short cuts on his days off. The man down turned out to be a twisted ankle, and the patient agreed that he could see his own personal physician if the swelling did not go down after he put ice on it. Johnny and Roy were backing into the station when the tones sounded sending them on run number two which turned out to be a kid who had been stuck in a tree until his older brother called him a yellow bellied chicken. The boy had climbed down on his own feeling pretty good about himself until he saw the glare that his mother gave him after she had called for help. Both paramedics tried to help by explaining that although it was a false alarm they were glad she had called anyway, because he could have fallen or gotten stuck. They were glad he was okay. These back to back runs were beginning to tire the two men. Once again they headed back towards the station. "Man I hate latrine duty!"

"Yeah I know what you mean. I think I would rather do just about anything other than latrine duty." Roy smiled over at his friend. "But I guess there has to be some consequences for tardiness."

"Yeah," Johnny laughed with his friend until his laugh turned into a cough. "Don't make me laugh Pally. You're choking me up." Roy knew the cough was from the smoke inhalation which made him a little worried. After getting control of his cough Johnny turned to his partner and asked, "Hey Roy do you think we need to run to Rampart to get supplies?"

"I think that might be a good idea if we're gonna get called out the rest of the day like we already have."

Three runs later and a missed lunch the two tired paramedics stumbled into the day room. "You guys hungry?" Mike Stoker asked as he was getting up from his seat at the table.

"Starved!" Johnny answered without giving Mike time to even finish the question. All of the men in the room burst out laughing. "What?" Johnny spread waved his hands in the air as he asked.

"Nothing Junior, it's just that you are always hungry." Roy smiled.

"Well I didn't get dinner last night. I was too tired and dirty to eat after getting off shift from 16's and then I woke up late. I skipped breakfast and we've been on calls all morning. I am starving. I think my blood sugar is low. I might just pass out if I don't get something to eat soon." He faked a lightheaded look and swayed a little to emphasize his point.

"Okay John Travolta sit down and I'll get your lunch from the oven," Mike Stoker laughed at the antics of his young friend.

"Thanks Mikey," Johnny was already seated before he finished speaking. Truth be told he was tired and felt unsteady on his feat, but he would never let the rest of the crew know that. He knew they cared about him and would probably have made him go home or to Rampart to get checked out if they had known how tired he felt. Making short work of the warm roast beef sandwiches and fries Johnny and Roy sat together relaxing at the kitchen table drinking coffee when the tones sounded once again. Only this time it was for the whole station. It was for an eight story office building fire. These were usually bad if they happened during the normal work day when the offices were full of working people. Inevitably someone would have ignored the ringing fire alarms thinking it was a false alarm and continued to work only to find out that they were in danger.

When the engine and squad pulled up to the scene they were first, so Captain Stanley would orchestrate the attack on the fire. "Roy, John get your gear. I'm sure we have some people still inside. Marco, Chet get a two and a half and start on the front. Try to maintain the entrance. Mike once you get the engine and water pressure set see if you can get these people to stand back. I'll go see if I can find out who may still be inside." The six men set off to perform their assigned tasks. Roy and Johnny were helping Mike with crowd control when Captain Stanley came back and told them to do a search of the top two floors. An accounting firm occupied that part of the building and there were at least two people unaccounted for. Not even hesitating for an instant the two men ran into the building and began the upward journey on the stairs that connected the eight floors. Half way up they stopped to catch their breath.

"I hope we find them fast. It's really hot in here," Johnny yelled to Roy.

The two men finally reached the seventh floor, winded, but ready to get the search underway. "Cap we are on the south side seventh floor. We will be searching from here to the north side. If the stairs on that end are clear we will go up to eight from there."

"10-4 HT 51."

"Johnny you take the right side and I'll take the left. Yell if you find anyone."

Johnny nodded his understanding of Roy's plan. They were almost to the end of the hall when Roy opened the next to the last door and almost tripped over a woman who had passed out just inside. He quickly checked her pulse. There was no debris so he knew she was more than likely suffering from smoke inhalation. "HT 51 to Engine 51, Cap I found one of the missing. Can we get a bucket up this high?"

"That's a negative. Can you get down to six? We can pick you up from there."

"10-4 I'll be on the front North side last office. It's getting pretty hot in here Cap. Make it quick."

"Roy I'm gonna finish here and go up to eight. If I find the other victim I'll meet you on six." He chuckled. "I'll meet you on six anyway I guess. We need to hurry. This place is going to go fast when the fire meets up with all of this paper." He held up a file to stress his point.

Roy nodded his agreement and lifted the HT to his mouth. "Cap Johnny's going to finish the sweep on eight and meet us on six."

"Make it fast. Roy, give John the HT."

"10-4, HT 51 out."

Johnny helped Roy to lift the woman onto his shoulders before turning and ducking into the last office across the hall. Roy turned; felt the stairwell door for heat and after finding none pushed his way into the stairwell to head down to six. Looking over his shoulder towards his best friend he could not help but get a sinking feeling that something bad was going to happen. Roy hated to separate from Johnny, because when he did he could not keep an eye on his young impetuous friend. Johnny did not take unnecessary risks, but he could somehow always find trouble.

Checking the last office on seven Johnny moved on to the next floor. He could tell the heat was increasing and the smoke was so thick he almost could not see well enough to navigate the hallway. Johnny had checked all of the offices on eight when he heard Captain Stanley on the HT in his pocket.

"Engine 51 to HT 51."

"HT 51."

"The second victim has been located. Get out of there John. It's too hot."

"10-4, HT 51 out." Johnny ran for the stairwell that he had come up on only to find the door hot. He could feel the heat emanating from inside the walls. He turned and ran down the hall to the other end. Feeling that door he found it warm but not hot yet. He cracked open the door and peered down into the stairwell. He could see the flames below but they had not reached the eighth floor yet. He looked up to see if the passage to the roof was clear. It was.

Thinking going up to the roof was his only option he made a dash for it as the flames began to dance their way up the walls just below him. He burst through the door leading to the roof and ran over to the side where the engine was parked. Looking down the eight stories everything below looked so small. There were flashing red lights from the multitude of fire fighting equipment below. For a second Johnny thought about how pretty the red lights flickering against the horizon were. He loved being a fireman and had a deep appreciation for the equipment they used to squelch the flaming beast that threatened to eat everything in its path. He could see that none of the equipment would reach past the sixth floor. Pulling the HT from his turnout pocket he called to his Captain. "HT 51 to Engine 51." Not waiting for an answer Johnny called to his superior. He needed help. If he didn't get off that roof and fast he was going to burn alive. "Cap!"

"Engine 51." Sensing urgency in Johnny's voice he didn't waste time with radio protocol. "John what's going on?"

"Cap I'm on the roof. I can't get down. The stairs are engulfed on both ends. It's gettin' real hot up here. Any chance on a chopper?" Johnny could feel the roof underneath him getting hotter. He could see the flames dancing up from the windows below, reaching for anything that would burn. He was sweating underneath his turnout coat. His uniform clung to his body. His hands trembled as he held the HT waiting for Cap's response. He could hear his Captain calling dispatch and requesting a chopper and the ETA.

"John," Captain Stanley ignored radio protocol again. He had to give one of his men the worst news he could possibly ever have to deliver. "ETA on the chopper is fifteen minutes." Captain Stanley leaned his head against the cool metal of the engine. He knew fifteen minutes was too long. "Can you hang on?"

"No." Johnny told his Captain what he already knew. The roof was caving in and Johnny would burn before the chopper could get there. All five of the members of the A-shift of Station 51 were now gathered together by the engine, their eyes all searching the roof ledge for a glimpse of their friend. They all knew he probably would not survive this fire. Suddenly he was standing at the edge looking down on them. "Cap, I…uh…tell the guys..I…"

"Don't John….don't give up. The chopper could get here in time."

At the hospital Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early, Dr. Morton and Dixie McCall all were waiting by the fire department scanner waiting for word on their friend when they heard Johnny's transmission. "Oh God, Kel do you think he'll get down?" Dixie had her hand to her mouth unsuccessfully trying to hold back her tears. "He isn't hurt. He can get down right?" Dr. Kelly Brackett simply walked over to his head ER nurse and put his arms around her. No one in the group of medical professionals knew what to say. The truth was that Johnny's chances of survival were slim to none.

"No time Cap. It's really hot the roof is caving in. Tell Roy thanks for being my partner okay? Tell him he's my best friend. Will ya Cap?" Everyone could hear the tremble in Johnny's voice, the fear of burning alive. His shift mates stood statuesque watching their friend as he stood on the roof a mere eight stories up. The doctors and nurse stood at the radio listening in shock at the fact that here their friend was facing certain death, and he was thanking his friend. Then all of a sudden Johnny was gone from the ledge.

"JOHN! Cap yelled into the radio. Johnny are you still with us? Hold on Johnny! The chopper will be here. Hang on son. Just hang on." Tears were running down the normally in control Captain's face.

Roy reached over and took the HT from his Captain. "Johnny, If you can hear me you have to try to hold on. Find somewhere that is not as hot and wait for the chopper. It will only be a few more minutes. Please Johnny don't give up. I'm not ready to say goodbye to my best friend."

"Pally." Roy heard Johnny whisper through the radio. "I'm kinda scared partner. I thought the fire would never get me. I don't want to die Roy."

Tears were running down both Roy's and Johnny's faces now; neither cared if anyone knew it. This may be the last conversation the two men would have together. "Junior you are not going to die. We'll think of something. Just hang on." Just as he uttered the last statement Roy could hear a rumbling noise coming from the depths of the burning building. The fire that was trying to engulf the structure and take away his friend seemed to be talking to the firemen declaring its victory. Looking up towards the last place he saw his friend Roy Desoto knew that the structure would either implode or explode at any time. The heat from the fire had become unbearable.

All at once there were gasps heard from the crowd as a very tall thin frame climbed up onto the ledge. "No Johnny! No don't! Cap. He's going to jump. He'll never survive that. Jesus Johnny don't!"

The pleas for his friend could be heard by all listening fire department personnel. Anyone not currently on a rescue or fire call gathered around their radios listening to the drama unfold before them. Most members of the department knew John Roderick Gage and most liked and respected him. Even those who did not know him felt compassion for their firefighting brother. Now all five of his shift mates were screaming for him to hang on and not jump. Firemen all over Los Angeles were discretely rubbing away the involuntary tears that fell from their eyes. How could this happen to one of their own. With all the fancy equipment they had nothing short of a miracle would save this man.

"Wait Cap he….I think he has tied something around his waist." Roy squinted trying to make out what was going on with his friend.

"Here Roy," Mike Stoker handed Roy a set of binoculars. "Try these."

"Thanks Mike." Roy slipped the binoculars up to his eyes and panned across the building until his gaze landed on Johnny. "It's….I don't believe it…it's a fire hose. He has cut a fire hose from the wall and tied it around the railing. He tied the other end around his waist. "He's going to climb…or try to climb down the side using a fire hose."

Just as Johnny stepped to the edge and grasped the hose near where he had tied it off, just as he was jerking on it to ensure the knot would hold, the center of the roof started a liquid like ripple effect seeping out and caving in bringing with it most of the surrounding platform. Flames could be seen shooting high into the sky, snaking and curling as though it were performing a victory dance. The intense heat and subsequent tremors that rattled the structure caused the entire building to sway knocking Johnny from his precarious perch on the very edge between life and sure death.

He fell.

He grasped the hose as best he could but it still slipped through his hands. He fell fast. There was nothing he could do to stop his rapid descent to the end of the hose. Silently he fell never screaming out as many victims of fall do, never losing his resolve to try to survive this nightmare. In a matter of seconds that seemed like years to him he came to an abrupt stop. There was a deafening silence from the firemen below. Save for the sounds coming from the various engines and the spraying water there was no noise. No one spoke. It was as if everyone held their breath.

He was at the end of the hose.

Slamming into the side of the building he lost his hold on the only lifeline he had.

His head cracked against the red brick façade of the once architecturally sound structure. His helmet fell the remaining five and a half stories to the pavement below. He felt searing pain in his shoulders and back. His hands burned from trying to grasp the hose even though he had his gloves on. His hip crashed into the wall causing his leg to go numb. He never lost consciousness. He couldn't let go. He had to stay awake if he had any chance to survive at all. Now he swayed at the end of the very thing that usually gave hope against fighting the fiery beast, the fire hose.

Roy had dropped the binoculars and was running in the direction that Johnny was falling towards. He thought if by some miracle his friend survived the fall to the pavement he would be there immediately to help him. The rest of the crew was running behind Roy. They didn't know what else to do. They were all shocked beyond belief. They stopped just short of the spot that would serve as the landing zone for their friend and looked up to see that the makeshift lifeline had held. Roy immediately began speaking breathlessly into the HT, "Johnny if you can hear me hold on. We're gonna get you down, okay. Just hold on."

Johnny tried to reach into his pocket for the radio that he could hear Roy speaking through. Slowly deliberately he wrapped his fingers around the HT and slid it from his pocket. Pressing the talk button with the little strength he could muster he raised it to his mouth and whispered, "R o o y y."

Dixie had almost collapsed when they heard Roy pleading with his best friend not to jump. How could a strong vivacious young man who faced fear every day be led to jump from the top of an eight story office building? How could he just give up unless he thought there would be no survival? She thought briefly about the alternative. Waiting on the roof with the knowledge that at any moment you would burn alive, watching the building that served as your tomb crumbling beneath your feet. Slowly she regained her composure and began praying for her friend. She prayed for a quick end with no suffering. She prayed for a miracle, but in her heart she just couldn't see that happening until she heard Johnny's small quiet fragile call of his partner's name. The three strong men standing around her began cheering and grabbing each other in a hug. They each grabbed Dixie up and kissed her tear stained cheeks. There was hope for a miracle.

"I'm here Johnny. I'm right here." Roy spoke very calmly to Johnny. Turning towards his crew mates he motioned to the squad. "Get the gear, backboard, splints, c-collar. I don't know what all we'll need. Cap, can we get the bucket up there?"

"Sure thing Roy I've already got them working on it. Just get our boy down here okay."Captain Stanley considered his men family, but his youngest charge was like a son to him. John Gage had a way about him that caused everyone to want to protect him. Hank had taken it upon himself to do just that. Seeing him almost lost to this rescue had gripped Hank's heart in a way that was normally only felt by a parent losing a child. Never in his career had he lost one of his crew. Thinking that the healthiest effervescent spark to the A-shift of 51's had almost had to stand on a roof awaiting sure death while he had stood helpless on the ground below was a crippling experience. If Johnny had not kept his wits about himself and provided a chance at his own survival, Captain Hank Stanley would have probably turned in his resignation tonight effective immediately.

Firemen all over the county yelled in exuberant joy and relief that one of their own had a very good chance of survival. Cheers could be heard coming out of fire stations everywhere. The people nearby the stations probably thought the men had lost their minds. Even the stoic Craig Brice, the walking rulebook, had slumped to his knees when he thought Johnny would perish. Now his partner Bob Bellingham, the animal, hoisted Craig from the floor and grasped him in a bear hug. Craig cheered with the rest of their crew; his station mates could not believe their eyes. Gil Robinson, Johnny's friend and former high school classmate now turned paramedic also cheered for his friend. Paramedics had a special bond beyond that of normal firemen. They were the ones who had to breach the dangers to find and extract victims from all kinds of calamities. All firemen put their lives on the line for the job, but the paramedics were usually the first in and last out of the dangers they faced on a daily basis.

Roy climbed into the bucket that would lift him to his friend. He took the backboard and the c-collar from Chet. "Is he gonna be okay Roy?"

Roy looked down at Chet and could see the deep concern that he had for Johnny. He knew that even though Chet and Johnny were always seemingly on each other's nerves they were in fact good friends. "If I have anything to do with it he will."

"Take care of him." Marco told Roy.

"You betcha."

The bucket moved too slowly for Roy who was reaching out for Johnny even before he was close enough to touch him. Johnny swung limply on the end of the hose. He still held onto the HT, but his eyes were closed.

Then suddenly without warning the hose shifted from above. The railing that secured his friend's descent was starting to break away from the concrete ledge it was anchored to. The HT slipped from Johnny's hand and fell crashing into pieces as it hit the ground. Slowly Johnny raised his head and peered up the length of the hose. 'Please God' he thought 'I can't take anymore.'

Roy reached for Johnny's wrist as he came up alongside him. His pulse was rapid and thready. His wrist was cold and clammy. "Okay Junior we have to get you down right now. That railing is about to give; I will not let you fall, but I need to check you out for spinal injury."

"Just get me off this ride." Johnny whispered barely audible enough for even Roy to hear.

Roy tied a safety line around Johnny's waist in case the hose broke free. He then with expert hands secured the c-collar and carefully with the help of the other man in the bucket slid Johnny onto the backboard, strapped him in and started the slow process of getting him down. Johnny was so relieved to be off the building, the adrenalin that had kept him from passing out before left him exhausted and weak. He could hear the cheering from below as they were lowered. "Stay with me Junior." Roy did not get an answer as Johnny lost his fight to remain conscious.

By the time they got Johnny to the ground and unloaded from the lift Chief McKonnike had arrived at the scene. He strode over to Captain Stanley and wrapped his arm around Hank's shoulder. "Hank your men are officially stood down. It seems that every man from the B-shift has called into headquarters and requested to come in and relieve you. They will meet you at the station and then you are all to report to Rampart and see about our friend here. I will handle the rest of this mess."

"Thank you, sir." Hank was more relieved than words could express. He knew that he himself would not be able to function once Johnny had left for the hospital. He suspected that his men would not be any better off than he was. They had been rocked to the very core. "We'll take the rigs back as soon as we get Johnny loaded for transport."

"Chopper 10 is standing by to transport him." The chief informed Captain Stanley. Then in an out of character move the chief bent down on one knee, placed his hand on Johnny's. He waited until he could see the brown eyes crack open a bit and congratulated him on his ingenuity and sheer will to survive. He wished him a quick and full recovery instructed Roy to take good care of Johnny; then he left to finish the job that Captain Stanley had started.

Hank Stanley knelt down beside Johnny and spoke into his ear. "I'm glad you made it back down son."

"I kept my helmet on this time Cap." Johnny whispered in return.

"Yes you did. You certainly did." Hank chuckled.

"S..s..sorry 'bout the…the HT." Johnny whispered.

"Forget about it John. It's not important." He patted Johnny's hand and then rose to assist his men in getting Johnny aboard the chopper.

The four members of the engine crew, Hank, Mike, Chet and Marco lifted the backboard with great care and placed it on the waiting gurney. The ambulance attendants stood back as the four men moved the gurney towards the chopper. As they passed other firefighters still working the fire each placed a hand on the arm, back or shoulders of the departing crew wishing their best to Johnny. Roy walked along in front carrying the drug box and bio-phone. He received as many well wishes as the other guys. Johnny was oblivious to it all.

The trip to Rampart aboard Chopper 10 was done in silence except for the transmissions between Roy and Dr. Brackett via the bio-phone. Roy worked infallibly to care for his best friend. Johnny was again unconscious. "What is our ETA?" Roy asked the Chopper pilot.

"Five minutes. Um Roy I…uh I'm real sorry I couldn't get there in time to get Johnny off that building before…" The pilot could not even voice the rest of his comment. "We heard it all over the radio. Man your partner is really something."

"Yeah." Roy looked down on his friend. "Yeah he's something."

As soon as they landed Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early and Dr. Morton converged on the gurney that carried Johnny. Before they could even get him into the treatment room they began their examination. Dixie aberrantly stood back from the activity. Roy joined her at the side of the room not wanting to leave. "How is he Roy?" Dixie whispered.

"He's pretty banged up Dix. I think he may have injured his shoulders while trying to hold on. I know his hands have fabric burns. His hip and back are bruised. He hit his head on the wall. God I thought he was going to jump. I mean I knew he would never take his own life, but the alternative…."

"Don't Roy. He's here. You got him here. We're going to take care of him. Good care of him, the best of care. Let's you and I go to the lounge. Kel will come tell us how he is doing once they finish the exam. I suspect the rest of they guys will be along as soon as they can." Dixie took Roy by the arm and led him from the room.

"Uh Dix I need to call Joanne. Give me a minute then I'll join you in the lounge."

"Okay Roy I'll get us some coffee."

Roy went to the phone in Dr. Brackett's office to call his wife. He had kept his composure at the scene and until he got Johnny turned over to the doctors, but now that it was over he wanted, no he needed to talk to his wife. "Jo."

Joanne could tell by the tone in his voice when he said her name that something was wrong, very wrong. "Roy what is it? What's happened?"

"Johnny's at Rampart." Roy's voice broke as he spoke to his wife. "God Jo he…"

"Roy was he the fireman on that roof?"

"Yeah."

"Oh God." She understood now why Roy was so broken. "They never said on the TV. I knew your station was there, but I didn't think…I uh…oh Roy is it bad?"

"Bad enough, I don't know for sure yet. He may need surgery on his shoulders and hip. He has fabric burns on both hands. He hit his head, but he had his helmet on this time. I think….I think he will be all right in time, physically, but mentally Jo I don't know how he ever got through it. I…he…he may not want to keep doing this, and I don't know if I would be able to if he quits. I just don't know how he did it…I mean a fire hose? I don't think I or anyone else would have thought of that. He really is a survivor Jo."

"Yes Roy he is. Don't worry about the what ifs for now. Let's just help him get better. I have to get the kids picked up from school. I will get someone to watch them for a while. I'll be there as soon as I can. Your partner hung on Roy now you need to hang on for him. I love you Roy."

"Thanks Jo. I love you too." Roy hung up the phone and put his head in his hands. He didn't know how long he sat there like that before Dixie placed her hand on his shoulder.

"I thought you got lost. I brought you some coffee." She handed Roy the warm elixir.

He gripped the mug in his hands and held it up to his lips, drinking slowly he felt the warmth of the liquid as it soothed his nerves. "Thanks Dix. We had better go to the lounge where everyone will be able to find us."

In the exam room Dr. Brackett tried to rouse Johnny. "John can you hear me?" He got no response. He rubbed Johnny's sternum and received a groan in response; then a slow stirring as his patient began to awaken. Soon weary brown eyes looked up at the doctors. They continued scanning the room not settling on anything. Johnny seemed to be anxiously looking for something or someone. A light went off in Kelly Brackett's head. "Mike get Roy in here. He's probably in the lounge."

A few minutes later Roy burst into the room. "Doc?"

"He seems uneasy Roy. He isn't speaking and keeps looking for something. I don't think he is completely awake yet. Can you try talking to him?" Dr. Brackett motioned to the head of the exam table while he continued his ministrations.

Roy walked up to the table, placed his hand on Johnny's, bent down into Johnny's line of vision and waited until his friend looked his way. When brown eyes met blue he whispered to his friend. "Hey Junior."

"R r r o y," Johnny whispered the name almost like a sigh of relief.

"I'm right here."

"Roy."

"It's okay Johnny. Your safe. You're gonna be fine."

"Roy."

"Johnny you need to calm down."

"Roy."

"What is it Junior?"

"Thanks."

"No problem." Roy patted Johnny's hand and stepped back out of the way.

Johnny raised his hand and grasped at thin air. "Roy?"

Roy stepped back up to the table and carefully took Johnny's injured hand. Johnny gripped his friend's hand with surprising strength.

"Stay there Roy," instructed Dr. Brackett.

"He has a concussion but no sign of scull fracture, a dislocated left shoulder and a strained right shoulder. He has several broken and cracked ribs and deep bruising from where the hose was around him. Looks like deep bruising on the hip as well, but no sign of fracture or dislocation," Dr. Early said as he examined the x-rays that had been taken earlier.

"Well his hands have some pretty severe fabric burns and he has some lacerations on his face and neck from the impact against the brick. He also may have sprained his right wrist. There is some swelling," Dr. Morton gave his report.

"Okay well we need to get him up to surgery to reset that shoulder. We can clean the lacerations and his hands when we get up there. We will also wrap the wrist and ribs upstairs. Then we'll move him into SICU for the night. He usually does not react to sedation very well, so I want him monitored closely. We don't need him hurting his ribs any worse or puncturing a lung from the effects of nausea." Dr. Brackett moved to go and prepare for the trip to surgery.

Roy had a few minutes alone in the room with Johnny while the doctors made the arrangements for the procedure.

"I guess I almost bought it back there."

"Yeah."

"I couldn't help but think how sad I was that I wouldn't get to see Joanne, Chris and Jenny. I really love them all. I want to have a family of my own someday, but they were all I could think of, except you and the guys. I thought of all of you too. Then I just decided that I couldn't give up. I thought maybe just maybe the window washers or some construction people might have left some rope up there ya know? I thought there has to be something I could use to get off that inferno. Then I saw the fire hose. That's all there was. I just thought it was worth a try. I mean what did I have to lose?"

"Sheer brilliance Junior, sheer brilliance. I don't think I would have been able to think about anything but the approaching flames."

"Nah Roy you'd be surprised how much you think of in a short period of time. It was like everything was moving in slow motion or somethin'. I was too scared to burn. I think I would have jumped first. Glad I didn't have to do that."

"Me too," Roy couldn't say much because the knot that had been in his throat for most of the rescue was back threatening to release the sobs that he felt over the terrible experience his friend had to endure while simply doing his job.

Right before the orderlies came to take Johnny up to surgery the rest of the crew slipped into the room. "Hey guys," Johnny spoke first. He was too tired to say much having shared his innermost feelings with his best friend right before.

"Man Gage you sure know how to liven up a fire," Chet as usual said something stupid that earned him a punch on the shoulder from the engineer.

"Don't pay any attention to him Johnny we're just glad you think on your feet," Mike tried to say something positive to counteract Chet's comment.

"Madre Dias Johnny how did you ever think to use that hose," Marco shook his head in amazement as he spoke.

"That's all there was Marco. It was that or…." He didn't finish. They all knew what he would have said.

"Well John there is about a hundred firemen out there in the lobby waiting to make sure you are okay. Craig Brice, Bob Bellingham, Dwyer, Gil Robinson, I guess just about every squad that works out of this hospital not on a run has shown up here claiming to be on a supply run. You can't even get into the parking lot for all the cars," Captain Stanley smiled at his youngest man.

"Wow," Johnny could not believe the idea that so many people cared about him.

"And Joanne," Roy chuckled.

"Okay fellas," Dixie broke up the rhetoric. "We need to get Mr. Gage here up to surgery." She smiled down at her favorite paramedic. "You okay handsome?"

"I will be Dix."

"You gentlemen can wait in the lounge."

The entourage stepped out of the room and lumbered down the hall to the lounge. Johnny was wheeled to the elevator through a line of men filling the hall on both sides. Roy was walking beside. Johnny looked from man to man seeing the concern in their eyes as he passed. Never had he experienced such an outpouring of support.

A few days later Johnny was to be released from the hospital to return to his ranch. Roy was picking him up after getting off shift. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah I'm ready, more than ready."

"Well then let's blow this popsicle stand."

The two friends wheeled down the hall way toward the elevator. Everyone spoke to Johnny as he rode down the hall. "Roy can we stop by and see Dixie before we go?"

"Well we had better. If I know her like I think I do she would kill us if we don't."

Johnny chuckled. "Yeah Pally, I think you're right."

After visiting in ER seeing all of the doctors and Dixie Johnny was tired and ready to climb into his own bed at home. Roy pulled Johnny's Rover up to the hospital exit and assisted Johnny into the passenger seat. With shoulders immobilized and his hands still wrapped as well as his wrist he could not maneuver well without assistance. Johnny fell asleep on the drive home.

Knowing they were almost to Johnny's ranch Roy gently shook his friend. "Wake up pal we're almost home." Roy knew that there was a surprise awaiting Johnny at the ranch.

Johnny looked up bleary eyed at his friend. "We home yet?"

"Almost."

Roy turned the Rover into the gravel drive and stopped to give Johnny a chance to take in the scene before them. There were two ladder trucks parked at the end of the drive with the ladders crossing and a flag draped between them. The drive was lined with rescue squads and the crewmen stood at attention beside their vehicles. "Roy?"

"Just relax Johnny you're a hero to them. You survived when no one thought you would. You used your head and found a way out of a no win situation. You gave firemen all over hope for survival when no hope is thought to be found."

When they pulled to a stop in front of the porch Johnny could see the rest of his crew waiting for him on the porch. The entire front yard was brimming with off duty and on duty firemen all standing at attention. When Johnny got out of the Rover with Roy's assistance the huge group of men cheered for him. Johnny was overwhelmed. At the front of the crowd stood Chief McKonnike with the biggest smile Johnny had ever seen him have. The Chief came forward and presented Johnny with a formal letter of commendation. Shook his hand and then to the amazement of everyone there took the man in a hug. "Congratulations John. I'm very proud of you."

Then the cheers erupted from the crowd once again.

"Okay John let's get you inside and settled somewhere comfortable," Captain Stanley clapped his hands in his usual fashion took charge fashion. The members of 51's A-shift entered the house with their wives and children. The rest of LA's finest began to disperse from their impromptu recognition ceremony. Roy had a list of people offering to help Johnny on the ranch until he was able to do it himself. Craig Brice's name was at the top. It had been his idea to put together a rotation of helpers. Joanne and the other wives had cleaned Johnny's house from top to bottom and prepared enough meals to get him and whoever was staying with him at the time through at least two weeks. Chris and Jenny had made him a welcome home banner that now hung over the fireplace.

"Thanks everyone," Johnny was too moved to say much.

"No need for thanks John we just want you better and back at the station," Captain Stanley said what everyone was thinking.

The group of friends gathered around the living room with plates of food and another A-shift party was underway. John Gage was again the center of attention. He was with his family, safe in his own home. Sure he still had to deal with his injuries and the aftermath of mental anguish that he was still experiencing after staring death in the face and living to tell about it, but with their help he would get through it and back to the station, back to the job that he loved.

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