The ground was completely covered in rubble and scaffolding, it seemed endless. We carefully climbed over the wreckage, checking everywhere for signs of life, trying to go as fast as we could, whilst the rest of the site that remained standing, hung dangerously over our heads. I followed Sam over another pile of debris, scanning the area for anything that looked like it could be obscuring one of the missing people.
“What the hell could have caused this?” Jax muttered behind me.
I shrugged, pausing as I caught sight of a large chunk of wood with a dark red bloodstain across the side.
“Improperly fixed scaffolding.” I suggested, moving the wood to make sure there was no one trapped beneath it.
“To have brought half the building down with it, I’m thinking more along the lines of recycled materials.” Sam called back, coming to a stop.
I slowed behind him, following his gaze and feeling that familiar pang as I saw the body half buried at his feet. The man was covered in grey dust, his high vis jacket barely even visible. His hard hat was nowhere to be seen and blood covered most of his face. Sam crouched down, reaching out a hand to check for a pulse.
“He’s gone. Mark it and keep going.” He said sombrely, trudging on further.
We continued on, having to duck down as more of the site collapsed, narrowly missing the three of us.
“Welfare check, everyone report.” Alex’s voice came across the radio, as me, Sam and Jax straightened back up.
I turned between Sam and Jax, blowing out a relieved breath as we eyed the new collection of debris that had fallen almost on top of us.
“Tate, Knight and Jackson checking in. Was a close one, but all good Sub.” Sam replied.
We waited for confirmation of the other’s safety, unease and concern bubbling up as I waited to hear that they were all okay.
“Olsen, Lee and Shaw checking in,” I heard Dodger’s voice ring out, I could hear the relief in his tone, and guessed that they too had a close call from their position. “A little dustier than before, but we’re good Sub.” He added with an air of sarcasm.
Seconds passed in silence, and I knew who we were waiting for. Panic began to claw up my throat and threatened to overwhelm me. My eyes met Sam’s, and I felt Jax’s hand on my shoulder, whilst I silently pleaded for the sound of her voice, just to know that they were okay.
“Firefighter Rose and Firefighter Molton, come in please.” Alex ordered firmly.
A rush of static sounded over the line whilst we waited with baited breath.
“Rosie? Will? Report!”
“Does anyone have a visual?” He asked, concern now overpowering the authority in his voice.
We looked around us, desperately seeking some visual of our missing colleagues. I felt sick with worry. I needed her to be okay. It felt like my heart was in freefall, I wanted to toss aside every piece of rubble until I got to her. A crackle came across the radio, followed by the best sound I think I’d ever heard:
“Rose and Molton checking in.” Her voice trembled just a tad, but the sound brought visible and audible relief as the three of us sighed with gratitude. “Another collapse over here, Sub, interfered with the radio, but we’re good.”
My heart continued to throw itself against my chest, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to relax until I saw her, until I held her. But for now, we had a job to do, and I allowed myself to push through the unease, reassuring myself that she was safe, by replaying her voice in my head and counting down the time until I’d see her for myself.
It was slow progress, but between us all we’d narrowed down the number of missing people. There had been another two fatalities confirmed, but the good news reached us of the other unit’s team successfully freeing two of the three trapped casualties, and working on the third, whilst we guided more of the missing, out of the rubble and to awaiting paramedics. With more of the site crumbling away as the time stretched on, we approached the centre of the collapse. With only two more people unaccounted for, there was no doubt that they’d be somewhere in the mountain of debris before us. Dead or alive, was a more tricky thing to figure out.
“We’re gonna need more help.” I said, taking in the scene, and peering up at the falling dust, and the precariously hanging structure just above us. “If that gives out, I don’t fancy our chances of getting back out of here.”
Sam nodded slowly, and Jax cursed under his breath. It had taken us long enough to scour the outer region of the collapse. Here in the core was bound to be even harder to search. The closely compacted concrete, wood and scaffolding wouldn’t be easy to move, especially the higher part of the heap, which looked to be holding up the rest of the structure. One wrong move and the entire thing could crash down on top of all of us.
“Sub, if there’s any free hands, send them our way. We’ve got a mountain to move and maybe only minutes to do it.” I spoke into the radio.
“Received,” Alex answered, “Olsen, Lee and Shaw, do a final sweep and make your way to quadrant one.”
“In the meantime, Let’s get started.” Jax sighed.
“Nice and steady.” Sam added.
“This is the fire brigade, can anyone hear me?” Each of us called out as we worked.
I had lost count of how much material I had moved, and still there was no sign of anyone. There were no responding calls for help, or anything that could bring positivity to my heavy heart. This didn’t feel like a rescue mission, as much as a recovery one at this point. The other’s soon joined us, and the progress began to speed up, hindered now and again by more of the wreck raining down on the area.
“Fucking hell.” Dodger groaned as he shrugged off some wood splinters and dust. “This is getting ridiculous.”
I nodded, clapping him on the back and proceeding to help him lift poles out of the way. There was a sound of rustling somewhere to the left, and then Jax’s voice shouting out triumphantly.
“I got one, he’s alive!”
We rushed over to him, helping him uncover the located worker. But our joy soon darkened as we were faced with a new challenge, when we realised the predicament he was in. A long pole had fallen on him, impaling him through the right shoulder, and to make it even worse, he was trapped beneath a large slab of concrete right near the peak that was holding up the remains of the site.
“Shit.” Pixie breathed, moving one last piece of wood out of the way and then looking up. “Now what?”
“Sir, can you hear me?” Cain asked, crouching down and examining the wound as best as he could at the poor angle.
The worker groaned, managing to nod slightly as his eyes opened and he peered up at us.
“That’s good. Stay with us now, okay. We’re gonna get you out.” Cain reassured him, turning away to address the rest of us. “We can’t pull it out, and we can’t move him yet. We’re going to have to cut the pole, and stem the bleeding whilst we figure out a way to dig him out without bringing the rest of that down.”
“Easier said than done.” I interjected.
Cain nodded grimly, before continuing, adopting the authoritative tone that he always used when he had to pull rank:
“Pix, you and Dodger try to locate the other worker, then I want you both out. Only essential personnel in here. Sam, I need you to help me with the casualty, and Rebel and Jax, try and find us a way of moving that slab without compromising the rest of the support.”
It wasn’t long before Pixie and Dodger located the last worker, sadly his fate had already been sealed. Having received their orders, they both retreated back to the street, leaving the rest of us behind to try to free the last casualty. No matter what happened next, there would be no more backup coming to help us. Every way that I looked, I was forced to face the fact that I could find no alternative route to removing the slab that had pinned the injured man. Frustration and determination were at war inside my head, and I hoped for some kind of miracle solution to present itself. Today had been a bad day, we’d lost enough, we had to be able to figure this out. But how? I desperately scanned the clearing that we’d created, looking for anything that I could use as leverage, or makeshift support beams. Each time I ran a scenario through my head, it ended the same way, and it wasn’t the bright sunshine and happy rainbows way.
“We have no choice, we’ll have to make a support structure with the fallen poles, and try to shift the weight onto that as we move the slab off of him.” I said to Jax.
He didn’t look happy about the announcement, but I could see the grim understanding in his expression, as he too, came to the same conclusion.
Calling Cain and Sam over, we explained what we intended to do, and began to put the plan into action.
Once the small, but sturdy structure had been built, we placed some of the bigger rocks around it to keep it in place, and together, we gradually pulled the slab off of the man. There was a loud creak from above as it moved millimetre by millimetre, until it was almost entirely off him.
“Just a… little bit… further.” Sam groaned.
There was a crunch above us, and more dust and splinters fell on us.
“I don’t know if it’ll hold.” Jax murmured, looking up in concern.
I was pretty sure that he was right, and as always in these dire moments, the faces of my dad and my sister rushed into my head, but Lacey was there too this time. I had to fight to get back to them all. We all had people to get out of here for. That had to be the focus.
“We don’t have a choice.” I said firmly as the creaking got louder.
There was just one more inch to go, and it still held. We pushed it clear, and finally he was free. Gently releasing our hold, we dove forward, wasting no time in going to pull the man clear. Just as we got him halfway out, there was a deafening rumble overhead. The rest of the site caved in and debris crashed down on us, as we tried to take cover.