The Steel Inferno

by Rona

Season 7 of Emergency is a series of films. In The Steel Inferno, there is a fire in an office block caused by a painter dropping a cigarette after sloshing paint thinner around carelessly. Squad 110 is closely followed, as one of the victims is almost engaged to one of the paramedics, Charlie. He is injured rescuing the girl. This picks up where Johnny, Roy and Dave from 110s (Charlie’s partner) are on the 21st floor checking on the dentist’s office. The story definitely needed fixing in my opinion.

Moving along the wall, Johnny felt a hot spot. He moved on past the large painting – he had no idea what it was and couldn’t have cared less – and felt the door. It was warm, too, but the hottest spot was on the wall below the painting.

Glancing up, he met the eyes of the Captain of 110s. Johnny didn’t know the man and wished his own captain was there with them. “It’s really hot here,” he said and touched the wall again. Nodding, the captain put his hand on the same place.

“This looks like it,” the captain agreed. “Let’s get the hose.”

They turned away to where Roy and Dave, from squad 110, were waiting to set up the hose, checking the walls further along the corridor. It was smoky and poorly lit and Johnny wasn’t sure if they were aware of the conversation that had just taken place, but he knew they would be prepared for anything.

About two steps later ‘anything’ happened. With an almighty roar, the cylinders stored in the dentist’s office exploded with the force of a small bomb. Johnny and the captain were blown off their feet. A second explosion occurred almost immediately and pieces of flaming drywall and ceiling rained down on the hapless men.

For an instant, Roy and Dave were stunned, then they were on the move, reaching the downed pair in seconds and grabbing their turnout gear to drag them further from the flames licking at the carpet. 110’s captain was unconscious and Johnny was dazed. How badly hurt either of them were was irrelevant at that moment. The priority was getting them away from the fire.

Slightly sheltered in front of one bank of elevators, Roy looked at Johnny, who was sitting up. “Are you okay?” he asked. When there was no response, he looked at Johnny. His partner was blinking and clearly trying to sort out his focus. “Johnny? Are you okay?”

Blinking, Johnny lifted his head and looked at Roy. “Yeah, I’m okay,” he replied, which didn’t soothe Roy’s worries one iota, but he was on his feet and mobile and Cap wasn’t and they had to get out of there. He lifted his HT to his lips and reported their situation. Battalion advised them to wait for help, but Roy knew they couldn’t do that. The fire was encroaching on their position far too rapidly. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he yelled above the noise of the flames.

“We can’t move Cap,” Dave objected.

“We’ve got to,” Roy declared flatly. “We can help him between us. We’ll go down the elevator shaft to the roof of the stuck car and get out from there. We can support him between us with Johnny on belay. Can you do that?” he asked his partner and Johnny nodded.

“Yeah, sure,” he verbalized, as much to convince himself as his colleagues. He got to his feet with more difficulty than Roy liked and staggered for a moment until he got his equilibrium. He paused in front of the elevator door and Roy’s heart sank. Gage was not in the greatest of shape, yet without his help, they would struggle to escape the encroaching flames.

“Not that one,” he said, more sharply than he intended, but Johnny didn’t take offense. He simply stepped past Roy and made his way to the other elevator and pried the doors open.

For a ghastly moment, looking down the long drop to the stuck car, Johnny thought he would lose the snack he had consumed just before coming up to the 21st floor. His head was pounding and he ached all over. Bruises, he surmised and gave himself a mental shake. He had to be able to do this. He reached out and touched the cables nearest to him. They felt secure enough, from what he could tell. They would have to be, he thought somberly.

Taking a deep breath, Johnny grasped the cables and stepped boldly out onto the steel bar that spanned the shaft. He couldn’t afford to think of falling or slipping now. He had to concentrate because Roy and Dave wouldn’t be able to get Cap out alone. He made it to the other side of the shaft and wedged himself behind another bundle of cables.

“Johnny? You ready?” Roy shouted, appearing in the open doorway across from him.

“I’m ready,” Johnny confirmed and hoped that Roy wouldn’t hear the slight quaver in his voice.

“Catch,” Roy instructed and threw the end of a hose to him. It had a big loop tied in it already and Johnny slipped the loop over his shoulders and across his body. He gathered some of the slack as Roy and Dave appeared with the unconscious captain slung between them, the other end of the hose tied around his body.

To say this was going to be physically challenging was something of an understatement. Roy and Dave were going to slide down the elevator cables while supporting the majority of Cap’s weight. Johnny was going to pay the hose out as they went, helping to support Cap that way. Roy and Dave exchanged a look. Roy would have preferred to have Gage work with him on the cables but knew that his partner wasn’t up to it after the explosion. He nodded to Dave and the two men reached out and grasped the cables.

It was sheer unadulterated hell. As they slithered slowly down, legs tightly wound round the cables, their hands burning despite the leather gloves they wore, Roy could hear Johnny’s distressed panting as he slowly paid out the hose.

“Wait, stop!” Johnny cried. “I’m outta hose here.” He grabbed the cables and began to slide down. He felt exhausted and knew they had only just started the journey. Even when they got onto the roof of the car, they still had to get down several floors and they had no idea of the conditions when they got there. He shook his head and continued to slide. He couldn’t afford to think like that. He had to concentrate.

“Hurry up,” Roy shouted up. “The grease is building up on our gloves and we can’t hold on.”

“I’m comin’, I’m comin’,” Gage panted and managed to park himself on the thin ledge behind the cables. “Okay, go.” His arms were shaking with the strain, but Johnny knew that if he had it bad, Roy and Dave had it worse. The hose started to pay out between his hands.

In another few minutes, Johnny was again sliding down the cables. He was panting more than ever and shooting pains crisscrossed his back and ribs. He gulped in smoky air and garbled out something that let Roy and Dave know he was ready for them to continue. Johnny dared not look down for longer than he had to. When the hose ran out, he again slid down the cables.

Luckily for them all, this last slide took them safely to the roof of the elevator car. Roy wondered if he would have been able to go much further. Cap was still unconscious and he knew that if not for Johnny, he and Dave would not have been able to get the man out of there. They still faced several flights of stairs to get him to safety, but it was many fewer flights than from the 21st floor.

“I got him,” Roy panted to Dave as Johnny started his final slide down to join them. “You go out and Johnny and I will pass him to you.” He supported the captain as he glanced up to assess his partner.

With a graceless bump, Johnny’s feet hit the top of the car and he sat onto his backside. Roy reached out, but Johnny brushed his hand away, using the cables to pull himself to his feet. As Roy lifted the captain’s torso, Johnny picked up his feet, wincing as he further strained already sore muscles, and they managed to get the captain out onto the floor.

Staggering out of the shaft, Johnny disentangled himself from the hose. He couldn’t remember which floor it was that they were on, but the water was still pouring through the ceiling, as it had been when he and Roy had first climbed out of that shaft. It seemed like only minutes ago, but must be a couple of hours in reality, he supposed.

With a start, Johnny realized that Roy was talking to him. “Cap’s coming round,” Roy said. “I haven’t found any broken limbs. We can’t stay here, either; the ceiling could come down any time. Let’s get him out of here.”

“I’ll get... this,” Johnny muttered, gesturing to the hose. As Roy continued checking the captain’s limbs, just to be doubly sure, Johnny fumbled with the heavy hose. As Dave and Roy started to walk away with him, Johnny had to caution them to stop, as he had not quite got the hose free from Cap’s legs. Disgusted with his sudden ineptitude, Johnny dropped the offending item and glanced up at the ceiling. Water was still pouring from it. He took a deep breath and headed after the others.

It was as they went downstairs towards the triage area that Johnny realized he was in real trouble. He lagged further and further behind as he found it more and more difficult to catch his breath. The stairwell was a good deal less smoky than it had been at higher floors, which was hardly surprising as the fire had started on the 16th floor, yet he was finding it more difficult to breath. They had been forced to leave their air bottles behind and so had been breathing in smoke. He stumbled over his feet on a landing and stopped to catch his breath. Roy glanced up at him from more than half a floor below and Johnny raised his hand to indicate he was okay.

Except he wasn’t okay. He knew he wasn’t okay and he knew he should tell Roy. But Roy had enough to do helping Dave with Cap and they were stretched too thinly as it was. He was still on his feet and once they got to triage, he might mention to Dr Brackett or Morton that he didn’t feel too great. Yeah, that was a plan and if he felt better, he wouldn’t mention anything. Satisfied with that logic, Johnny started down the next flight of stairs. His feet missed a riser and the next thing he knew, he was tumbling head over heels down the concrete until he crashed into a wall.

Darkness rushed in.

**********

The clatter of Johnny’s fall as his helmet banged off each step was enough to alert Roy to trouble. He glanced up, instinctively knowing that it was Johnny and saw his partner crashing to a halt off the wall. “Johnny!”

Both Dave and the captain looked up. “I’m okay,” Cap croaked. “Go get your partner.” He pulled his arm from DeSoto’s shoulders.

Torn, Roy glanced at Dave. The young paramedic nodded. “I can manage,” he assured the older man. “Get Gage.” He knew exactly what Roy was thinking. He had felt the same way earlier when they had found his partner, Charlie, under a ceiling collapse. Charlie was going to be all right. Dave hoped Johnny was, too.

“Thanks,” Roy offered and hurried back up the stairs as fast as his aching legs could take him.

It was immediately obvious that Johnny was unconscious. Roy carefully removed his helmet and felt gently around his skull. There was a knot on the back of his head and a bump on the bridge of his nose that had probably come from the brim of the helmet. His nose was bleeding, but probably not broken. He felt down Johnny’s long legs and only when he came to the right ankle did his partner make a sound. Roy looked down into dazed brown eyes. “Take it easy,” he advised.

“Cap...” Johnny murmured.

“Dave’s got him,” Roy replied, feeling Johnny’s arms. He looked at the awkward way Johnny’s left arm was tucked under him. “I’m going to move your arm, all right?” he asked and wasn’t reassured when Johnny simply nodded. He braced himself for a scream or cry, but all he got was a wince, which was reassuring. Nonetheless, Johnny’s wrist was swollen and might be broken. Roy gently tucked the injured limb into the front of his partner’s turnout coat and continued with his assessment. There was marked tenderness in the ribs but Roy didn’t know if that was from the explosion or the fall. Clearly, taking a deep breath was a painful experience and Roy knew he would have to help Johnny walk from here or leave him to go and get assistance to carry him.

“Johnny?” Roy waited until Johnny was looking right at him before going on. “We need to get out of here, but I can’t carry you over my shoulder with those sore ribs. If I help you, can you walk?”

“I can walk,” Johnny agreed. “Roy, I’m sorry.”

“What for?” Roy asked. He gently replaced the helmet on his partner’s head.

“Fallin’,” Johnny replied. “You had to leave Cap because of me. Sorry.”

“Dave was managing and Cap was conscious,” Roy soothed. “Now, are you ready?” He stood and hoisted Johnny to his feet and slung his partner’s right arm around his shoulders.

As they stumbled down the stairs, Roy knew he would be feeling the strain of this for several days. Johnny was unsteady on his feet to say the least and Roy felt bad that he had had to ask his friend to take the strain of belaying the captain down the shaft, but they had had no choice if they were to escape the inferno. He hoped that nobody else got injured and that the fire was soon under control. Fighting a fire in a tower block was a nightmare every fire-fighter hoped to avoid.

They were perhaps half way to their destination when Roy saw a couple of fire-fighters climbing the stairs towards them. He didn’t recognize them, but they smiled. “Dave sent us,” one announced and they took the injured paramedic from his exhausted partner and half-carried him between them, allowing Roy to trail along behind.

The triage area was still busy, but the numbers seemed to be thinning, Roy thought as he followed the others to a drop sheet. As the firemen gently set Johnny down, Dr Brackett came over, looking utterly unfamiliar in a form-fitting blue jumpsuit that triage doctors used at disasters so that they were easily recognized. “Thanks, fellas,” he said gruffly, as he knelt beside Johnny.

“Thanks,” Roy added, as they headed off. They acknowledged the help with a casual wave and as they vanished off back into the building with their equipment, Roy realized he still didn’t even know which station they came from or what their names were.

“What happened, Johnny?” Brackett asked, pulling out his penlight to peer into the paramedic’s eyes.

“I’m not sure,” Johnny admitted. Now that he was lying down, he felt even worse than he had before. The overhead lights hurt his eyes, his head was pounding and he was still short of breath. “There was the explosion,” he went on, “and then...” He scrunched up his eyes and winced. “I guess I fell down stairs.” He glanced at Roy to confirm his guess.

“There was an explosion on the 21st floor,” Roy started, filling Brackett in. “Johnny seemed a bit dazed, but he wasn’t knocked out.” He quickly filled in all that had happened since then. Brackett listened quietly, no longer surprised by anything Roy and Johnny did, but deeply impressed at the feat of acrobatics Roy related to him.

“Well, there’s no question that you have to go into Rampart,” Brackett said when Roy stopped. “You’ve certainly got a concussion, Johnny and I’d take bets that your ankle is broken. I’m not sure about your wrist, but I need to x-ray that hard head of yours and those ribs. You can go on the next available ambulance.”

“What about Cap?” Johnny asked. He was hoping that they would give him something for pain, but with a head injury, he knew it was unlikely.

“Captain Stanley?” Brackett looked around, because he was pretty sure he would have noticed the tall captain of 51s.

“No, the Captain from 110s,” Roy explained.

“Oh, he’ll be okay,” Brackett responded. “I think I heard Mike Morton say something about a concussion and broken ribs.” He smiled down at Johnny. “A bit like you, my friend.” He frowned when he saw the expression on Johnny’s face. “Johnny? What’s wrong?”

“Can’t... get my... breath,” Johnny panted. All of a sudden, he was more than just short of breath. He felt like he was suffocating.

“Help me sit him up, carefully,” Brackett ordered and grabbed his stethoscope. He listened to Johnny’s chest as Roy propped his partner against his own chest. A quick listen confirmed his fears; a collapsed lung. “We need to get a chest tube in, stat!” Brackett declared. “Roy, get his coat and shirt off.” He rose to his feet and dashed over to the nearest medical kit and grabbed what he needed. One of the nurses followed him back and another went to check on the status of the ambulances.

When he got back, Brackett saw that Johnny was becoming more and more distressed. He shivered visibly in the cool air of the parking garage where they were and his lips were becoming dusky. He was diaphoretic and clutching at Roy’s arm with his one good hand as he fought down the panic of not being able to breathe. “Doc,” he gasped.

Smiling grimly, Brackett expelled the air from the syringe he held. “A couple of sharp scratches and then we’ll sort it out.” He nodded to the nurse, who slipped an oxygen mask over Johnny’s nose and mouth.

Getting the chest tube in took longer than Roy cared for, but he could feel the results immediately. Johnny’s muscles relaxed and his breathing slowed. He lolled against Roy, too exhausted to care that he was cradled in his friend’s arms. Dimly, he was aware that an IV was being established and that someone was taking a set of vitals, but it was all he could do to remain awake. Sleep lapped over him in warm waves.

“Johnny!” The voice was sharp and accompanied by a shake that awoke all the aches and pains in his battered body. He groaned and reluctantly opened his eyes. “You’ve got to stay awake,” Brackett chided him.

“I’m... so... tired,” Johnny mumbled.

“I know,” Brackett sympathized. “But you’ve got to stay awake. We’re going to transfer you to a gurney now and get you to Rampart. Dixie and Joe are expecting you.”

Careful hands lifted Johnny and settled him on the gurney. Johnny shivered as he felt Roy’s warmth depart. A blanket was tucked carefully around him and the gurney started moving. He cranked open his eyes, which felt like they had ton weights on each lid, and tried to focus on his surroundings. Roy was with him carrying the IV bag and to his surprise, Dr Brackett was following along, carrying the drug box. He must have made a noise, although he wasn’t aware of doing so because Brackett smiled down at him. “I’m coming back with you to Rampart,” he explained. “The fire is out and Dr Morton can cope with anything else that comes in.”

“Oh,” Johnny murmured. He wasn’t sure if he believed the physician or not. Moving was causing everything to hurt more and more and he just wanted to go to sleep and wake up when he felt better. And suddenly, Johnny knew he was going to barf. “Roy,” he mumbled. His partner didn’t hear. “Roy!” Slightly more urgency and he struggled to free his good right arm from the confining blankets.

“Hey,” Brackett chided, seeing only the movement and not being aware of his patient’s distress. “Don’t blow the IV.”

Looking back and down, Roy saw the look on Johnny’s face and knew instantly. “Stop!” he cried and yanked off the oxygen mask and helped his partner lean over. He wasn’t a moment too soon.

As the heaving stopped, Roy wiped Johnny’s mouth and carefully helped his trembling, shivering partner to lean back on the gurney. He fixed the oxygen mask in place as Brackett listened to Johnny’s chest again, making sure the chest tube hadn’t moved. Luckily, it hadn’t, but Brackett didn’t want a repeat episode of vomiting. He hunted for something that would settle Johnny’s stomach without making him too drowsy and gave him a small shot.

The wailing of the siren and the bumping of the ambulance as it drove to Rampart was almost too much for Johnny to bear. Pain and nausea crashed in waves over him, one after the other in a never ending cycle of distress. He couldn’t contain his moans, although he knew he would be embarrassed by making those sounds later. Roy’s soothing voice and warm grip provided the only bit of comfort.

As the gurney rushed through the doors into the Emergency department, Johnny forced his eyes open. It was total chaos, with people and gurneys everywhere he looked. Sure enough, Dixie was waiting in the middle of the chaos for him and leaned in to give him a smile. “Hi there, handsome,” she breathed in her husky voice and from somewhere, Johnny found a half smile for her. “Take him to treatment three; we’re just finished in there.”

Over the years, the ER had grown and expanded, with more space for seeing patients and the waiting room moved further away. Johnny thought vaguely that they would never have managed to deal with this many people when he and Roy first became paramedics. He closed his eyes against the nausea as the gurney was swung round parallel to the exam table and he was hoisted unceremoniously across. “Johnny?”

Glancing up, Johnny saw that Roy was holding an emesis basin, but he continued to breath and swallow and finally forced the sick feeling away. He shook his head slightly.

“I want bloods, usual panels, a new set of vitals and portable x-ray stat,” Brackett ordered. “Get ortho down here to look at the ankle and arm films.” He patted Johnny’s good arm. “As soon as we get the films of your head, we’ll see what we can do for the pain,” he promised. Weary beyond belief and wanting only to sleep, Johnny nodded.

***********

As the portable x-ray machine entered the treatment room, Roy rose from the stool where he had been sitting by Johnny’s side. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he assured his friend. He was concerned that Johnny still didn’t seem to be getting any better. The chest tube had provided initial relief, but the improvement had stopped and Roy feared he might be on his way to surgery. He patted Johnny’s hand. “Hang in there,” he reminded him and Johnny quirked a half-grin at him.

“With both hands,” he agreed his voice breathy and hoarse.

Out in the corridor, Roy stopped for a moment to survey the scene and then he resolutely headed for the payphone. He fished in his pocket for change and dialed the familiar number. As he waited for an answer, he looked at his grimy hands and grimaced.

“Station 51, Captain Hank Stanley speaking.”

“Cap, its Roy.” Swallowing, he went on, “I’m at Rampart.”

“Rampart?” Roy could hear the controlled alarm in Cap’s voice. “Is it John? Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Roy assured him. “Sore and dirty and tired, but okay. Johnny’s not so good, though. He was knocked down by a blast at that fire we were at.” Roy sketched in the details as quickly as he could. “X-ray is with him now, but he’s going to be here several days at least,” Roy concluded. “Um, Cap, the squad must still be at the scene and we left equipment behind.”

“Don’t worry about that, dispatch has already told us that they are returning vehicles and so on to us,” Stanley replied. “Roy, I’m going to see if I can get replacements for you and Gage. From what you were saying, there might be a shortage, but since we have no idea when we’re going to get the squad back, don’t worry about it. Stay at the hospital until you know about John and keep me posted.”

“Thanks, Cap,” Roy sighed. He hung up, dug for some more change and dialed another familiar number. “Hi, Joanne,” he started.

**********

As soon as the x-ray machine left the treatment room, Brackett and Dixie went in. They were expecting no more casualties from the fire and slowly things could get back to normal. Finding rooms for everyone was still exercising minds, but it wasn’t Dixie’s problem and she was more than happy about that. “How are you doing, Johnny?” Brackett asked as Dixie started taking new vitals.

“About the same,” Johnny wheezed. “Still can’t breathe right.” He swallowed hard. “Nauseous and sore.”

“I can help with the nausea,” Brackett promised. “I have to wait for the pictures before I do anything else.” He put his stethoscope into his ears and listened to Johnny’s chest again. Breath sounds were diminished on the left side, which was an improvement over being absent but still not what he wanted to hear. Plus there were odd noises starting which Brackett didn’t like the sound of at all. “Dix, hang an antibiotic, too. I’m hearing rales.”

“Not pneumonia,” Johnny whined. He slumped down on the gurney, exhausted to the point of tears. The pounding in his head was merciless, his ribs, foot and arm hurt, he couldn’t breathe and now he might have pneumonia to top it all off. If he could have mustered enough breath, he would have screamed in frustration.

Almost as though he sensed Johnny was at the end of his tether, Roy entered the room. He looked clean, which reminded Dixie that Johnny could use a wash as well. She wet a towel and gently wiped his face, smiling down at him. Johnny was slightly surprised she was finished doing his vitals, but he had been feeling so sorry for himself that he hadn’t heard her report. He didn’t care – he didn’t want to know how bad they were.

“I spoke to Cap,” Roy reported. “The squad is being sent back to the barn at some point; they don’t know exactly when. I spoke to Joanne, too and she says when you’re allowed out of here, you’ve to come to stay for a few days and no arguments.”

That raised a smile. “I wouldn’t dream... of arguing with... Jo,” Johnny smiled.

“Well, that makes a change,” Dixie grinned. She exchanged a fleeting glance with Roy over Johnny’s head and continued washing his face and hands. Kel was at the door accepting the packet of x-rays and he wasted no time clipping the films onto the light box.

Although he was desperate to know what they showed, Roy elected to stay beside Johnny. It was no secret that Johnny wasn’t doing well. As Roy searched his mind for some small talk, there was a brisk knock on the door and another doctor came in. He nodded pleasantly to the paramedics before joining Brackett at the light box. There was some muted discussion and then both doctors and Dixie came over.

“Johnny, this is Dr Johnston from orthopedics,” Bracket began.

“I need surgery, don’t I?” Johnny interrupted.

Reluctantly, Brackett nodded. “Your lung hasn’t come right back up, so we’re going to go in and re-inflate it. While you’re under, Dr Johnston here will set your ankle.”

“It isn’t a big job,” Johnston reassured the paramedic. “Nothing too involved, but you wouldn’t want to be under light sedation for it. Your wrist is a straightforward break in the ulna.” He smiled.

“When?” Johnny asked.

“As soon as there’s an OR free,” Brackett replied. “I’ll give you some Valium to take the edge off while you’re waiting, Johnny, and then you can get something stronger after surgery.”

“What about his head?” Roy asked. “And his ribs?”

“One rib fracture, slightly displaced, which must have nicked the lung,” Brackett responded, “but no bleeding that we can see. We’ll re-site it in surgery. As for your head, you have a moderate concussion but again, no signs of any bleeding. Of course, we’ll be monitoring that during your stay, too.”

“How long... will I...have to stay?” Johnny asked. If anything, he looked even more exhausted now that he was clean.

“That depends,” Brackett replied and his mouth twitched. “It depends on how well your lung heals and if you develop full blown pneumonia. I would guess five days at least, maybe more.”

“Five days?” Johnny made it sound more like five years and even Brackett couldn’t suppress a smile.

“At least,” he reiterated.

“Oh man!” Johnny sounded completely despondent, even allowing for the muffling properties of the oxygen mask. He shot a look at Roy, who made a wry face of sympathy. He knew that waiting for the surgery would be the worst part. He smiled gratefully at Dixie as she smoothly shot some Valium into the IV port. It worked wonders almost immediately. Johnny hadn’t exactly been animated before, but he was completely limp now, his eyes at half-mast and his breathing sounding slightly less strained. Dixie took a new set of vitals and nodded at the improvement.

They didn’t have long to wait. The phone rang about 10 minutes later and when Brackett answered he looked satisfied, said, “Thanks,” and hung up. “Let’s go,” he announced and Dixie had orderlies there in under a minute.

“See you later,” Roy told the groggy Johnny, who mumbled something incoherent as he was pushed out of the door.

**********

To fill in time as he waited, Roy phoned the station again, but there was no answer. He spoke to Joanne again, telling her he wasn’t sure when he would be home; it depended on Cap getting a replacement for him and when the squad was returned. He thought of ringing dispatch to ask where the squad was but decided against it; no point in reminding them he was sitting idle when the only place he wanted to be was right there at the hospital.

At Dix’s urging, he got something to eat and when he returned to the ER, he helped out where he could; anything to fill in the time. He didn’t know how long the surgery would last, but he supposed a couple of hours wouldn’t be unreasonable, given that Johnny was having a couple of things done.

Just when he thought he couldn’t bear the waiting any longer, Brackett and Johnston appeared in the doctor’s lounge. Roy slowly put down his cup of coffee and looked at them. “Well?”

“He came through just fine,” Brackett reported. “We got the lung repaired and set the rib that caused all the problems. Jim, here, put a wire in it just to hold it in place for the meantime. His ankle took slightly longer than anticipated, but it’s back in place now and casted. His wrist was straightforward, as you know. We waited with him in recovery until he came out of the anesthetic because you know what he’s like with it. We loaded him with anti-emetics before we started and that seems to have helped a bit. So now it’s just a question of waiting to see if we’ve caught the pneumonia in time.”

“Thanks, Doctors,” Roy said gratefully. He felt an enormous weight fall off his shoulders.

“And now I think you ought to go home - after you’ve seen your partner, of course,” Brackett said and smiled.

“Um, I’d like nothing better,” Roy agreed, “but technically I’m still on duty so I need to ring Cap...”

“No need,” said a familiar voice and Roy smiled at Cap as he and the engine crew entered the lounge. Kel made introductions and repeated his report on Johnny. “Thanks, Doctor Brackett,” Stanley said warmly and shook the man’s hand.

“Duty calls, I guess,” Roy noted ruefully, but Hank shook his head.

“We can’t get a replacement for Gage,” Stanley told him. “So the squad is standing down for the rest of the shift. You go and see Johnny quickly and then we’ll give you a lift back to the barn and you can go home.”

“Thanks, Cap.” Standing in the doorway, Roy looked at Brackett. “If anything changes...”

“... we’ll call you,” Brackett concluded. “Get out of here, hose jockey!”

**********

It wasn’t altogether a surprise that Johnny had contracted pneumonia. Roy sat beside his partner’s bed and watched him sleeping restlessly, the oxygen mask fogging with every breath. It wasn’t an ideal situation, especially given that Johnny had had a collapsed lung, but it could have been worse. His fever was at a manageable level and the humidified oxygen seemed to be keeping his cough suppressed. However, on the down side, Johnny was complaining of backache because he was forced to sleep with the head of the bed raised at an angle to help his breathing and with his limited mobility because of the broken ribs, ankle and wrist, Johnny was very unhappy. Dr Brackett had prescribed a mild sedative to help him sleep, but so far with limited success.

“Roy.” Johnny’s eyes had opened, the lids heavy and the dark circles underneath pointing up his exhaustion. “You still here?”

“It looks like it,” Roy agreed, smiling. “How’re you feeling?”

A heavy sigh was followed by a grimace and wince and a wriggling of Johnny’s body as he tried to find a more comfortable position. He didn’t really need to say anything. “I’m sore,” he whined and wished he’d kept quiet.

“Let me see what I can do,” Roy proposed and helped Johnny sit up a bit more, smoothed the sheet under him and turned the pillows over so the cool side was against his skin and under his head. He fed his partner some ice chips and wiped his hot face with a cool cloth. “How’s that?”

“Better,” Johnny agreed. He hated feeling ill and he hated being helpless and worst of all, he hated that he couldn’t help showing the world how bad he felt. “How’s the captain of 110s?” he asked, trying to take his mind off his own situation.

“He’s still here,” Roy replied, “but he should be getting home tomorrow, I think. He’ll be fine.”

“Huh,” Johnny said, but without malice. Roy correctly interpreted that as meaning ‘that’s great, I’m glad for him but I wish I wasn’t stuck here’. “They ever find what caused the fire?”

Roy’s brows drew down and he looked angry. “Yeah,” he admitted. “A painter on the 16th floor hadn’t put out a cigarette properly. He had spilled some thinner and the combination...” Roy looked grim. There hadn’t been many fatalities, but even the few there had been were too many. “Apparently he was always smoking around the paint.”

“What? Everyone knows that paint is flammable,” Johnny began, but he was too fatigued for a full scale rant. “What an idiot,” he muttered and coughed.

Coughing was a strain Johnny could do without. Roy handed him the small pillow he used for support and he clasped it to his ribs until the spasm subsided. Roy gave him some ice chips and rang for the nurse who gave him some more painkillers and soon Johnny was sleeping fitfully again. Roy resumed his vigil, furious at the painter who had caused such mayhem by such a stupid action. His carelessness had cost several lives already and might cost him his own in the end. Roy had heard that he was badly burned and not expected to pull through.

It was all such a waste.

**********

The phone rang at midnight. Panicking awake, Roy grabbed the receiver. “Hello?”

“Roy, its Mike Morton. Johnny’s taken a turn for the worse. We’d like you to come down.”

“I’m on my way,” he replied and was out of bed and dragging on yesterday’s clothes in a moment, his stiff, aching muscles forgotten.

“Is it Johnny?” Joanne asked.

“Yeah,” Roy replied. “He’s taken a turn for the worse and they want me. I don’t know when I’ll get back. I’ll phone when I can. Love you.”

“Love you, too,” Joanne replied automatically, lifting her face for a kiss. As Roy hurried out of the bedroom, she lay back against the pillow and prayed for her friend’s life to be spared.

**********

As Roy hurried in through the ER doors, the main entrance being closed for the night, the nurse on duty intercepted him. “Mr. DeSoto? Dr Morton asked me to tell you that Mr. Gage is being moved to ICU and to meet them there.”

“Thanks,” Roy replied and headed to the elevator, a million different scenarios playing through his head. His heart was in his mouth as the car began its slow ascent.

There was enough bustle to show Roy where his partner was and he stepped in to the room. Johnny was just being settled into the bed, all his tubes and bags being hung and the IVs checked. Johnny’s face was pale apart from two hectic patches of fever in his cheeks. Lines of pain and strain were all too evident to Roy. He stepped closer. “Johnny?”

At once, the dark eyes opened, but although his lips moved, no sound came out. He coughed weakly. Roy was appalled. It was only a few hours since he had left. “What’s going on?” Roy asked, the words sounding calm and controlled. He grasped Johnny’s upraised hand. Roy felt anything but calm and controlled.

“John’s temperature spiked a while after you left,” Morton explained. “The coughing is getting away from him. We’ve changed the antibiotics to something a bit stronger and we’re going to intubate him and give him a rest for a few days.”

“Are you all right with that, Johnny?” Roy asked, knowing that it was the sensible option, but still concerned for his friend. Johnny nodded, but he kept his contact with his partner.

Looking down at John, Morton’s face softened slightly. “John wanted to wait until you were here for us to do it,” he explained. He glanced at Roy. “You don’t mind?”

“Of course not,” Roy agreed. He squeezed Johnny’s hand. “Of course I don’t mind,” he assured his partner. “And I’ll be here when you wake up. Okay?”

Again, there was the nod. Morton looked at the nurses and gave them the signal. One nurse shot a sedative into Johnny’s IV port and within moments, his muscles started relaxing and his eyes closed. Roy kept hold of his hand until the tube was in place and Morton had checked the placement. Gently, Roy laid Johnny’s hand on the bed. “How long will he be sedated?” Roy asked.

“A couple of days,” Morton replied. “We can keep a closer eye on his fever this way and he won’t risk popping that lung again with all the coughing.”

“Why Johnny?” Roy asked, helplessly. He held his hand up to Morton. “I know; I know. He doesn’t have a spleen and that makes him more vulnerable to infection but it just isn’t fair.”

“I know,” Morton agreed. “But he’ll pull through this, Roy. Remember what he said to me? He’s skinny but he’s tough.” They laughed together and Roy patted his friend’s hand.

“See you when you wake up,” he reminded his comatose friend and headed for home.

***********

It was three days before Brackett woke Johnny from his coma and pulled the tube. By then, his fever had gone and his lungs were clear. Brackett had repeated the chest x-ray and Johnny’s lung looked in good shape. As he had promised, Roy was at his bedside when he woke, as he had been several times while Johnny slept.

“You... ever... go... home?” Johnny asked, smiling weakly.

“Once or twice,” Roy teased back. “But Joanne kept chasing me back here.”

“Likely... story,” Johnny scoffed. He looked at all the flowers and cards that were in his room. “Where did... all these...come from?”

Rising, Roy retrieved the cards from the nearest vase of flowers and let Johnny read it; his landlady. Others had come from Charlie’s girlfriend, Sue and the firm she worked for. The cards were from various of his many friends and fellow fire-fighters. “This is from Captain Wilson from 110s,” Roy said and watched his friend’s face as Johnny read the handsome ‘thank you’ note that the captain had penned.

“But, Roy!” he protested when he had finished reading it. His face was flushed. “I didn’t help... the Cap. You and Dave... did the work.”

“We couldn’t have got him down the elevator shaft without you,” Roy declared firmly. “You’d been caught in the same explosion as Cap and were just as badly hurt.”

“Aw, Roy, I wasn’t,” Johnny objected, but Roy refused to allow Johnny to back out of accepting the responsibility for the rescue.

“You were,” Roy reiterated. “Dr Brackett thinks that belaying Cap down did the damage to your ribs that punctured your lung. I shouldn’t have let you do it, but we were out of options.” Roy made a face. “I’m sorry, Johnny.”

“Hey,” Johnny reached out and caught Roy’s arm. “No guilt, Pally. None of us... had a choice back there. We either escaped... or died.” He glanced back down at the card. “But a commendation? That’s too far.”

“He’s recommended all of us for a commendation,” Roy told Johnny. “Captain Stanley has accepted on our behalf.”

“He what?” Johnny squeaked.

“And Chief McConnike has already set a date for the next awards ceremony.” Roy smiled. “We’ve gotta take it, Junior. We don’t have a choice in the matter.”

Lying back against the pillows, Johnny thought round and about the matter. He was flattered, there was no getting away from it, but he still felt he hadn’t done anything ‘above and beyond the call of duty’. Roy and Dave had done all the hard work and he thought it right that they should be recognized, but he had done nothing more than hang on to a hose – not even a rope! – and anyone could have done that. He glanced at Roy and saw his partner had read his mind.

“Guess we’re stuck with it, huh?” he asked.

“Guess so,” Roy agreed and they grinned.

*****End*****

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