Mystery and Crime Fiction posted December 28, 2015 Chapters: Prologue -1- 2... 


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Baltimore's Bravest go to work...

A chapter in the book 2nd Time Around

Chapter 1

by teols2016



Background
A fight for life and truth...
2014:

"...One-alarm fire at Box 39," the dispatcher announced over the fire station's loudspeakers as the alarm rang. "please respond...Battalion 2, Battalion 4, Engine 4, Engine 13, Engine 21, Engine 33, Engine 56, Truck 1, Truck 16, Truck 29, Medic 19, Squad 54, Rescue 1, Airflex 2, Collapse 1, Safety 2. One-alarm fire at four-story residence at 51 Woodsburk Avenue. Please respond...Battalion 2, Battalion 4, Engine 4, Engine 13, Engine 21, Engine 33, Engine 56, Truck 1, Truck 16, Truck 29, Medic 19, Squad 54, Rescue 1, Airflex 2, Collapse 1, Safety 2."

Upon hearing the dispatcher's call, the firefighters quartered in the fire station on Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore City jumped into action. Both their engine company, Engine 4, and their truck company, Truck 29, had been summoned to help at this blaze.

The firefighters hurried down to their rigs in the station's garage bay. Quickly and efficiently, they put on their fire gear and hopped into their respective rigs' cabs, the station's screeching alarm not hindering them in the least.

In the middle of the fray was Lewis Donald Griffin, the newest member of Truck 29. Nervous about his first call with this company, he nevertheless got into gear just as always. Within a minute, he was sitting in one of the seats on the rear bench in the truck's cab, being the third to make it. Seconds later, the other three members of his company joined him. The doors were shut and their commander gave the "all clear". their emergency vehicle driver sped out of the garage bay with the lights flashing and the sirens wailing. Engine 4 pulled out right behind them.

The company of Truck 29 was comprised of five men and one woman. Their commander was Miles O'James. A first-generation immigrant from Ireland, he had since lost his accent and held duel citizenship, entering the Baltimore City Fire Academy upon becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. Though he was Irish, his hair was dark instead of red and he had brown eyes instead of green. He had been leading the company for four years. He exuded the right amount of authority to keep his firefighters in line while not appearing overbearing or too strict. During his days as a ranked firefighter, he had held the additional role of a trained and certified EMT and still kept up with the required courses.

Behind the truck's wheel was Sheldon Forest Alexander, the latest in a long line of Baltimore City firefighters. Having been trained and certified to drive the rig alongside to his other firefighting duties, he was always behind the wheel, holding the title of "emergency vehicle driver". He was a tall, lean man with short, brown hair and a thin layer of muscle across his entire body. He had been with the company for three years, transferring over from Truck 21. Unofficially, he was second-in-command on Truck 29, the department having no such ranking. His natural abilities as a leader made him the prime candidate to replace Lieutenant O'James upon the latter's retirement in a few years.

Behind Sheldon sat Frank Milkey, a man with light hair and a worn-out face which conveyed years of "street smarts" in the world of firefighting. Though no one was sure about his age, he was definitely the oldest in the company. He had likely passed the age where he'd be eligible to retire with a full pension. Loving his job, He always insisted he'd retire only when he could no longer run into burning buildings. The department's approaching mandatory retirement age meant nothing to him. He had been with Truck 29 forever and some thought he might have been there longer than their rig. Well known for his skills as a cook, he had often said he'd open a barbecue joint once he could no longer fight fires. His experience could have enabled him to rise through the ranks in the department. However, he'd often refused promotions, stating he wanted to fight fires without having to worry about the paperwork.

Next to Frank sat Lewis. Also Irish, his family had been in the United States for many generations. Unlike Lieutenant O'James, Lewis had the stereotypical red hair and green eyes. Now that he was sitting in the truck, he was less nervous. He had been on hundreds of calls before in his career. From here on out, it was just with a different company. Plus, the same manufacturer made the seats for the engines and the trucks.

Next to Lewis sat the sole female member of Truck 29, Suzanne Moss. A brunette with shoulder-length hair, she had proven herself years ago by threatening to castrate Frank with a fire ax for looking down on her. Just hours after that, she'd pushed him out of the way of a collapsing beam during a call. This act saved both their lives and cemented her reputation of loyalty and toughness. Ever since then, she had been one of the team and continued to prove herself as valuable to them all. In addition to her job as a firefighter, she was trained and certified as an EMT like Lieutenant O'James.

Next to Suzanne and behind Lieutenant O'James sat Kevin Doyle. Though he was a few years younger than Lewis, he had recently completed his stint as a probationary firefighter on Truck 29. Thanks to Lewis's transfer from Engine 4, he was no longer the "rookie" of the company, a designation of which he was all too glad to rid himself. An African American, his boyish looks were often the butt of many jokes by other firefighters. It became especially funny when someone asked him for identification to prove his age so he could drink at bars and restaurants. He kept his dark hair cut short, copying his father, who had served as a United States Marine and hadn't changed his style.

"Ready to go, 'Rookie'?" he called out over the wail of the truck's siren while smiling at Lewis.

* * *

Truck 29 arrived at the scene and everyone could see the burning four-story apartment building. Flames were already shooting out of multiple windows and thick smoke was billowing out and rising over the roof. The heat could be felt all the way by the truck. The firefighters piled out and put on their oxygen tanks and masks, knowing they were going into the dwelling.

"Listen up," Lieutenant O'James called out, getting his company's attention. "Truck 16's venting the roof! Truck 1 is searching the first two floors, so you guys split up and search the top two! The basement's already clear!"

The firefighters nodded and moved forward, careful not to impede their colleagues on the engines, who were already trying to douse the flames. Large puddles of water littered the street and sidewalk as the hoses were directed from window to window. The water sprays struck wherever the blaze sprouted, the firefighters aiming at the base of the flames to extinguish them.

The team entered the building through the front door, which had already been removed, and went up the stairs. It was much hotter here and the flames were much more prevalent. A brilliant mixture of red, orange, and yellow mingled with the black smoke and filled everyone's field of vision.

On the third floor, the group split up with Kevin and Frank staying behind to search the apartments there while everyone else continued on to the top floor.

"Start on the left," Sheldon told Lewis and Suzanne, his voice somewhat muffled by his oxygen mask. "I'll take the right. Maintain radio contact."

Lewis and Suzanne acknowledged this and moved towards the nearest apartment. They first checked the door to see if it was hot, indicating a possible backdraft which could have a lethal impact on all of them. Finding no sign of that possibility, they entered the burning dwelling, calling out for anyone who might be there.

"Fire department!" they shouted repeatedly, trying their best not to interrupt each other. "is anyone in here?! Call out!"

They determined that this apartment was empty and moved to the next one. This door was locked and Lewis raised his ax and swung it through the air. His first hit splintered the door with a loud crack. Lewis pulled the ax back and swung again. With another crack, the door splintered more but still stood. Sure it was weak enough, Suzanne kicked it with her heavy boot. The wooden pieces fell and scattered across the floor inside the apartment.

"Fire department!" Lewis and Suzanne shouted, entering the burning apartment. "call out!"

This apartment was also empty, but the flames were brighter, stronger, and hotter here and the smoke was thicker and darker. They soon had to retreat, hurrying through what remained of the splintered door. They met up with Sheldon in the hallway and saw he had found a frightened teenage girl in an apartment on his side.

"Take her down," He told them. "I'll keep searching up here."

Suzanne and Lewis complied with Suzanne taking the girl's arm. They got her through the thick smoke, down the stairs, and out of the building, where a pair of paramedics took charge of her. By this time, she was coughing and crying but otherwise seemed to be unharmed.

Lewis and Suzanne headed back inside to reunite with Sheldon. As they were climbing up the stairs again, they heard a crash below them which sounded like a wrecking ball had hit the side of the building. They both froze, wondering if the staircase they were on was in danger of collapsing. Then, someone called out over the radio.

"MAYDAY! MAYDAY! TWO FIREFIGHTERS DOWN," the voice exclaimed. "MAYDAY! MAYDAY! TWO FIREFIGHTERS DOWN!"

He explained the situation, describing how two firefighters from Truck 1, Kathy Gates and Tom Haligan, had fallen through a weak spot in the floor. They had landed in the basement. Neither was responding to radio calls and Suzanne and Lewis heard the pair's PASS devices emitting their signature high-pitched screeching noises, indicating their positions and that they weren't moving. They were possibly unconscious and had to be trapped.

Sheldon reported in via his radio, saying the top floor was clear and that he was on his way back down to help. Taking the hint, Lewis and Suzanne turned around and headed back downstairs as well to see how they could help their downed comrades. They reached the entrance to the basement, which the firefighters of Squad 54 were trying to open. However the door was stuck and the heat being emitted suggested that the basement stairs were burning. Taking the door down could cause a backdraft which could spell disaster for everyone in the building's lobby and Haligan and Gates in the basement.

"We gotta make a new door," Frank said, also coming down the stairs with Kevin right behind him. "get a saw in here now!"

As someone ran out to get the saw, he and Sheldon surveyed the floor beneath their feet, determining the best spot to cut.

The saw arrived and the squad company took charge of creating the hole, cutting strategically as to prevent the entire floor from giving collapsing. Meanwhile two more firefighters from Truck 1 brought in a ladder. The company's fifth firefighter was down the hallway, near the hole where his colleagues had fallen. Using the powerful beam on his flashlight, he could locate the pair and confirmed they weren't moving or responding to the light. He also reported that they were partially buried under some rubble and more debris was coming down around them.

* * *

The battalion chief was putting in a radio call for two more ambulances when the department's elite Rescue Unit arrived, having raced across town to the scene. The firefighters piled out and he ran over to meet them.

"We've got two of ours not moving in the basement," He told them.

"Got it," the leader, Captain Harvey Stephens, said.

He turned to his men and called out, "Let's go!"

Unlike other companies, whose commanders generally stayed with the rigs and coordinated their firefighters via their radios, the leader of the Rescue Unit always went in with his team.

The Rescue Unit entered the lobby, where the others had just finished making the hole in the floor and were lowering the ladder into it.

"Stay here," Captain Stephens instructed, going down first. While two of his firefighters stayed behind, the rest followed him down into the basement.

They confirmed that the stairs going back up were engulfed in flames. Thanks to the flashlight beam from above, they found Kathy Gates and Tom Haligan with little effort. The pair's PASS devices also helped as the screeching sounds were still audible. They seemed to be conscious but they could not help themselves out of their current predicament.

Knowing they couldn't just pull each firefighter free, the Rescue Unit set to work tying ropes around each one's chest and shoulders. Once the makeshift harnesses were secure, they fed the ropes back up the ladder. Their comrades up top coordinated the firefighters of Trucks 1 and 29 to help them pull.

Next, the Rescue Unit worked to get as much debris off of Kathy Gates and Tom Haligan as they could. This included a large, wooden beam that was pinning down the latter's leg. They had to do this quickly but carefully as any wrong move could lead to them all being buried alive.

They soon cleared away as much as they could and were able to hold up the remaining debris for short periods. Captain Stephens gave a signal to the firefighters waiting in the lobby. They pulled Tom Haligan out, two of the Rescue Unit's members helping him as he was hauled up the ladder and received by Sheldon and a firefighter from Truck 1. The procedure was repeated to get Kathy Gates out, after which the Rescue Unit scampered back up the ladder behind her.

By the time Kathy Gates and Tom Haligan were brought outside, two more ambulances had arrived. The paramedics took charge of them, saying they'd be transferred to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center for tests. Though both Kathy Gates and Tom Haligan were conscious, they were not the same as they had been just an hour ago. Both were tired and not fully aware of their surroundings. So the commander of Truck 1 agreed with this course of action.

As the ambulances pulled away, Lewis headed back to Truck 29 and stored away his oxygen tank and mask. Now that everyone was out of the building, He and the rest of the company would do what was needed to help the engine companies extinguish the blaze.

"Lewis!" someone called out. "Hey, Lewis!"

Lewis looked up to see his friend, Sam Jackson, coming over towards him. Sam had once been on Engine 4 with him but had transferred when he was accepted into the Rescue Unit.

"Hey, man," Sam said, reaching him. "heard you were on the truck now. This your first call with them?"

"Yeah," Lewis replied.

"Nothing like starting out with a bang," Sam remarked.

"You could say that," Lewis agreed.

"How's the family?" Sam asked.

"Everyone's good," Lewis told him. "Sarah's up in New York, visiting with Amelia and some other folks."

Sam nodded.

"How are Ashley and the kids?" Lewis asked.

"They're good," Sam said. "Ashley hasn't quite come around to me being on the Rescue Unit yet."

Lewis nodded, understanding. His family had never been that thrilled with him becoming a firefighter, but they had accepted his desire to pursue the career. He doubted they'd be on board if he ever tried to get onto the Rescue Unit, though he had no plans to pursue such a venture anytime soon. So far, he liked his new place on Truck 29.

"Well, I've gotta run," Sam said. "we're gonna head back...wait for the next call."

Lewis nodded again.

"Last in, first out," he remarked with an exaggerated eye roll. "Hard life you guys lead on the Rescue Unit."

"Can you blame us?" Sam asked with a sense of pride.

Lewis didn't answer.

"We are just that awesome," Sam added.

"If you say so," Lewis replied.

They made plans to go grab a beer and catch up after their shift. With the details set, Sam hurried back to his rig. He and the rest of the Rescue Unit headed out and Lewis got back to work.


Recognized


First off, the time jump from the prologue just means the real fun is about to begin. This chapter introduces the biggest subplot in the story and the characters important to it. But, an important relationship is already revealed. The feedback I've gotten on this and the story as a whole has been awesome. Thank you and keep it coming. I've already made serious edits to this.
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