At The Fire
In the eerie pre-dawn light, the dancing orange glow from the fire and the flashing red strobes on the emergency vehicles created a fantastic kaleidoscope of shape and colour, which played on walls and windows alike in the blocks around the Gould Street intersection. Arriving moments after the fourth alarm sounded, the Squad slowed and came to a halt about half a block away from the fire; a short distance behind, the Engine slid smoothly into place beside a bright yellow hydrant on the sidewalk. Captain Stanley was out of his seat and trotting toward the Battalion Chief even before the big vehicle came to a complete stop. The rest of the crew also dismounted and began to prepare their equipment in anticipation of the deployment orders their leader would return with. Five sets of eyes watched the fire warily as it seemed to swell and grow right in front of them.
“Hank.” Chief McConnikee nodded as the captain of 51 approached.
“Chief.” Stanley returned the greeting. “Looks like a real bad one.”
“That it is, Hank! The only good news is that the building is completely empty, so there's no need to search for victims inside. I'll need all your men on hose teams to start, with the paramedics to be prepared to treat any of our own injuries should they occur.” McConnikee gestured toward one of the buildings immediately beside the fully engaged red brick building. “Take your crew up and over the northern face here, out onto the roof and join 10s and 45s there. Let's get as much water down onto that building as possible, and protect the exposed adjacent structures as well.”
“Right,” Hank nodded briskly as he turned and headed back to where his crew waited. While the captain had been briefed, Mike Stoker had supervised the preparations, connecting the Engine to the hydrant and charging the lines. Fully geared up, hoses at hand, the crew was ready when their leader returned with his instructions.
The captain took in his men's readiness with a quick appreciative glance. “We'll be on the building to the north of the fire,” he began. “Kelly, Lopez, take an inch and a half, up the ladders to the roof. Gage and DeSoto, another inch and a half, go up the external fire escape to the rear and come out on the roof. Now there's a lot of action up there, so each team make sure you've got your handi-talkie, set on channel two.” Hank waited until he received affirmative nods before continuing. “Under no circumstances are we to enter the primary structure; the building was empty and declared structurally unsound months ago.” Hesitating briefly, he added, “It's a bad one, so be careful. Let's go!” Clapping a farewell hand on Stoker's shoulder, Stanley led the remainder of his crew past the Engine, toward their positions in the battle zone.
“See you up there, Gage!” called Chet, as he and Marco headed in the direction of the ladder truck. “Don't get lost on the way!”
“We'll see who gets lost!” John retorted, grabbing the nozzle of his hose and shrugging it up over his shoulder. “Come on, Roy!” Impatiently he turned around to his partner, who had stepped back to the Squad for a moment.
Roy reappeared seconds later, slinging their green medical bag over his arm and air tanks. “Right behind you, Johnny!” he replied, tugging on his gloves and picking up the hose. “Thought we'd better be prepared for anything when we get up to the roof.” Johnny nodded his approval, and the two paramedics-turned-linemen trotted around the side of the building, found the metal fire escape, and began their steady climb.
On the roof the scene was one of barely controlled chaos. This building was one storey taller than the burning structure on its south side, providing a considerable advantage to the crews fighting the fire. Streams of water could be aimed directly down into the flames, or across the width of the roof below in a curtain effect. Hank Stanley's practised eye took in all these details as he clambered from the ladder on to the roof; stepping carefully, he climbed over the many crisscrossed hoses, making his way to the centre of the roof where the other captains were gathered.
“Simmons, Peterson.” Hank greeted his counterparts with a terse nod. “I've got two line teams coming up; where are they best deployed to fit in with your guys?”
“Glad you could join us!” Pete Simmons, the 'A' shift captain from Station 10 replied. “Put one line at the far corner, to help keep containment at the rear of the building. Your second line can join the force in the central area.” He moved closer to the edge of the roof, indicating that Hank should follow. “Part of the roof towards the rear has already opened up, even though the third floor isn't fully involved yet. Let's use that gap to our advantage.”
“Got it,” Hank agreed. As his crew scrambled up on to the roof moments later he was ready for them. “John, Roy, take the rear corner of the building. Work on containing the spread into the back alley.” He swung his hand to the far edge of the roof, watching as they acknowledged his instructions with a wave. Hank then gestured for Chet and Marco to join the row of firefighters aiming their streams of water straight down into the inferno below.
For a time there was total concentration on the battle. The three captains moved up and down the row, directing individual line teams, and reporting the progress back to the Battalion Chief. The roar of the fire was making communication difficult; the heat and roiling black smoke were fast becoming an oppressive wall against which the firefighters were having little effect.
One of the linemen near the centre of the roof suddenly wavered, then collapsed to his knees; his partner on the hose barely managed to shut off the flow to avoid losing control. He waved Captain Simmons over, and together they half-carried the woozy lineman away from the edge. Hank Stanley, seeing the commotion, quickly trotted to where his paramedics were manning their hose. Putting a hand on Roy DeSoto's shoulder, he shouted, “We've got a man down! You see to it, I'll take your place here on the line!”
“Right, Cap!” Roy replied, immediately letting go of the hose and turning to leave. “I'll let you know if I need Johnny!” Hank waved his acknowledgement, moving quickly into position behind John and picking up the hose.
Johnny was peripherally aware of the movement behind him, and turned to get look at what was happening. Seeing his captain now on the line, he shifted his position slightly to allow the older man to assume a better grip and stance with which to control the hose. As he moved, however, his air tank brushed against the low retaining wall at the rim of the roof. Unable to withstand the additional pressure, the flimsy rail atop the wall gave way, causing Johnny to lose his balance and fall backwards towards the edge. In a seeming slow-motion chain of events, Hank dropped the hose and reached towards the flailing arms of his crewman. Both men's momentum, however, was too strong; Johnny tumbled backwards over the wall, followed by Hank a couple of seconds later. They disappeared over the edge into the smoke and flames below.
O o O o O
The Building roared; it embraced the fire that was consuming it, giving the flames free reign throughout its structure. Polished hardwood floors, intricate framing and moulding, utilitarian drywall, all were devoured by the raging inferno. As everything burned, the Building released great clouds of billowing black smoke. Upwards they flowed, spilling out its upper windows and rolling around its own roof and those of the neighbouring structures.
The swarm of firefighters was no match for the fury of the fire and smoke; the spray of water from the hoses at ground level and the rooftops did little to check the power of the blaze. The Building, although aware of their efforts, felt no effects from the pouring water; it heaved and trembled and continued to burn in the growing morning light.
In the midst of the chaos the Building sensed a sudden uproar from the crews of firefighters; at the same time it became aware of a new presence within itself, in its upper level where the flames had not yet taken full hold. Curious, the Building turned its attention away from the fire and onto the rear area of its third floor, where a new, epic struggle was beginning to take place.