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The Best of Intentions

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It turned out she was a screamer.

And not in a good way, Gage thought as he lay on his left side, doing his best to tunnel his way into the back seat of a collection of metal and upholstery that once was a car. Though there was something to be a said about a beautiful woman with … fervor. Yeah, that was a good word for it. Except not in this case.

"OhmyGod, OhmyGod, OhmyGod, please get her out, she's my baby…"

The coupe had rolled, probably more than once based on where it'd ended upon the sidewalk upside down with its driver's door pressed up against a telephone pole. The roof had pancaked, leaving only a space so narrow and tight that even he felt claustrophobic as he shoved and pushed and dragged himself into the gap between the back of the front passenger seat and the doorjamb. He could've waited for the Jaws to enlarge the opening but he could hear it still in use, dragging groans from the dashboard of the other car as it tugged the chains upward inch-by-grinding inch and pulled the steering wheel out of the chest of the driver that Roy was still trying to save

"OhGodplease, I can't, pleasepleaseplease, get her out.I can't…"

It was like a puzzle or a game of twister to contort his body into this slot, around that metal frame of a seat that used to be covered with upholstery before gravity, friction and concrete had ripped it and the foam from the metal. The female driver of this car had been extricated through the windshield, after they'd removed it of course. Barely even walking wounded, she was still screaming: incoherent moans and unearthly shrieks that made his nerves vibrate. He gritted his teeth as he dragged the skin of his left forearm across something sharp and unexpected on the roof of the car that now rested on the sidewalk. Which made it the floor or the ground or something.

"Lorena, baby, OhGodplease, Lorena, baby, you have to be all right, please, Oh God…"

There was more but much of it was incoherent sounds that were even worse than the pleading cries, intermixed with the sound of an adult woman whimpering in terror and trying to lean into the car when there wasn't enough space for him as it was.

He took the flashlight out of his mouth and hollered back over his right shoulder, "Cap!"

Someone had to get her out of here, had to get her away from the car or he was going to lose his mind because her terror was pervasive and contagious and despite the thousands of rescues he'd done, the hundreds of cars he'd crawled inside, she was starting to freak him out inside a wreck that was already more than a little worse than normal.

"Ma'am, c'mon, I need you to step back away from the car."

Cap's voice was pitched to reassuring and firm, which worked on about 80% of victims but slid right off hysterical mothers, screamers or otherwise.

"OhmyGod…it was just one… just one second. She took… I heard her take it off… I could hear the sound… and then I saw her moving. Oh God, just one second. I told her… I turned my head for one second to tell her to put the seatbelt back on….And then… and then…."

"Ma'am, listen to me. We are doing everything possible to help your daughter but we need your help and she needs your help."

He's pulling out the big guns, Gage thought as he dragged himself another inch into the back seat, pulling himself along by his left arm, flashlight in his mouth and the fingers of his right hand extended in front of him straining to reach the huddled form on the floor – okay, on the roof - behind the driver's seat.

"Please, just… just get her out. Please, God, she's just a little girl…"

"Listen, we don't know if your daughter is injured…"

Gage grimaced. Cap had to know that the injured was probably the best possible outcome here.

"… but whatever her condition, this would be a frightening situation for anyone. If she hears that you're scared, if she hears you panicking, it's going to make it even more frightening for her so we need you to calm down and let these men do their jobs..."

Hank Stanley's voice was growing fainter, as if moving away, which Gage hoped meant that he'd managed to lure the still whimpering woman to a safe distance, preferably to a police car or an ambulance, if one had finally arrived, where she'd be protected from the sight of fireman extracting her little girl from the back of a pile of scrap metal.

With The Screamer gone, he could hear the little girl's short, shallow breaths. Not great, but at least she was alive.

The tips of his fingers touched fabric, something soft and cotton, and then flesh, slightly cooler than his own. He moved his palm onto the skin, extending his fingers to determine what the flashlight didn't quite make clear. Okay, an arm. He slid his fingers to the right; the circumference of the arm narrowed as he did so, which meant he was going downward towards a hand, towards her wrist. He felt for a radial pulse with his right fingers and grabbed the flashlight with his left.

"Hi there, sweetheart, my name is Johnny. I'm a fireman and I'm going to take care of you and get you out of here, okay?"

There. Fluttery and weak, like a butterfly beating against his fingertips.

Outside, footsteps hammered against pavement.

"Gage, how's it going in there?"

Cap, back from handing off The Screamer to someone far enough away that he couldn't really hear her any more. As usual, Cap was bounding around the scene like a border collie checking on his flock, making sure Marco'd hosed down all the gas, searching for any new hazards and checking in on his paramedics and their patients.

"She's alive, but her pulse is about 110 and weak."

He heard Cap draw a breath. "Okay. What do you need?"

"Cervical collar, backboard –the short one – and O2." And Roy, he mentally added, even knowing that his partner was tied up at the other car with the other victim. "We're gonna need some other way of getting her out of here, Cap. I can't pull her out the way I crawled in. We'll probably need a board and it just doesn't bend the way it'd need to."

"Roy's using the O2 from the squad on his victim. I'll get you the O2 from the Engine. Squad 36 is ten minutes out and I have a second ambulance on its way."

Cap had to be biting his tongue to not remind him that the reason the Squad was short an O2 canister was Gage's own damn fault for not grabbing another canister to replace the one they'd used on that earlier call, the one with that asthmatic smoker.

"Okay, Cap."

He heard Stanley back away from the car, shouting orders as he did so.

"Stoker, we're going to need the Ajax tool, a short board, a c-collar and the O2 from the Engine over here. Lopez, bring the Jaws over to Gage's car and assist him in extrication. DeSoto, I'll be right there."

If Mike was leaving the Engine, Cap must've decided they weren't going to need the hoses again. Well, good; he could use some help since Chet was at Roy's car, helping with the guy who'd hit a steering wheel a lot harder than anyone's sternum could handle.

He pulled himself another few inches into the car and ran his right hand up her arm, until he reached her shoulders, then moved across her shoulders to her neck and found the carotid. He held his breath while he counted – no real difference from the radial pulse - and then slid the hand down her torso.

"Respirations are thirty-five," he called to anyone who was listening.

No dampness, nothing wet that he could feel and even though the smell of much diluted gasoline was still stronger than anything else, there was definitely something else there, probably urine.

"Damn it!"

A little girl's abdomen was supposed to be soft and warm and pliable; he shouldn't feel any resistance. They needed to get her out now.

"Gage! Hey Johnny!"

"Yeah, Marco."

"How's she doing?"

He was pretty sure she was unconscious from the way she was breathing and her lack of reaction to his voice or touch but damn, wouldn't it be the one time in a thousand where someone actually heard him say that they weren't doing so good, and from the little he'd felt so far, she needed every bit of encouragement she could get.

"Well, she'd be doing a lot better outside the car, if you get my meaning."

"Yeah, okay." There was a pause. "Listen, we've stabilized the car as much as possible but there's no way through the back window. The roof is just too compressed; might as well try to cut the whole back of the car off. We could try to pull the front passenger seat out of here but we think the best option is to cut you a back door, here on the passenger side so you can bring her straight out."

"Okay…."

"But we can't do that with you hanging half in, half out of the car. Not safely anyway. You think you can fit in there? All of you, I mean?"

Gage looked around, using the flashlight. He'd be bunched up and it would be tight, but it was do-able. The fact that they were lying on the roof made it a lot more workable than if the car was right side up though it would have been nice if he could get up on his elbows without banging his head.

"Yeah, Marco, I can fit. You think you can push me in a little?"

It took two firefighters pushing and one frantically shifting his body so he didn't bump into his injured patient before he was in, knees tucked awkwardly against the metal frame of the passenger seat.

"You got your coat on?"

Of course he didn't have his turnout coat on. How the hell did Marco think he wedged himself in here with that on?

"Wouldn't fit."

There were some words outside that he didn't catch and then a hand pushed a bundled up coat stenciled 'Lopez" through the passenger door.

"I'm going to go get a blanket but you can start with this to cover up in there. There might be some stray sparks."

Gage grabbed the coat and unfolded it into a small tent that could cover his head and the girl.

"Listen, sweetheart, I mean, Lorena, some of my friends are going to cut us a special exit from the car so we can get out quickly…" and without doing any further damage to you, "so it's going to get pretty noisy in here for a few minutes, okay? Don't be scared, it's just like an electric knife. Did your Daddy ever carve a turkey with an electric knife?"

A shout from Marco and then Cap's voice joined the others and another bundled up coat was pushed through the door. As he draped it over his torso, he wasn't surprised to see the name "Stanley" stenciled on the back since Mike was too smart and too careful to use the cutter without adequate protection. And Cap would have his ass if he did anything unsafe.

"Give me the collar now, Marco. She's gonna need it with the vibrations."

The continued unconsciousness was worrying him. He wanted to check her eyes but didn't have the right angle to do so and he could not move her so he let his fingers be his eyes: swollen left cheekbone and a bump in her hair, just above and behind her right ear. Marco passed him the collar and a blanket and Gage held his breath as he wrapped it around her neck.

"Okay!"

The noise when it started wasn't really loud, nowhere near as bad as the K-12. The pneumatic chisel went through the steel side panel as easily as an X-acto knife cut through cardboard. Still, it was probably a little unnerving to hear for those who weren't used to it and little Lorena should have reacted. But she didn't.

He used the time underneath the Marco turnout tent to continue checking her out. She was lying on her left side in an almost fetal position; legs bent but not fully pulled into her stomach, head bowed. He gently traced her spine and neck and found no deformities which he counted as a small miracle considering that without a seat belt on, she'd been tossed around the inside of the rolling car like laundry inside a dryer. Probable tib/fib fractures on her left leg, swelling on her left wrist

He wondered how Roy's patient was doing. They probably had him out of the car now, might even be in transit to Rampart. He couldn't remember if he'd heard an ambulance arrive or depart.

With that type of trauma to the chest, Roy wouldn't be able to do CPR if the guy coded. He blew a breath out in commiseration for his partner and sent a thought to whatever universal Force or Higher Power guided the universe – assuming one did – that Roy would get the guy to Rampart without the guy arresting. Assuming they'd gotten him out of the car alive in the first place.

Pulse 110, still weak. Respirations thirty-five and shallow. Come on, guys.

And where the hell was Squad 36? Of course, they could've arrived and set up right outside, not that he'd heard anything with Mike using the pneumatic chisel to remove the side panel of the car. Cap had said they were ten minutes out, but he'd lost track of time.

He pushed Marco's coat up a half inch and then slightly more to see how much progress had been made. Daylight flitted through long, straight lines – Stoker had a hell of a steady hand – and Marco must've covered his bunched up legs with the blanket while he was examining Lorena. Huh. He'd never even noticed. Another ten seconds of cutting and Stoker was done.

Gloved fingers grabbed at the side panel, tugging it downward and away, and then one of the gloves grabbed the blanket off Gage's legs and folded it over the remaining crumpled steel where the window had once met the roof. Before the roof had been compacted down almost all the way to the windowsill.

"I need to back out a little and then you hand me the board, okay?"

"Go ahead, Johnny."

He scooted back from the girl, leaning his right hip hard on the front passenger seat that was stuck on its track and wouldn't move any further toward the dashboard. Probably would've been smart to have had Marco and Mike rip it out but he had just enough room for them to pass him the backboard, even if it wasn't anything like comfortable in his current position.

"Okay, give me the board."

A gloved hand pushed it through the opening that they'd made and he chewed his lip as he considered options.

"Okay, I'm going to hold her head, neck and shoulders. Mike, you think you can reach her to get the rest of her on the board? Grab her hips; don't worry about straightening her out. Let's just get her on the board and out of the car as she is."

Neither Stoker nor Lopez was a paramedic but all of the guys on his shift had better than average first aid skills, better than a lot of the firefighters he'd worked with before 51.

Half sitting on the back of the front passenger seat and leaning his right shoulder and upper arm into the back of the driver's seat, he got his hands into the right position, holding her head and neck steady. Stoker, stretched out on his belly, did the rest. A quick, coordinated lift of the girl off the roof/floor onto the board and then they were pulling the board out of the car.

"Slowly, slowly, take it easy there…"

He was saying it mostly for his own benefit, just providing a soundtrack to Stoker pulling the board with him as Lopez grabbed Stoker by his belt and dragged him out of the car. With the tight quarters, it wasn't as if they could actually hurry, and of all the guys, Stoker or Lopez were the least likely to do anything hasty or half-assed.

Hands keeping her head and neck in the right positions, he crawled out of the car after them, blinking away the floaters in his eyes from the sudden glaring sunlight. They half crawled the board over to the yellow blanket someone had thoughtfully spread out right next to the wreckage.

"Roy's guy was in bad shape. He needed the biophone, drug box, defibrillator, and scope," Cap's voice said from behind him. As Gage turned, Cap handed him a BP cuff, stethoscope and an IV setup. "He left you a liter of saline and one D5W. I've got the trauma box too."

Gage looked around the scene: just a small suburban intersection in a quiet neighborhood, two completely totaled automobiles, Engine 51, Squad 51 and a Sheriff's car. No sign of Squad 36.

"Three minutes out," Cap said.

Gage nodded and got to back to work.