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Summary: "Mountains of debris fell and buried them; their contact, however, remained unbroken."
Bound by Friendship
By Susan Proto
They'd reached for each other just as the second explosion hit the building. By the time the third explosion rocked them, their hands were clenched around one another's wrists. Mountains of debris fell and buried them; their contact, however, remained unbroken.
When the tones had sounded earlier Johnny and Roy looked at one another, but neither one had to say a word. Something was going down that night; they'd just hoped it wasn't going to be any of them.
The Weston's Plastics Company Warehouse was a disaster waiting to happen. The owner of the company had been cited for so many code violations, it was a wonder the building was still standing.
Of course, as the fire blazed on, that thought continued to run through the minds of the firefighters both inside and outside of the building.
When the second, third, and then finally fourth explosion hit, there was no doubt as to whether that building was going to go down. It was just a question as to how long it would take - and which one of them it was going to take with it.
"Have you raised either Johnny or Roy yet, Cap?" asked Mike, yelling above the noise of the fire, the activity, and the apparatus being used to fight it.
"No. I'd sent them the all clear signal just before the explosion, but they haven't responded," the captain called out just as loudly but with an ample amount of frustration added to the mix. "Now we're going to have to wait till we get this place stabilized before we can send anyone else in to look for 'em."
Mike nodded with understanding; he knew it was killing Hank Stanley to have to wait before sending in a search and rescue for his missing men. But both men were well aware that the captain couldn't make snap decisions based only upon close ties. Other lives were also in his hands, and he'd have to show restraint in order to protect them all. Patience had never one of Hank's greatest virtues, but he'd gotten more opportunities practicing it than he ever wanted.
Roy? Roy, you hear me?
Don't know. Can't seem to move too much. You?
Same boat as you. Seem to be stuck. Can't move anything. Oh, God.
You in pain, Junior?
You're lying through your teeth, aren't ya, Johnny?
"How the hell much longer do we have to wait, Cap?" Chet was so wound up that Hank was afraid that if he blew on the stocky Irishman he'd catapult himself into the building to retrieve his missing shift-mates.
"There's too much chance of the place going up again, pal. We've got a few more engine companies in the mix now, so it shouldn't be that much longer before we get the building stabilized."
"But, Cap - "
"I know, Kelly. I know. They're my friends, too." Hank looked wistfully towards the building.
Chet looked up at the lanky man whom he'd grown to respect so much over the years. "Sorry, Cap. I know you're hurting, too."
Shortly thereafter the captains from Stations 110 and 16, as well as the battalion fire chief, joined Hank to plan their next strategies in beating down the flames and minimizing the chances for yet another explosion. Chet had already rejoined the rank and file in an effort to get the blaze under control. All of the men felt like they were fighting an uphill battle.
How ya doing?
Probably about as well as you, pally.
That shitty, huh?
Oh, damn! Don't make me laugh, Roy. Hurts to laugh…
'Sokay. I'll live. I think.
Johnny, stop that.
I'm not. Least I'm trying not. Forget about me and my grousing, okay? How are you doing? For real, Roy.
To be honest, I'm not sure. Still can't move. You?
No. Um, Roy? I'm getting a little nervous 'bout that, ya know?
Yeah, but it's probably just whatever the hell fell on us, that's all.
Yeah. I hope.
Hey, now you stop that.
Right. Okay. You tired?
Nah. Well, maybe a little. Why, you?
Yeah, a little. I think I'm gonna get some shut-eye for a little while, 'kay?
Sure. I'll wake ya in a little while, pally.
"Engine 51 calling HT 51, how do you read?" The captain's voice was getting hoarse from both the smoke and the barking of orders; not to mention his continuous attempts to raise his missing men on the handy talkie.
"Maybe it's out of reach? Or maybe the unit broke in the explosion," offered Mike as possible explanations for the silence.
"Maybe they've been pounded so much by all the crap from those damn explosions that they can't respond," replied Chet, desolately. "Or maybe they're - " Chet wasn't sure how he did it, but he managed to stop his mouth from running away with itself before he said something he'd have really regretted. The look on Hank and Mike's faces told him immediately to not even think of that possibility, much less say it.
"They're going to come out of this, men. They -are- going to come out of it," he repeated with even more determination.
"Engine 110 to Engine 51," crackled the HT.
"Engine 51. What's the good word, Captain?" asked Hank.
"The good word is that the building has finally been stabilized. The chief says to go get your paramedics."
"Those are helluva good words, Pete. Thanks." The cap somehow appeared taller all of a sudden. He turned toward Chet and Marco, who had just walked up hoping to hear some good news. "We just got the word. Let's go find them, men."
At that moment, the men of Station 51 felt more optimism than they'd felt in the last four and a half hours, all together. Now, if they could only find proof for that optimism.
Okay, sleeping beauty, time to wake up.
What? Oh. Yeah --
Roy, I'm serious. Wake up. Now.
I'm up, I'm up…
I'm awake. Really.
Feel any better?
I'm not sure. I'm still a little woozy from sleep, ya know?
Yeah. I guess.
You tired? You want to close your eyes a bit and I'll take the watch now?
Well, if ya don't mind too much.
Nah. Sleep. I think I do feel better. You will, too.
Don't mention it, Junior. You rest.
Marco held the high powered flashlight as Chet and Hank followed closely behind.
"Where the hell do we start?" asked Marco, as he looked around, dumbstruck by the devastation all around him.
"Be damned if I know," replied Chet. "Cap, did they give any indication as to where they were before you lost contact?"
"Yeah, toward the rear of the warehouse. They were heading toward an office to see if there were any victims." Hank shook his head. There was too much area to cover. "Let's spread out, but keep your HTs and line of communication open, hear?"
The men agreed with nods of their heads and began to spread out. It was like an obstacle course that proved to be more dangerous than it first appeared. The depth of the debris above the ground floor was beyond knee deep. Each step lent itself to the possibility of, at the very least, a loss of balance or a twisted ankle.
Debris continued to fall from above and litter the area. It seemed almost hopeless as the trio from Station 51 called out to their friends.
"Roy! Roy, if you hear me, answer, pal!"
"Johnny, where are ya, buddy? C'mon, guys, ya gotta answer us so we know where you are!"
"Roy? Johnny? Let us know where you are, guys, please!"
They continued their search, sifting occasionally through the mountains of rubbish that was scattered all over the floor. Marcos cried out, "Oh no!"
"You find 'em? Marco, did you find them? Oh God, are they okay?" Chet began rushing over to his colleague, the anxiety was plastered all over his face.
"No, no, Chet. Damn it, I slipped."
"Oh, man, you okay?"
"Yeah. Just caught me by surprise is all. I'm okay."
Though he was relieved his friend wasn't injured, Chet's anxiety didn't abate as he stood next to Marco wondering aloud where the hell their shift-mates could be.
"We're never gonna find them; not if they don't let us know where they are. Damn, how the hell could we lose them?" Anger was starting to outweigh Chet's frustration.
"Hey, they were doing a sweep for victims. They were doing their job, Chet, just like we were all doing our job. They were just further into the rear of the building when the first of the explosions occurred, that's why we lost track of them. But we'll find them, amigo; we'll find them." Marco tried hard to believe his own words.
"You okay to resume searching?" asked Chet.
"Try to stop me."
Yeah? Something wrong?
I dunno. How long we been down here? How long?
Don't know. Could be an hour or so - could be more, could be less. Don't know.
Roy? I think something may be wrong.
What do you mean?
I don't know; I don't think I'm breathing right. Can you hear me breathing? It hurts when I breathe.
Try to relax a little. You may be hyperventilating.
No...I don't think so. I can't feel anything but my chest, and damn, Roy. It hurts. A lot.
I wish I could help you, Junior, but I'm still pretty much tied up in whatever crap has buried us.
We are, aren't we?
We are what?
Roy, we're buried alive in here...
Junior, don't you go into panic mode on me!
Roy, it really hurts to breathe now. God, it feels like my chest is being crushed. Oh God, Roy. I'm -
What? Talk to me, Johnny.
I'm scared, Roy. Something's wrong. It hurts too much now. It didn't hurt like this before. Oh, God, Roy. I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry.
Hang on, John. They're gonna find us, you'll see.
Oh, it hurts, Roy. It hurts...
We're gonna get help. You'll see. They'll help us soon. John? Johnny, answer me. Please. They're gonna send help. Hang on, John.
They're gonna send...
"Shh!" ordered Hank. He waited a few moments before he asked, "Did you hear something?"
"No, cap, sorry." Chet craned his neck as if that would enable him to hear the sounds around him more easily.
"I heard that!" cried out Marco excitedly. "But where? Everything seems to echo in this damn place!"
"John! Roy! Where are you?" called out the cap.
"Try to keep talking, pal; we're gonna try to zero in on your voice, but it's not easy. Please, keep talking!" urged Hank.
"Can you tell which one it is?" asked Chet.
"No. Too breathy - too weak." Marco tried to shed the anxious expression that all too well matched his words. "But at least," in a burst of forced optimism, "it's become like an echo chamber in here and we can pick up on the sounds. C'mon, let's find them."
Captain Stanley got onto the HT and requested more assistance. There was just no way for them to cover the area in a timely manner without additional men. The chief told him reinforcements were on the way.
Soon, about a dozen men were scouring the area, though the threesome from Station 51 worked with a determination beyond the others. Everyone recognized that the Captain of 51 and his men wanted desperately to be the ones to find their shift-mates. Every member of the search team understood how the three felt. At one time or another, they'd all been in the same position, and the only thing that replaced the sense of helplessness was the victory in finding a lost comrade.
The small voice reverberated around the great, open air space that was once the main floor of the warehouse.
"Keep talking, pal. We're gonna find you."
"...hurt. John's hurt."
"Roy? Roy, is that you, buddy? Okay, we hear you. We're getting closer, pal, I know we are," reassured the captain. "Keep up the good work. Talk to us, Roy," Hank implored.
"Cap! Cap!" Chet called out excitedly. "I found 'em! I found 'em!"
"Okay, Kelly, good job, but take it easy, man. We don't know how serious the injuries are. We've got to take this slow and easy, okay?"
Chet nodded, but began pulling off debris with renewed vigor, that is until he heard the unmistakable groan of one of the men underneath said debris.
"Shit. I'm sorry, Roy. I'm sorry..." Chet called out contritely.
"Not me. Johnny. Hurt." The gasps between each of the Roy's spoken words did not escape any of those present.
"Yeah, like you're in fine shape, right, pal?" asked the captain. "Hang in there, Roy. We're gonna get you out, but we're going to take it nice and slow. We don't want to cause you guys any more discomfort than necessary, right?" Hank looked pointedly at Chet, but the captain quickly softened his expression when he saw how badly Chet obviously felt.
"Okay, men, let's get to work."
Slowly, very slowly, the men of Station 51 and their colleagues lifted and pulled and then brushed off all of the small wreckage that had covered the duo.
John was flat on his back; a heavy metal beam kept him pinned him down, causing his labored breathing. Roy too was at the mercy of the same steel girder, but he'd landed more on his side. Neither man was conscious at that moment, and with the exception of Gage's uneven intake of breaths, neither man moved.
It took a while, and a lot of creative effort, but when they'd finally pulled the steel rafter off of them a spontaneous cheer went up from the team of rescuers and nearby colleagues. As the team of paramedics from Squad 16 quickly came in to stabilize and get the fallen pair ready for transport, they were unable to mask their surprise at what they saw.
"Brice, I think we may have a little problem," said Bob Bellingham.
"What's that, Bellingham?"
"I can't get 'em apart." Bellingham's expression was one of incredulity as he looked down at the two patients.
"What are you talking about?" Craig Brice nudged his partner over. Upon seeing Bellingham's reason for concern, he instructed, "Call it in while I get them separated."
Bellingham moved to get the biophone, but kept his eyes on Craig Brice the entire time. He watched and wondered, but he wasn't surprised when his partner had no better luck than he had.
"Shit." Brice looked up at Bob and shrugged. It was rare that Craig Brice was at a loss for words. This was going to require they administer aid that didn't exactly follow protocol, and being Craig Brice, that disturbed him.
"I guess we'll have to just bring 'em in together. It's almost like their hands are in spasm and they can't release each other's wrist."
"That's the most logical explanation, I suppose."
"Captain Stanley," began Brice as his demeanor returned to full professional mode, "we're going to need your and your men's assistance. Gage and DeSoto's hands are in some kind of spasm, so cannot be separated at this time. Since we're going to need to bring them in together, in the same ambulance, we'll need your help in picking them up simultaneously onto their stretchers. I don't want to risk any added stress or injury by lifting one up and not the other."
"Brice? What's going on?" asked Captain Stanley.
"Come take a look, cap," offered Bellingham as he jotted down the pair's vitals for relaying to Rampart.
The captain peered over Bellingham's shoulder. "So? Just pull 'em apart."
"We tried, Captain. They won't budge. I'm afraid I'll break their fingers if I pull them hard enough to separate them," explained Bellingham.
"I'll be damned. I've never seen that before, have either of you?" Hank asked. Both men shook their heads; this was a new one on them as well. "Well, let's do what we have to do."
"Hold on, cap. Just want to appraise the hospital of the situation and confirm Rampart's instructions." Bellingham spoke into the phone and rattled off the necessary information. He then, to the best of his ability, explained the unique problem.
"That's affirmative, Rampart...Listen Dr. Bracket, neither Brice nor I have ever seen anything like this."
"After you've started IVs on each of them with D5W, wrap and run. If you have to put them on the same damn gurney, then do so, but I want them at this hospital ASAP," Bracket practically barked into the microphone.
After the IVs were inserted, Brice and Bellingham placed C-collars on each man and placed both on backboards as a precaution. Then the two paramedics lifted Gage while Hank and Marco lifted Roy onto the stretchers. Both gurneys were moved simultaneously to the waiting ambulance and with a little manipulating, placed inside the back.
Roy and John's hands remained clasped tightly around the other's wrist; their grip never loosening. They maintained that position during the entire trip to the hospital.
The medical staff practically tripped over one another as they ran their tests and did their examinations, but no one felt it wise to try and pry the hands apart. Once it was determined that both men were stable and not suffering anything more serious than several broken ribs, badly bruised back and chest, and moderate concussions, the men were moved into a room. The orderlies had to push the patients' hospital beds together.
They remained like that even as they'd come close to consciousness, which amazingly enough, was at the same time. Roy's eyes opened slightly, but quickly closed again as the bright lights caused him to become squeamish. John didn't even try to open his. He did, however, groan rather loudly.
John? You okay?
Mmmm. Like an elephant sat on me. Still hard to breathe.
"Well, boys? It's about time you started to wake up. C'mon Johnny. Roy, let's go. Wake up."
"Dixie?" Roy's voice barely sounded like him.
"Well, there you are. Now let's see if we can get your partner to join the party," Dixie said cheerfully, and very relieved that at least one of the men became more alert. "Johnny Gage, you can't sleep forever. Now let's wake up."
"He's hurting, Dix. Elephant sat on his chest," rasped Roy.
"Oh? And when did he tell you this?" asked Dixie, trying to keep the conversation going in an attempt to raise Roy's level of consciousness even more.
"Roy, I've been in this room for a good ten minutes charting your vitals. I didn't hear Johnny say a word."
"He -told- me, Dix. I swear he told me. He's not feeling good. He said he's having trouble breathing."
Dixie was a little concerned now; Roy was becoming more agitated and the O2 levels were suddenly dipping on Johnny's monitor. "Okay, Roy. I believe you. I'm going to increase Johnny's oxygen flow and then put in a call for the doctor. You relax, okay?"
It's better to breathe, Roy. Oxygen's helping.
"What's good?" asked Dixie as she placed the call to the nurse's station.
"Johnny said the oxygen is helping," said Roy.
"When?" Dixie was totally confused.
"Now. He said it helped."
"Roy, Johnny didn't say anything," insisted Dixie.
"Yes, he did." Roy couldn't understand what the problem was. "He said he could breathe better, that the oxygen was helping."
"But Roy - "
The door opened and both Joe Early and Kelly Bracket entered the room.
"Boy, when I page for a doctor, I sure do get results, don't I?" said Dixie with a bit of a smirk. Though Joe Early wore his heart on his sleeve, Kelly Bracket was a much tougher nut to crack. But even now it was obvious that both doctors were equally concerned for their patients.
"What's going on, Dixie?" asked Bracket.
"Are they conscious yet?" asked Early, ever the neurologist.
"Well, there seems to be some debate over that," answered Dixie.
At the quizzical expressions on the doctors' faces, Dixie pointed toward the patients. Early and Bracket walked forward and saw that Roy was the more alert of the two.
"Roy, how are you feeling?" asked Joe, as he began an examination. Kelly went to the other side and began to examine John.
"Honestly? Like crap."
Me, too, partner.
"Yeah, I know," he responded.
"Know what?" asked Kelly.
"Know that Johnny feels like crap, too," answered Roy wearily. His eyes remained closed.
Both Early and Bracket looked to Dixie for confirmation, but all she could do was shrug her shoulders in response.
"When did Johnny tell you this? Was it before we came into the room, Roy?" asked Joe.
Roy! Roy, help me!
"What's wrong?" asked Roy anxiously.
I can't breathe! Oh, God, can't breathe! No Oxygen!
"He can't breathe. You cut off his oxygen!" Roy accused as he became instantly more alert.
Kelly quickly looked at the multitude of wires and tubes and realized that he had indeed put a crimp in the oxygen tubing while carrying out his examination. "Roy? How the hell did you know that?" Bracket asked incredulously.
"He told me," he answered as his eyes closed again, and then added, "Tired."
"Yeah...I bet you are," agreed Dixie. "Why don't you and Johnny rest for a little while."
Roy had already fallen asleep with his and his partner's hands still tightly entrenched around his each other's wrists.
Both men came to full consciousness at around the same moment. They looked at one another's faces and then at their hands. Slowly, very slowly as a matter of fact, they released the wrench-like grip that they'd had on one another for almost the last twenty-four hours. They flexed their fingers, as they tried to ease the stiffness out of them, but no explanations had to be made about the odd position they'd found themselves in when they'd woken.
Only an expression of feelings.
"You okay now, Junior?"
"Yeah." His voice was hoarse from the smoke of twenty-four hours earlier and the lack of use. "You?"
"Thanks for hanging in there with me."
"Hey, thanks for being there for me, too."
"Anytime, Roy, anytime."
End of Bound by Friendship
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