Disclaimer: The E! characters don't belong to me. They have been borrowed strictly for fun and not for fortune.
"A Work In Progress"
It was approaching midnight at L.A. County Fire Station 51.
The dayroom was deserted—except for a dozing dog.
The dim light that filtered through the windows of the dorm illuminated six perfectly still forms.
Had that light been just a tad bit brighter, it might have been possible to make out the peaceful looks on the faces of the half-dozen dozing firefighters.
Suddenly, the Station's silence was shattered by a resounding alarm.
Six sets of eyes snapped wide-open, assisted by adrenaline. If they hadn't already been invisible, those peaceful looks would have instantly vanished.
Captain Hank Stanley and his men snapped bolt upright in their beds and began tossing blankets aside.
"Station 51…Station 23…Battalion 14—"
Station 51's A-Shift scrambled out of their bunks and into the bottom halves of their turnouts.
The firemen stomped their bare feet fully into their boots and began filing out of the dorm, fastening the snaps on their pant flaps and sliding suspenders up along the way.
The men reached their respective trucks and began scrambling aboard, donning their bulky coats and shiny black helmets before slipping easily into their assigned seats.
Their Captain crossed quickly over to the Call Station and snatched up a pen.
Their Engineer pressed the OPEN button on their Station's garage door and the heavy steel portal began grinding its way up.
"—Structure fire…with explosions…1210 Mather Drive…Twelve-ten Mather Drive…Cross-streets Genevieve Avenue and Ames Boulevard…Time out: 23:07."
Stanley jotted down the address and then thumbed the transmit button on the radio mic' in his left hand. "Station 51, KMG—365," he calmly acknowledged and passed his Rescue Squad team a copy of the call slip.
Paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto watched and waited while their Captain jogged across the garage and climbed up into Engine 51's cab—with the rest of his crew.
Mike Stoker handed Hank his gear.
Station 51's Captain tugged his coat and helmet on and then settled into the leather seat beside his Engineer. "Let's go, Michael…" he lightly urged.
'Michael' flashed him back a bashful grin. He flicked the truck's lights and siren on. The pressure gauge on his instrument panel registered 120psi, so he released Big Red's air brakes and began easing the big rig forward.
A slight smile remained on the Engineer's face as he followed Squad 51 out onto the dimly lit four-lane street that ran in front of the Fire Station. It was a smile of deep satisfaction—the smile of a man who loved his job.
Less than six minutes later, Station 51 reached the incident scene.
The structure on fire turned out to be an abandoned chemical refinery—with about a quarter involvement. The four-storied, wooden-framed, steel-sided building was basically just a big empty shell.
The firemen were feeling pretty confident going in. After all, they'd rehearsed several different fire scenarios for the place and had studied the building's floor plans.
Now it was 'show time'. The time had finally arrived for all their advanced training to pay off…hopefully, with dividends!
Battalion 14's Chief motioned for Engine 51 to pull in behind 23's ladder truck.
Squad 51 was waved over to the far end of a large paved parking lot, where a man in a uniform sat, clutching an oxygen mask tightly to his face.
Stanley pulled the HT from his coat pocket and informed L.A. of their arrival. Then he stepped down from their truck and approached Station 23's Captain. "What do we got, Greg?"
Greg Mattson shouted a few final orders out to his men and then turned to face his friend and fellow Captain. "The watchman 'claims' that the 'air' just 'started burning'. I don't know how much of that is believable, though. You kin smell the booze on his breath from five feet away."
"We dealing with dust, or gas?" Hank further inquired. He was anxious to learn what had caused the explosions.
Mattson shrugged. "The watchman 'claims' the place wasn't dusty and, if it is gas, he 'claims' that he has no idea where it could be coming from. According to him, the refinery has recently changed ownership. Apparently, the place is in the process of being cleaned down."
"What are they cleaning it with?"
"He 'claims' they're just using plain old water, but I told my guys to keep their masks in place—just in case."
Hank gave his friend and informant a grateful nod and then went trotting over to where the Incident Commander stood, passing out assignments. "Where do you want us, Chief?"
Since there hadn't been any further explosions, Battalion 14's Chief chose to make a direct assault. "You'll be going in," he announced and aimed the powerful beam of his flashlight at one of the blueprints in his hands. "Station 23 will be going in on the ground floor. I want you and your crew to take up a position here…" he paused to point a finger, "…in this loft. Captain Jansen reports the fire is spreading rapidly—from rafter to rafter. I want your crew to hit the roof from the inside. If you can halt the fire extension up there, we should be able keep the blaze contained to this area of building…" he redirected his pointing digit.
Stanley acknowledged their Station's assignment with a slight nod. "Any word on what caused the explosions earlier?"
"Not yet, but I've requested a HAZMAT team and notified the lab. Nobody is to enter that building without their SCBA on—and pressurized. Understood?"
Heck! With this building's history, that went without saying! Hank managed another slight nod. Then he turned and went trotting back over to where his Engine crew stood—with hose in hands—patiently awaiting his orders. The Captain didn't keep them waiting any longer.
Less than five minutes later, Hank Stanley found himself perched midway up the fifty-foot ladder that led to the refinery's storage loft. His legs were locked into the steel rungs, leaving his gloved hands free to grasp and support the enormous weight of the charged line of fire hose he was passing up the ladder.
Another twenty-five feet above him, Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez were advancing that charged line down the narrow catwalk that ran alongside of the loft.
Kelly was manning the nozzle, dousing every flame in sight and soaking every rafter.
Lopez was supporting their charged line's weight with both of his arms. As they inched along, he kept his right shoulder shoved up against the nozzle man's bunker-suited butt and helped Chet bear the tremendous backpressure from the spray.
The pair reached the end of the narrow walkway and immediately reversed roles.
A Mayfair ambulance pulled up and parked beside Squad 51. Its back doors popped open and an attendant hopped out. "Somebody request a ride to Rampart?"
John Gage glanced up from their smoke inhalation victim. "Yes they did, Denny, but it took you guys so long to get here, the patient changed his mind."
Dennis Altmann studied the paramedic's face carefully, but couldn't tell if John was joking or not. So, he turned to Roy.
DeSoto nodded. "He refuses to let us treat him. Claims he's okay now and doesn't want to go in."
John frowned down at their stubborn victim and hesitated to hand him the release form. "Look, Mr. Valdeen, you took in a lot of smoke. You may feel fine now, but there could be complications later on. You really should go to the hospital and let the doctors check you out…"
The night watchman shook his head.
Gage emitted a frustrated gasp and reluctantly gave their ex-patient the release form.
Valdeen signed the form and passed the paramedic back his clipboard.
The paramedics heard Captain Mattson calling them and turned in his direction.
They watched as two members of 23's crew came out of the refinery, carrying another victim.
Roy spread a fresh drop sheet onto the pavement.
The firemen laid their burden gently down upon it and then went right back inside.
The watchman's face filled with recognition—and shock. "I thought he'd gone home hours ago!"
Gage glanced up from their bio-phone. "You know this man?"
Valdeen nodded. "He's one of the workmen who've been cleaning the refinery. The new owners wanna switch it from chemicals to oil, or something. They've been hosing the place down for a week. Today, they were flushing the floor vats out with water."
Gage stiffened. "They?"
The watchman nodded. "Him and another gu—" he stopped speaking suddenly and stared off across the lot. "That's their van. I—I didn't notice it earlier."
John exchanged a grim glance with his partner and then got quickly to his feet.
Chief Knowles turned to acknowledge whomever it was that had hailed him. It was one of 51's paramedics.
"From what the watchman just told us, we may have another victim. That guy's buddy may still be inside somewhere," the fireman finished and pointed a finger at a body lying on a blanket.
"All right. I'll have 23's men make another sweep," Battalion 14's Chief promised and raised his HT to his lips.
Lopez and Kelly gazed up at the thoroughly drenched and steadily dripping rafters over their heads, looking quite pleased with themselves. There wasn't a flicker of a flame to be seen anywhere! The pair exchanged a couple of 'mission accomplished' thumbs up signs and started spraying their way back over to the storage loft.
Marco reached the end of the catwalk and came to an abrupt halt. Something was blocking the way—er, somebody, judging by the boots he felt beneath his groping gloved hand.
Chet proceeded to bump into him.
Lopez knelt there, pinned between Kelly and the person wearing the work boots. He looked up just in time to see a raised booze bottle coming towards his head at a rather high rate of speed. Instinctively, he raised an arm to ward off the attack. "Ahhh!" he cried out in agony as he caught the blow full force on his raised wrist. The bottle didn't break. Marco wasn't so sure about his wrist bones. One thing he was pretty positive about, his assailant must've struck a nerve, because his entire arm had suddenly gone numb. His right arm would no longer move and his left hand could no longer control the hose. He felt the nozzle slip from his grip.
Kelly heard Lopez cry out in pain. The next thing he knew, the nozzle was whipping wildly about and he was left alone to combat the spray's tremendous backpressure. He was so busy trying to handle the hose that he didn't see the bottle coming at him. Chet felt something hard smack him on the side of his helmet and heard the sound of glass shattering. The blow jarred his brain and caused little white lights to momentarily dance before his dazed eyes. Then the 'lights' went out and he had the sudden sensation that he was…falling.
Lopez had tried to grab Kelly with the one appendage that was still functioning, but his gloved fingers couldn't get a good enough grip. He watched in horror as his collapsing friend slipped beneath the catwalk's protective side grate and then dropped out of sight. His already grimacing face filled with even greater anguish. "CA-AP!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, but his cry for help was muffled by his facemask. He whipped his helmet and mask off and turned toward the ladder. Marco managed to turn around just in time to watch their assailant get blasted off his booted feet by the wild spray of their dropped fire hose.
The guy sailed over the storage loft's guard railing and then fell to the concrete floor, fifty feet below.
Marco grimaced for the third time in as many minutes. Surely, this had to be a nightmare! None of this could possibly be really happening! Lopez pushed past the pain and grief—and disbelief—and attempted, once again, to get his Captain's attention. "CA-AP! CHET FELL!"
Author's note: The LA County Fire Department uses 24 hour military time. There is no a.m. or p.m.. The 24 hour clock day begins with 00:01, or one minute after midnight. To figure out what the normal time is, simply subtract 12 from any times greater than 13:00. For instance, the time given in this story is 23:07. When you subtract 12 from that, you get 11:07 p.m.. I just wanted to share this info, since I have always found military time so dang confusing. :P