There's a Hero
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here today to honor the men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day for us. The recent fires that threatened the city of Los Angeles were bravely fought back by the various fire departments of the surrounding areas. We wish to extend our thanks for their brave and selfless service and confer upon each department a plaque to display in their station or office." The mayor of Los Angeles flashed his white teeth for the cameras. "Representing the Los Angeles City Fire Department is Frank O'Reilly. Firefighter O'Reilly is a third generation fireman and has received the medal of valor twice for bravery above and beyond the call of duty." The politician continued, detailing the particulars of O'Reilly's actions.
Johnny fidgeted in his seat, his right leg bouncing up and down. He still couldn't understand why he had been chosen to speak. His partner, Roy DeSoto, would've been a much better choice. As would Craig Brice. Or…his thoughts were interrupted by a gentle hand pressing on his knee, stopping the nervous movement. He turned to see his partner's wife, Joanne, smiling at him.
"Johnny, you'll be okay." She knew about his stage fright, had seen him freeze in other public forums. "Chief McConikee wouldn't have volunteered you if he wasn't sure you could do it."
"Unless he figured we needed some comic relief," Chet offered, leaning forward from his seat in the next row.
"Ha, ha," Johnny replied.
"Do like that guy on the television said, think of your audience being naked," Marco offered helpfully from his seat beside Chet.
Johnny thought of the mayor and the chief being naked and shuddered. "Gee, Marco, I'd rather not have that picture in my mind. Thanks anyway."
"You still have your speech, don't you?" Roy asked from the other side of his wife.
Johnny held it up, tightly clenched in his fist. "The way my palms are sweating, I'll be lucky if the ink doesn't run."
"You know how to read?" Chet quipped.
Joanne put her arm around his back, giving him a gentle squeeze. "John Gage, don't you listen to him. I know you'll do just fine. All you have to do is try your best. And your best is more than good enough for me."
Johnny's lopsided grin appeared for the first time since he and his Station 51 crewmates had arrived. "Thanks, Jo. I appreciate that."
Chet couldn't resist. "Yeah, her standards are pretty low."
Roy turned to face the shorter man. "Excuse me? You want to restate that?"
"Uh, Roy, I didn't mean it that way. I mean, uh, I just, uh," Chet stuttered, trying to get himself out of trouble with the older paramedic.
The mayor's voice interrupted the firefighter's desperate attempts to explain himself. "Representing the Los Angeles County Fire Department is John Gage. Firefighter Gage is also one of the first paramedics in the state."
Taking a deep breath, Johnny forced himself to his feet, flabbergasted when Joanne rose with him. She gave him a hug, whispering encouragement in his ear. He managed to get up the stairs to the platform without tripping, shook hands with the Chief and then with the mayor. He took the plaque, posing with it and with the mayor before stepping to the podium and the microphone for his speech. He took his speech and straightened and smoothed it out.
"Hi," the feedback made him jerk his head back and wince. "Sorry." The audience laughed and Johnny grinned sheepishly. "My name is John Gage. Some of you might know me. Some of you might have heard of me. Most of you don't know me from Adam.
"I don't know why I've been selected for this honor, with all due respect to my captain and my chief. I've never received the medal of valor. Came close once, but it turned out to belong to the guys at Station 15, not 51." More laughter.
"We're being called heroes. Frankly, I don't see it that way. With all due respect to the men and women who wear the uniform, whether it is with the county, the city or even Pasadena, we're just doing our jobs. Most of us don't do the job for the glory, what little there is. We're not here to make money, 'cause there ain't much money in these jobs." Even more laughter, mixed with scattered applause and nods of agreement.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to talk about the people who should be receiving this recognition: the spouses, the wives and husbands those of us who serve." Johnny took a deep breath and looked at Joanne with a shy smile. "I'm not married. But my partner, Roy DeSoto, is, to a wonderful woman who has not only supported Roy in the job he loves, but has taken in a lonely single guy with no family to speak of in the area.
"Now I know that there are woman firefighters, but I'm going to talk about the wives as I don't know any husbands of women firefighters, so forgive me for ignoring you guys.
"The wives have to kiss their husbands goodbye everyday not knowing if they will ever see each other again. She does all the grunt work, taking care of the house, of the kids if they have any, making certain that life goes on. And when her husband is hurt…" Johnny looked down at his partner, who was sitting in a wheelchair, his legs in casts. "She nurses him back to health without complaint." He smiled again. "At least, no complaints about the job, no pressure to quit, no questions about the sanity of a man who would run into a fire when the rest of the sane world knows enough to get out. The condition of the house is another matter." Laughter broke out again.
"It takes a special woman to live with a firefighter. For she not only marries the man, she marries the job and her husband's crew mates. And, if," Johnny paused, swallowing noisily as he remembered just how close Joanne, and he, came to losing Roy in the brushfire that roared out of control miles from help. "If her husband does die in the line of duty, she always knows that we, her husband's friends and family, the brotherhood, will always be there for her.
"So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the firefighter's wife. There's the hero." Johnny began clapping, staring straight at his partner's wife who sat with tears streaming from her eyes.
The men and women in the audience clapped with him, rising their feet as they saluted their spouses. And Johnny, grinning, jumped off the platform to hand the plaque to Joanne DeSoto, whispering in her ear, "thank you, Jo."