Pen Pal

Returning to the station from a follow up to Rampart, Roy was glad to see that the engine was still out.

"Cup of coffee, Roy?"

Barely answering his partner as he was dismounting from the squad, Roy nodded his head and mumbled something that sounded to Johnny to be a "yes."

"Roy…where are you going?" asked Johnny as it became obvious that his partner was headed in a different direction than he was.

"I'll be right back."

Heading to the locker room, Roy made his way to his locker and pulled out the blue notebook that he had resting on the top shelf. Closing the door, he hoped that Johnny would somehow manage to stay quiet for a while so he could get a certain project done.

When he entered the squad room, Johnny was looking at him expectantly.

"Where'd you go?"

"I had to get something out of my locker. Thanks for the coffee." said Roy as he lifted the mug of coffee that he had been handed.

Sitting down at the table, Roy opened the notebook and pulled out a long white envelope from inside of it.

Observing his best friend, Johnny's curiosity got the better of him.

"You back in school or something?"

Roy sighed softly. "No Johnny…I am trying to write a letter. If you don't mind, a little peace and quiet here would be great. Why don't you read a magazine or something?"

Not quite taking the hint, Johnny continued.

"Who's the letter from?"

"A girl, okay?"

"A girl?" Johnny repeated. "Does Joanne know?"

Before Roy was able to answer what he knew to be a silly question, the sound of the engine returning could be heard, signaling to him that his dream of a little peace and quiet was officially over.

Wasting no time, Chet was the first one to comment when he took in the sight of Roy sitting at the table with the notebook spread out in front of him.

"Roy? You embarking on writing the next great American novel or something?"

Knowing that he was beat, Roy shook his head slowly.

"No Chet…I'm not trying to write the next great American novel…I am trying to write a letter."

Hearing his senior paramedic's comment about a letter, Hank's curiosity, much like Johnny's before him, was peeked.

"A letter, Roy? Whom to, if I may ask?"

Sighing a little louder this time, Roy let his guard down.

"It's to a girl overseas. Joanne has an old friend who lives in Germany, and teaches at one of the military bases there. She gave her students a project to do…writing to someone back in the US. This particular girl wanted to write a letter to a firefighter. When the teacher…Joanne's friend, told her that she had a friend whose husband was a firefighter, the girl wanted to write to me. It's no big deal, really."

Nodding his head, Hank smiled. "That's a neat idea, Roy. If it's not too much of bother, would ya mind reading the letter to us? Maybe we could help you with your response."

Seeing the eager looks on his friends' faces, Roy softened his tone and nodded his head. "Sure."

Picking up the long white envelope, he pulled out the blue piece of stationary paper out of the envelope and proceeded to read the letter aloud to the rest of the crew.

"Dear Mr. DeSoto,

My name is Melissa and I am thirteen years old. I live in Germany because my dad is a pilot in the Air Force. My teacher thought it would be a nice idea to write a letter to someone back in the US. When I heard that she had a friend whose husband was a firefighter, I thought it might be interesting to write a letter to you. When I see things on TV and in the news, I often wonder what it's like to have to put out a fire, and mainly why one would want to become a firefighter.

I've heard it said before that while everyone else is running out of a burning building, that firefighters are running in. Do you get scared when you do it? I know I would. What kind of equipment do you wear to protect yourself?

I've never been to a firehouse before. What does the one where you work at look like? Do you have a pole? A TV? If you do have a TV, how do you and the other people on your crew agree on what to watch? What other things do you do on your down time when you are not out putting fires or helping people? Do you ever get bored while waiting for the alarms to go off? Are there women in the fire department? If there aren't, I think there should be. My mom always tells me that women can do anything men can do, and sometimes even better. I'll be waiting anxiously to hear your response on that question.

Do you have chores to do like I do? I have to make my bed every morning, and help with the dishes. How many people do you have on your crew? Do you ever get into arguments with your friends? My younger brother and sister, and I always argue. Mom and dad say we're like cats and dogs. Talking about dogs, do you have a dog at the station? My teacher says that a lot of stations do…Dalmatians mostly.

I know firefighters are supposed to be very brave, but do you ever cry when you try to help save someone and you can't? How do you deal with that? I guess some how you do, or else you wouldn't be able to keep doing your job, would you?

I guess that's all for now. I look forward to hearing about your job and life at the fire station. Please feel free to tell me about yourself and the rest of the crew.

Thanks for helping people.

Always,

Melissa"

After Roy finished reading the young girl's letter, the room was quiet, except for the gentle snoring of Henry the dog.

"You sure that girl is only thirteen, Roy? She asks some pretty big questions."

Roy could only shrug his shoulders. "That's what she wrote, Cap. I have to admit, when I read the letter for the first time yesterday, I did a double take. I guess she is what one would describe as wise beyond her years."

Excitedly pulling out a chair from the table, Johnny sat down and clapped his hands together.

"Come on, Roy…let's get started in writing the letter."

As the rest of the men grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at the table, Roy started to write, stopping as his friends tried to give him ideas to incorporate into the letter.

"Dear Melissa,

Thank you very much for your letter. If you don't mind, I shared the letter with the other five men that I work with here at Station 51. They all agreed with me that the letter was wonderful, and could not believe that you are ONLY thirteen. Your parents must be very proud of you.

My Captain's name is Hank Stanley. When we go to the scene of a fire or accident, he is the one who tells us what our assignments are, kind of like the way your teacher tells you and the other kids in the class what they should be doing.

Our engineer is named Mike Stoker. He not only drives the big engine, but is also in charge of running the pumps, and making sure that we have enough water at a fire.

Marco Lopez is one of the other men on the engine crew. One of Marco's jobs is to be on the hose at a fire, and also to help us bring out people to safety. He is a really good cook. If you like chili, he makes the best.

Chet Kelly is the other firefighter on the engine crew. His job is the same as Marco's.

Besides me, the last man on the crew is John Gage. The two of us are both paramedics. We help people who may be hurt from a car accident, fire, or even just sick, and give them medical attention until we can get them safely to a hospital. We are also firefighters, which means that we have the same responsibilities as other firefighters, such as working hoses at a fire.

The answer to your first question…why does one become a firefighter…is varied. Some become firefighters because it is a tradition in their families, and others become one because it was always a dream for them, and/or they always wanted to do something to help others and make a difference in the world, or at least in some small part of the world.

What is it like to go into a fire? It is very hot, and often very scary, but we are fully protected in our gear, and have each other and others looking out for us. We have special coats made of strong fire resistant material, called turnouts to protect us. We wear helmets, and have special breathing devices to help us. We also have radios and special tools. Our training is quite long, and we don't graduate from our fire academy unless we pass all our tests, so we all know what we are doing when we are in a fire.

The fire station that we work out of is not a particularly large station. I am sorry to say that there is in fact no fire pole. This is a fact that makes many people laugh and say that our station is not a real fire station. We have a kitchen area that also serves as a room to relax in, or watch TV. We have dorms, which is the area that we sleep in. We also have a locker room where we change, and it also has a bathroom in it.

We do have a TV, and usually all agree on what to watch, but if there is a disagreement, usually our captain is the one who decides what we are watching. We usually watch movies or sports. Most of us are big sports fans. We also talk, read books or magazines, and play cards or other games like checkers and chess. We used to have a ping pong table, but that didn't last too long. Do we ever get bored? Sometimes we do. That's when we start to argue over silly things, or play practical jokes on each other…that's another story for another letter, Melissa.

Are there women in the department? Not yet, although a few women are starting to train as paramedics. They take classes at one of the local hospitals. For the most part, I think most of us wouldn't mind if women were in the department. If they are strong enough to handle the job, than that's all that matters.

Chores? Yes, we all have chores to do…just like you and your brother and sister do. We have to make the beds and do the dishes, too. We have to sweep the floors, mop, take out the garbage, and cook meals. We also have to keep our fire trucks clean and in good working order. We do have a dog…a bassett hound named Henry. He is believed to be the laziest dog in the history of the world…but we like him.

The last question is the toughest one to answer…but yes, we do get very upset when we are unable to save someone. I wouldn't say that any of us actually cry, at least not right away. When we return to the station and have time to think about things, we might privately do it, but it isn't something that we talk a whole lot about. It is often hard to deal with the loss of a victim, but somehow we do…if we didn't, we would be unable to do our jobs. Doing that is something called compartmentalizing. We have all these little sections of our brains, and each section holds a different part of our life and our jobs. When we are working, our mind is on work, and when we are at home, we think about our family. I hope that makes sense to you.

That brings me to the end of the letter. I hope this answers your questions. We all are honored to be firefighters, and to be able to help people in their time of need.

Take care, Melissa and thank you for your wonderful letter. Hope to hear back from you soon.

Truly,

Captain Hank Stanley

Mike Stoker

Roy DeSoto

John Gage

Marco Lopez

Chet Kelly."

After each man signed his name at the bottom of the letter, Roy read the letter out loud to his friends. When he was finished, each man had a knowing smile on his face, and the look of approval.

"Beautiful letter, Roy."

"Thanks, Cap."

Standing up from his seat at the table, Chet started to shake his finger.

"There's something missing, and I know exactly what it is."

Getting up from the table, Chet left the room, leaving the others to wonder what he was up to.

In the locker room Chet opened up his locker, and reached for the top shelf. Pulling down a small envelope, he searched through it until he found what he was looking for. Taking the item out that he was looking for, he returned the envelope back to his locker and closed the door. He then returned to the others.

Handing Roy what he held in his hands, Chet smiled proudly.

"Add that to the envelope."

Looking down at what he was just given, Roy also smiled. It was a picture of all six of them from the previous year's firemen's picnic.

The others all nodded in approval.

Roy then added one more thing to the bottom of the letter.

"PS: Enclosed is a picture of all six of us. See if you can match the name with the face."

Putting the picture and letter inside the envelope, Roy wrote Melissa's address on the front of it, and then sealed it.

"I'll get a stamp and mail it out tomorrow. Thanks for the help guys."

The End