It was the middle of flu season and the LA County
Fire Department had been hit hard. Knowing how short-handed headquarters
was, Hank, Roy, Johnny, Mike, Chet and Marco all volunteered to once
again fill the jobs they had held while on duty as the original Station
51’s A-shift. It felt good to all of them to be working together
again as a team. They were called out to a house fire that was threatening
to spread in the unusually oppressive heat and draught LA had been
experiencing. The house was fully involved when they arrived on the
scene. Hank immediately called for a second and third alarm to their
location and then gave instructions to his crew. Johnny and Roy quickly
pulled on their gear and ran for the building. Both men were thinking
how great it was to be working side by side again. They had no way
of knowing if anyone was inside or not, so they had to do a sweep.
They did a quick, but thorough, check and then ran back to grab a 2 ½ inch
hose to back up Chet and Marco on the west side of the building. Station
14 had arrived and was working on the east side and the third alarm
they had called in brought Station 24 who was working on the north
Chet and Marco had beaten the fire back enough that they were inside
the building. They were in the middle of what was the main lobby of
the large, expensive house.
Johnny and Roy had just approached the building when the ceiling and
west wall collapsed in on Chet and Marco.
“Engine 51, this is HT 51. Johnny and I are going in. The ceiling
and wall on this side have collapsed and Chet and Marco are still inside.
Request assistance.” Roy and Johnny were pulling on their
masks when they heard Hank acknowledge their transmission.
Carefully picking their way through the debris, they quickly found
the two men and realized they could get them out. Johnny took off his
turnout coat and beat back the small fire that was threatening. Within
seconds he had it out. He pulled the debris off Marco and Roy picked
him up in the fireman’s carry. Just as Roy started out the door,
the east wall fell essentially blocking their only exit. The other
exit was blocked by the fire. But it was an exit that led out of the
building. What neither Johnny nor Roy realized was that a large piece
of the wall that had fallen had hit Johnny in the back of his head.
Neither man realized that he was bleeding from a large gash. Knowing
they didn’t have much time, Johnny picked up the hose that Marco
and Chet had dropped and quickly soaked Roy and Marco. Then he turned
the hose on the fire and made a path for Roy to get out.
Roy saw what Johnny was doing. “I’ll have them turn hoses
on the outside and you just come out running.” Roy didn’t
want to leave either of his friends there, but he knew the best chance
of them all getting out was to go out through the way Johnny was making
Johnny nodded at Roy and kept the hose on him and Marco as Roy ran
through the flames and out the door after taking one last glance at
his best friend—his “brother”. He had an uneasy feeling
that this might be the last time he would see him alive. Shaking off
the morbid thoughts, Roy ducked his head and ran.
As Johnny saw Roy reach the door, he turned the hose on Chet’s
unconscious form soaking him. He tried wetting himself down, but knew
he had to get out of there fast. He just prayed that he would be able
to get Chet out in time and that Roy would have enough time to get
the hoses turned on him. Without thinking, Johnny used his turnout
coat to cover Chet’s legs that already been badly burned. Johnny
knew it was now or never. He picked Chet up, threw him over his shoulders
and ran through the fire.
When Roy had picked up Marco, his turnout coat was unbuckled and he
had inadvertently pulled the back up. That’s why when he reached
the doorway his pants and shirttail caught fire. The spray from the
hose Johnny was holding wouldn’t reach that far. When he broke
through the door, helping hands took Marco and he was sprayed with
water to douse the fire. He turned to watch for his friend and prayed
that he would make it out.
Johnny was getting close to the door, but for some reason his strength
was giving out. Not realizing that his head injury was taking its toll
on him, he prayed that he would make it to the door. Then his shirt
and pants caught on fire. Praying for the strength to get Chet to safety,
he used one more burst of energy and pushed for the door. He felt the
hands pulling him out the door and felt the water dousing the flames.
As he reached the outside, he collapsed on the ground long enough to
catch his breath.
He didn’t give himself time to really think about what had just
happened or take stock of his injuries. He was on his feet pulling
on his turnout coat someone had handed him and following Roy to provide
assistance to his friends.
Joanne, Nicole, Beth Stoker, Rebecca Lopez, Kimberly Kelly and Emily
Stanley were cleaning up the dishes from the meal the families had
shared together at the Gage ranch when Nicole gasped. Beth looked at
Nicole. “Are you alright?”
Looking over at Joanne who instantly knew what was wrong, Nicole sat
down. Joanne had felt it, too. “Something has happened at the
run the guys are on. One, if not more, of them have been hurt.”
“Are you sure?” Emily had seen this bond between Joanne,
Nicole, Johnny and Roy work first hand and could not explain it. She
just knew whenever one of them had a “feeling” it was always
“Yeah, both Johnny and Roy are concerned.” Joanne answered
the question before Nicole could.
“Then Johnny and Roy aren’t the ones hurt?” Beth
saw the looks of concern on Joanne’s and Nicole’s faces.
“I’m not sure. I just know that something big has happened.” Nicole
looked at the faces of her family and friends.
“Then let’s just do what we always do in these situations—pray.” Emily,
Rebecca, Kimberly and Beth all knew the pain the women were facing.
Roy and Johnny were working furiously on Chet and Marco. Hank Stanley
knew that all four men had been injured and Johnny and Roy were ignoring
their injuries to work on their friends. No one realized the extent
of the two captains’ injuries as no one had gotten a good look
at them. Chief Stanley had radioed for two ambulances when Roy had
radioed about Chet and Marco being trapped. Not really knowing why,
he had asked that a doctor and nurse be sent along. That’s why
when Dr. Brackett and Dixie hopped out of the first ambulance to arrive,
he was relieved. He was even more relieved when Dr. Morton and Carol
hopped out of the second ambulance.
Dr. Brackett and Dr. Morton took over for the tired captains when
they arrived on the scene. But both captains kept a watchful eye as
the two doctors worked. It was only when Dixie and Carol pulled them
away to look after their injuries that the two captains realized who
had taken over for them. Johnny and Roy both sighed, realizing Morton
and Brackett could do more for their friends than they could.
“Roy, where do you hurt?” The call had been heard by both
doctors and nurses. Carol started working on Roy while Dixie started
working on Johnny’s head wound.
“Uhm—my leg and my back hurt the most.” Roy was
still watching the activity around his two fallen friends.
“Let’s take off your gear and see what we can do about
that.” Carol started to help Roy off with his coat. It was only
then that she noticed his right pant leg and the lower back of his
shirt had been burned away. She cut off Roy’s shirt and t-shirt.
Dixie glanced over to see that Carol was taking care of Roy and then
she turned to work on Johnny. She gasped as she carefully took off
his turnout coat, but no one heard her. She cut off his shirt and t-shirt,
too. When Dixie saw the extent of Johnny’s burns, she turned
to Dr. Brackett. “Kel, as soon as you can, I need you over here.” It
wasn’t what she said but the sound of her voice that had everyone
concerned. But Johnny was not paying attention. He was just staring
at Chet and Marco watching the Doctors work on them.
“What happened?” Carol tried to get Roy’s attention
away from the scene and from his best friend. Roy had just realized
that Johnny had probably been hurt coming out of the building. “Uh—I,
uh,” was all that he got out before his world went black. Mike
helped Carol lay him down on his left side—the only side that
appeared to have no burns.
At that same time, Johnny lost his fight with consciousness, too,
and was being helped onto his stomach by Hank and Dixie. Kel was beside
them in a few seconds. Looking at the severity of each man’s
injuries, he told Carol to take over for Dr. Morton watching Chet,
Marco and Roy. Then he called Dr. Morton over and the level of activity
around Johnny rose to twice the level that had earlier been going on.
Chief Hank Stanley and Captain Mike Stoker stepped back and watched
as their friends were being worked on. As all four were ready to be
transported to Rampart, they both knew it was bad when Dr. Brackett
said that Johnny was top priority in transport. They had both seen
him come out running and on fire. But when he had gotten up to go help
Roy with Chet and Marco, they didn’t think he was hurt that bad—but
this was Johnny. He was probably hurt the worst of any of them. As
the four injured men were loaded into the ambulances, Dixie approached
the two men.
“Hank, Mike? Are you both alright?” Dixie knew how concerned
they both would be.
“Yeah, how are they, Dix?” Hank couldn’t tear his
eyes away from the four men being loaded into ambulances.
“Well, I’ll be honest with you. All of them need to get
to Rampart right now to be able to tell the extent of their injuries.
But they are in good hands.”
“Johnny is hurt the worst of any of them, isn’t he? How
bad is he, Dixie?”
Sighing, Dixie looked directly at Hank. “Yes, he is the worst.
I’m not going to lie to you, Hank, it’s really bad. What
Roy had filled Hank in as he helped lay Marco down so Roy could work
on him. “Chet and Marco were working on the west side of the
building. Johnny and Roy had just completed a sweep and were on their
way to back them up. The ceiling and wall on the west side collapsed
onto Chet and Marco. Roy and Johnny went in to get them. By the time
they got in there the wind had picked up and the flames kicked up where
they were. Roy and Johnny were carrying them out when another wall
fell. It cut off their exit and the only way they could get out of
the building was through the fire. Johnny actually picked up the hose
Chet and Marco were using and soaked Roy and Marco down and turned
the hose on the fire as they were getting out. He turned the hose on
Chet and soaked him. I guess he couldn’t get himself wet enough,
but he tried. He covered Chet’s already burned legs with his
coat and then he ran through the fire. If Johnny and Roy hadn’t
come through the fire, they would all be dead right now—the rest
of the building fell in right where the four men had just come from
less than 30 seconds after Johnny came through the door.”
“When did Johnny get the gash on the back of his head?” Dixie
couldn’t keep the pride out of her voice.
“Gash? What gash? We didn’t know he had one. I don’t
know how or when he got it.” Hank was now mad at himself for
not seeing how badly Johnny and Roy were hurt. He was also more concerned
“Let’s get to the hospital. Station 16 is sending over
some of their men and they will take the engine and squad back to the
station. It will be locked down until B-shift comes in. We’ll
all go over in my car since Dr. Morton and Dr. Brackett rode in the
ambulances.” Chief McConikee had arrived in time to see the flurry
of activity around Johnny and hear what happened. He knew that Mike
and Hank would need to be at the hospital. It was just a few short
hours ago that this crew had been enjoying a Thanksgiving meal.
“Did anyone call Mrs. Lopez, Mrs. Kelly, Rebecca, Kimberly,
Joanne and Nicole?” Hank was still in shock and was operating
on sheer rote.
“Yes, they’ll meet us at the hospital.” Chief McConikee
led Hank to his car with Dixie following leading Mike. Carol brought
up the rear.
It was a somber group that made its way into the emergency room. Rebecca,
Kimberly, Joanne and Nicole were waiting when they reached the doctor’s
lounge. Dixie immediately went to the desk to see if she could find
out anything. The look on her face as she walked into the lounge told
them it wasn’t good. They all wanted to ask questions, but waited
as Dixie paused and took a deep breath.
“Chet is in serious condition with a severe concussion, some
second-degree burns on his legs, three broken ribs and a punctured
lung. Marco is in stable condition with a broken arm, a broken leg
and a dislocated shoulder. Roy is in stable condition with second-degree
burns on his lower back and right leg.” Dixie had to take a breath
before she continued. No one missed the pause or the gulp she took
before filling them in on Johnny’s condition.
“Dixie, Johnny’s in critical condition, isn’t he?” Nicole
knew that in all likelihood Johnny would not make it through the night.
But she also “knew” that he was at peace with it and for
some reason so was she.
“Yes, he has second- and third-degree burns on his arms, his
back and his legs – about 50 to 60% of his body. They might have
to put him on a respirator because his lungs got burned when he ran
through the fire. He had to have 12 stitches in his head. It doesn’t
look good.” Dixie couldn’t control her emotions any longer.
The tears ran freely.
“It’s ok, Dixie. Johnny and I are both at peace with what
is going to happen. Johnny is a fighter, but he and I are both realistic.
He probably won’t make it through the night. I need to see him.” Nicole
let her tears flow, too, as she hugged the older woman.
“Sure, come on. I’ll take you to the treatment room.” Dixie
wondered at the strength of the woman standing in front of her.
As she entered the room, Nicole could tell that Johnny was in pain.
She walked to the head of the gurney he was on and sat down on the
floor so she could look into his eyes. He was on his stomach since
most of the burns were on his back. “Hi, Teddy Bear, I love you.”
He slowly opened his eyes to stare straight at Nicole. “Hi,
Chipmunk, what happened?” Then realization hit. “How are
Chet, Marco and Roy?” He grimaced with the pain
Nicole relayed the details Dixie had provided them.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it.” Johnny’s
face was wet with the tears of pain, regret and sorrow. He would be
leaving his wife a widow with seven small children. Did he make the
right decisions at the fire? It was probably going to cost him his
life. But he couldn’t leave any of his friends. Could he have
done something different?
“Johnny, it’s ok. If it is too hard to fight, it’s
ok to let go. I don’t want you to have to fight the pain if it
is too much for you. I love you. You are my soul-mate and my heart-song.
If you do let go, I will always carry you in my heart. Our children
will grow up knowing they had the bravest, most wonderful father in
the world. And Johnny, don’t ever regret any of the decisions
you made tonight. I wouldn’t want it any other way. You couldn’t
have done anything else. I love you, Johnny. You are my hero.” Nicole
pushed herself up so she could kiss Johnny on the lips.
Johnny looked into Nicole’s eyes. Seeing the love and support,
he knew that he would fight. He didn’t know if he would win,
but he would do everything he could to live. He carefully reached forward
and wiped the tears from Nicole’s eyes as Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early
and Dr. Canton, a burn specialist, entered the treatment room. He knew
that she would have to leave as they started the painful treatments
he would have to endure. “I love you. I’ll see you when
I’m done and put they move me to a room”
Nicole kissed him again and smiled. “I’ll be waiting for
Hank and Mike were on their feet when Nicole entered the room. She
looked around at everyone there. Chet’s and Marco’s families
had arrived and were taking their turns waiting to visit them. Their
mothers were currently in with them.
“How’s Johnny?” Hank was afraid he was going to
lose one of his friends and the fact was bad enough, but that it was
Johnny made it even worse.
“He’s in a great deal of pain. I told him it was ok to
let go if the pain was too great or if it was too hard. I think he
is second guessing the decisions he made tonight and I tried to tell
him he made the right ones. I’m not sure he believed me.” Nicole’s
knees buckled as the full realization of what had really happened hit
her. “Did I tell him the right thing? Should I have encouraged
him to try to fight?”
Mike was by her side and grabbed her before she hit the floor. He
guided her over to the couch. Sitting down, he sat her next to him
and pulled her into his embrace to let her cry. It reminded him of
another time they were in the same situation waiting to see if Johnny
would live or die—when Tim and Cameron Donaldson had tried to
kill him. “Nicole, you told him exactly what you should have
told him. You were right.”
In about five minutes Nicole had cried herself to sleep. Hank came
and sat on the other side of Nicole. “Johnny saved three lives
tonight. It wouldn’t be right if he died.”
“No, it wouldn’t be right; but if it wasn’t for
Johnny’s quick thinking, all four of them would be dead right
now.” Mike was silently praying that Johnny’s ability to
come back from injuries would hold out and he would come out of this
About 20 minutes later, Joanne, Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Lopez all entered
the room looking for Nicole and trying to find out about Johnny. Nicole
was waking up just as they entered.
“How are Chet, Roy and Marco?” Nicole prayed they were
going to be ok.
“Roy is in some pain. But they just gave him a pain shot so
he is sleeping. He should be back to work in about six weeks. He is
concerned about Johnny.” Joanne prayed for Johnny. He had saved
Roy’s life. She just prayed he wouldn’t lose his.
“Chet is worried, too. He is in a lot of pain, but he too should
recover and be back to work in about four weeks.” Mrs. Kelly
was very grateful to Johnny for what he had done.
“And Marco did nothing but ask about Johnny. He’ll be
back to work in about six weeks. How is Johnny?” Mrs. Lopez was
praying that Johnny would make it, too.
“Well, he is in a lot of pain. They were starting the treatments
before they even took him up to his room. He had second- and third-
degree burns over 50 to 60% of his body, and a gash in the back of
his head that required 12 stitches. He doesn’t think he’s
going to make it through the night. I told him it was ok to let go
if it was too hard to fight or hurt too bad. I let him know that his
children would grow up knowing what a wonderful father they had and
that he was a hero. He is also second guessing the decisions he made
Dixie came into the room to see Mrs. Lopez, Mrs. Kelly and Joanne
with their arms around Nicole. “Nicole, Johnny has been moved
to a room on the burn unit. Would you like to see him?”
“Yes, thanks, Dixie.” Nicole hugged the other three women
and followed Dixie out of the room. They left behind a group of people
who were all sending up silent prayers for two very special people.
Once again Nicole entered the room. Johnny was in even more pain than
the last time she had seen him. Her heart broke. Sitting on the floor
so she could look him in the eye, Nicole gently wiped away the tears
that were running down his face. “Hi, Teddy Bear. I love you.”
“Hi, Chipmunk. I love you, too.” Johnny smiled as he saw
the one who had stolen his heart.
“Johnny, do you remember once before I told you that as A Fireman’s
Prayer says, you have given your best—actually you have given
150% of your best. No matter what happens, we all are here for you.
Are you going to be alright? ”
“Yes I remember when you told me that once before—another
time when we didn’t know if I would live or die. I think I’m
going to be just fine because I have you, the kids and my ‘family’.
I don’t know if I will make it, but I am going to fight with
everything I have—no matter how much it hurts. I keep remembering
what I put you through when everyone thought I would never walk again
and yet you stayed with me through the whole thing. It is your strength
that keeps me going. Nicole, I love you.”
Nicole reached up and held Johnny’s hand in hers. Neither one
said anything—they didn’t have to. The connection gave
them both the strength they needed to see them through the days ahead.
She was glad when the nurse brought him something for the pain.
Nicole sat with Johnny until he lost the battle to stay awake. He
had wanted to spend some time with her, but she was glad they were
going to keep him sedated. Otherwise, she was sure he wouldn’t
be able to stand the pain. Knowing he would sleep for a long time,
she kissed him on the cheek and made her way back to the lounge. She
needed to make plans so that she could spend as much time with him
as possible—especially if he didn’t make it.
Back in the lounge no one knew what to say. Four members of the original
six-member Station 51’s A-shift crew were injured and one of
those was fighting for his life. It would be a few days before they
would know for sure one way or the other if he would make it.
“Some Thanksgiving this turned out to be.” Mike knew that
it would never be the same if something happened to any of the four
men who were upstairs. “And Christmas might not be any better.”
“Mike, maybe it looks bleak, but we can be thankful that all
four men are still alive and that it isn’t as bad as it could
be.” Nicole had returned just in time to hear Mike’s comment.
Everyone looked at Nicole in puzzlement. “What do you mean?” Mike
tried to understand her statement.
“All four men could be dead right now instead of in hospital
beds. They are getting the very best treatment. Chet and Marco could
have been hurt worse when the wall collapsed and all three could have
been burned worse than they were coming out of the house. Yes, Johnny
is fighting for his life, but he is alive and he, too, could have been
burned worse than he was—he could have had third-degree burns
over 100% of his body. He has a fighting chance and from the time I
spent with him I know he is going to fight with everything he has because
he has me, the kids, and his ‘family’. And no one else
was hurt in that fire today when a family could have easily lost their
lives. So, maybe it isn’t the Thanksgiving we all wanted, but
we have a lot to be thankful for. And as for Christmas, I believe we
will all have the best present of all—all of us together. I have
one request, though.”
Joanne looked at Nicole in wonder. She had been a fireman’s
wife for a lot of years but she didn’t know if she could be as
calm as Nicole was. Nicole and Johnny had been married a little over
four years. She couldn’t believe Nicole’s strength—here
she was trying to encourage everyone else when she was the one losing
the most. “What’s that, Nicole?”
“Well, I need to make arrangements for the kids so that I can
spend as much time with Johnny as possible in case something does happen.
They are going to keep him sedated, but I want to be there whenever
he is awake. Does anyone know who I can get to come in and help me?”
“We’ll all take turns, little one. If your Johnny can
put his life on the line for my Chet and the others, we can help take
care of his babies.” Chet’s mother was glad to have a way
to say thank you for her son’s life.
“Yes, you don’t have to worry. As long as it takes for
Johnny to recover, his babies are going to be well taken care of. You
can spend as much time as you need with him.” Marco’s mother
was just as eager to find a way to say thanks as Chet’s mother.
“Nicole, that goes for Jenny, Chris and I as well. And I’m
sure that Beth, Brandon, William and Emily will take their turns. Don’t
worry about anything. We are right next door to help when Johnny is
released from the hospital.” Joanne knew that the next few months
were going to be very difficult on Nicole as well as Johnny. Kimberly
and Rebecca also volunteered to help with the kids.
“And we’ll make arrangements for the animals to be well
taken care of. We are a family and we are here to help.” Hank
was extra thankful at that moment for the woman who had stolen Johnny’s
heart and become a very important part of their family.
“Thank you for being my family. Johnny and I would never make
it without you.” Nicole let the tears flow down her face.
The lounge had slowly emptied as visiting hours were coming to an
end. The only occupants left in the lounge when Dr. Brackett came to
find Nicole were Joanne, Hank, Mike and Nicole. Chet’s and Marco’s
families had left after their mothers had taken Nicole up to fill Chet
and Marco in on Johnny’s condition. Secretly Nicole was glad
they were in the same room so that she only had to say it once. They
had stopped by Roy’s room and talked to him before the pain medication
he had been given put him to sleep
Nicole jumped to her feet when Kelly Brackett entered the room. “Is
Johnny ok?” Her heart stopped—had something happened to
“He’s just fine, Nicole. I just wanted to let you know
that we agreed with your suggestion. Since both Roy and Johnny are
on the burn-unit, we moved them into the same room. I think it will
go a long way in aiding in both men’s recovery. Now I think you
need to go home and get some rest. I know that you are planning on
spending most of your time with Johnny, but he is sedated tonight and
won’t wake until morning. Get a good night’s sleep and
you can start your vigil tomorrow. I’ll call you if there is
any change.” Kelly Brackett was amazed at that strength of the
woman who had won the heart of someone very close to him. He knew that
Johnny and Nicole were made for each other. He prayed that they would
have many more years together.
“Thank you, Dr. Brackett. I would like to see my kids and hold
them right now. Thanks for everything and I’ll see you in the
morning.” Nicole really needed to hug each one of her kids—not
just for herself, but for Johnny, too. So with a final good night,
Hank, Mike, Joanne and Nicole left the hospital praying that the phone
would not ring that night.
The phone didn’t ring that night—but not because there
was no need. It didn’t ring because the staff was too busy with
Johnny. The pain was almost too much for him to bear and his breathing
became labored. After some quick tests, the staff had to put him on
a respirator. His lungs had suffered some damage in the fire and he
needed help in breathing.
Nicole and Joanne walked into the ER entrance to say hi to Dixie before
they went up to visit Johnny and Roy. They were talking quietly with
Dixie when the phone on the nurses’ desk interrupted their conversation.
“Emergency room, Dixie speaking.” As Dixie listened carefully,
the color drained from her face. “They are right here.—I’ll
bring them right up.” As Dixie hung up the phone, Nicole knew
something had happened.
“Dixie, Johnny took a turn for the worse last night didn’t
he?” Nicole knew something was terribly wrong.
“Nicole, that was Kel. They just finished putting Johnny on
the respirator. He would have called you sooner, but Johnny was giving
all of them a run for their money and they just finished. Kel tried
calling you from upstairs, but Jenny told him you and Joanne were already
on your way here. Let’s go see that husband of yours and find
out why he is causing so much trouble.” Dixie wanted to lighten
the mood, but she knew that Nicole was scared that this would be the
last time she saw Johnny alive.
Roy was upset when they entered the room. He had seen and heard all
the activity going on around his partner, his friend, his brother.
All he wanted was for Johnny to wake up and tell him everything would
be alright. But Roy knew better. The nursing staff was coming in every
15 minutes to check his vitals and look at the monitors that had seemingly
sprung up over night. Johnny was in real trouble this time.
Seeing Roy’s state of mind, Nicole walked over to his bed and
gave him a kiss on the forehead. “I hear my husband was keeping
you up last night.”
Realizing what Nicole was trying to do, Roy wanted to help her as
much as she wanted to help him. “Yeah, he decided he didn’t
want me sleeping on the job.”
“Roy, I know how worried you are. I’m worried, too, but
I have to remember that God is in control. I don’t understand
why He let this happen; I just know that He has a perfect plan and
this is part of it. It doesn’t make it any easier, but I have
to hang on to His comfort or I’d never make it. If something
does happen, just remember Johnny was doing what he loves the most
and he wouldn’t have traded any second of it for the world. He
made all the right decisions last night and there is nothing you could
have done to help him. You did your best and all you could. Our pastor
told us recently about something someone said once. This person said
that we are invincible until God is finished with us and then nothing
will keep Him from taking us home. So no matter what you, Chet, Marco
or even Johnny himself thinks you could have done differently that
would have changed the situation, you are wrong. If Johnny doesn’t
pull through this, it doesn’t mean he or anyone else did anything
wrong. It just means God is taking him home and nothing can or will
“But why does he always think of others first? I know that he
used to put me first because of Jo and the kids. But he has a family
now just like I do. And he still puts me or one of the others guys
first. That’s why he spends more time in the hospital than any
of the rest of us.”
“Roy, Johnny does what he does because neither he nor I could
live with ourselves if something happened to you or any of the rest
of the guys and he didn’t do everything he could to help you.
Please don’t blame yourself and don’t be mad at Johnny.
Yes, he has a family now, too. But all of you are our family and how
do you make the choice of one member of your family over another one?”
“You’re right. We are all family and I don’t think
I could choose Jo and the kids over Johnny or any of the other guys
if I had been in Johnny’s shoes. If it hadn’t been for
his quick thinking, all four of us would be dead now. It’s just
not fair that he is the one to suffer. You both have had to endure
so much in your lives. It’s time for something good to happen
“It may not seem fair to us, but as I said before Roy, God is
in control. We have had something good happen in our lives—we
have a wonderful family and friends that we wouldn’t trade for
the world.” Nicole kissed Roy on the forehead once again and
walked over to her husband’s bedside.
Marco had entered the room just in time to hear Nicole ask Roy how
Johnny could have made the choice of one family member over another.
He and his mother listened quietly to the conversation. When Nicole
went to Johnny’s side, Mrs. Lopez pushed Marco over to Roy’s
bed. There were tears in both Marco’s and his mother’s
“She is really something else, isn’t she?” Marco
was thankful that Johnny had found such a special person to share his
life with. They really were made for each other.
“I don’t know where she gets her strength, but I do know
she is a lot stronger than I am. I know I could deal with it if something
happened to Roy, but she is actually trying to encourage and comfort
all of us when she has the most to lose of any of us.” Joanne
once again marveled at the strength of her ‘sister’.
“That’s what makes her perfect for Johnny. They both would
willingly sacrifice everything for others. I believe her strength comes
from her strong belief in God and His love. But I agree with you, Joanne.
I could handle it if something happened to my Marco, but I don’t
think I could be the one comforting everyone else.” Mrs. Lopez
sent up a prayer for Johnny and Nicole.
Johnny seemed to stabilize as the respirator took over his breathing.
Dr. Brackett decided to keep him sedated not only to prevent him from
fighting the respirator, but also to give them a chance to treat his
burns without him feeling the immense pain the treatments would cause.
Nicole spent every waking minute by his bed. She didn’t mind
just sitting by his bed holding his hand—it gave her the opportunity
to pray for him.
It had been a week since the fire. Marco had been released two days
after they were all injured. Roy still had to come back for some treatments,
but he was scheduled to be released this morning. Chet was going to
take Roy’s place as Johnny’s roommate this afternoon. He
was scheduled to be released in the next day or two. Johnny had been
sedated most of the time, but they had lightened up on the sedatives
the previous evening and now everyone was just waiting for him to wake
up. Dr. Brackett wanted to do some more tests to see if they could
remove the respirator.
Roy was anxious as the orderlies pushed Johnny back into the room
after his tests. He still hadn’t woken up completely, but he
was making the motions of trying to wake up and Roy couldn’t
wait. As Dr, Brackett walked into the room, Nicole looked up to see
Johnny’s brown eyes watching her.
“Hi, honey. How are you feeling?” Nicole was glad that
Johnny wasn’t trying to fight the respirator. She realized he
wasn’t fully awake. “Johnny, you are on a respirator so
just let it breath for you—let it do all the work.”
Johnny just nodded. Since he was so tired and hurt so much, Johnny
did just that. He just laid there.
Dr. Brackett walked over to where Nicole was sitting. He put one hand
on Nicole’s shoulder and his other one on Johnny’s arm. “Johnny,
we have the results of your tests. We need to leave you on the respirator
for awhile longer. Your lungs will heal completely, but we need to
let them rest while they are healing. But everything really looks good.”
Johnny smiled as much as he could. The pain etched across his face
and Nicole squeezed his hand.
“I’ll get you something for the pain. When I return, I
need to talk to you.” Dr. Brackett smiled and went for the pain
Nicole stood and kissed Johnny on the cheek and forehead. “Honey,
are you in a lot of pain?”
Johnny nodded and squeezed her hand. He was just closing his eyes
when Dr. Brackett returned. “Johnny, here is something that will
help you feel better. What I need to talk to you about is your treatments.
We have been keeping you sedated but we really need to stop the sedation
now. Your treatments are going to be painful, and we will give you
some pain medication to help, but the treatments still will hurt. What
we aren’t sure about is if you will be able to handle it. It
is going to be a lot of stress on your system. I’m really sorry,
Johnny let go of Nicole’s hand and signed to her. ~Tell him
that it is ok. We both know that God is in control. I am in the best
hands here at Rampart and I trust them. I know it will hurt, but it
really must be done. I am in the Lord’s hands.~ She smiled and
turned to Dr. Brackett. “Johnny and I both know what to expect.
He is in the best hands and we trust you and the rest of the Rampart
staff. He is in the Lord’s hands and whatever happens, it is
ok.” Nicole took Johnny’s hand kissed him on the forehead
and watched as he went back to sleep.
Roy and Joanne had been listening as they waited for Roy’s release
papers. As Dr. Brackett left the room, Joanne started towards Nicole.
She was halfway across the room when Nicole sat down in the chair and
started shaking with silent sobs. Joanne reached her side, knelt down
and pulled her into her arms. “It’s ok Nicole. We are here
for both of you.”
Nicole buried her face in Joanne’s shoulder. She hadn’t
wanted to cry. She wanted to be strong for Johnny. But she couldn’t
hold it in. Although she knew that whatever happened was in God’s
control, she also knew that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be
hurting about it. After a couple of minutes she pulled away from Joanne
and wiped her face. “I got you all wet.”
“That’s ok. You’ve been waiting a long time to do
that.” Joanne kept her hand on Nicole’s arm.
“Yeah, I have. It’s just that Johnny has gone through
so much in his lifetime and now this. But with all the help from all
of you, we’ll get through this.” Nicole looked up as Mrs.
Lopez entered the room.
“Little one, I know you want to stay beside your husband, but
you really should go home and sleep in a bed and take care of yourself.
What would your babies do if you got sick, too, because you didn’t
take care of yourself? I will stay here with Johnny so that he will
not be alone and if anything happens we will call you.” Marco
had come to visit Chet and Mrs. Lopez knew that Nicole had spent the
week at Johnny’s bedside. She prayed that Nicole would let her
Nicole was about to object when she realized the door opening had
woken Johnny up and he was looking at her. ~Honey, please go home and
get some rest in a bed and not a hospital cot. I know how much you
love me and it will be alright. I’ll be here when you get back—I
“Ok, I’ll help Joanne take Roy home and I really would
like to see the kids. I will give them a big hug and kiss from their
Daddy.” Nicole stood up and walked over to Johnny’s bed.
She leaned over, whispered in Johnny’s ear, “I do love
you. You are the other half of me. But remember, it is ok to let go
if it gets too hard or hurts too bad. You will always be in my heart.
I’ll be back in a little while.” Then she kissed him on
the cheek and forehead and turned to Mrs. Lopez. “Thank you for
staying with him. I want to see the kids.”
Nicole waited until Johnny had fallen back to sleep before she would
consent to leave. She prayed that Johnny would stay asleep until his
treatment. Although she was going home to see her kids and get some
rest and a good meal, she would be there when they brought him back
to his room late that afternoon.
Nicole and Joanne had settled Roy in the back seat where he would
have room to move until he found a comfortable position. Joanne was
driving and Nicole was leaning against the window. It was only a few
minutes before she appeared to be asleep.
Glancing over at Nicole, Joanne smiled. As she checked her rearview
mirror, she saw Roy smiling at Nicole, too. “She really is something
else, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, honey, she is. I’m so thankful that Johnny found
such a wonderful companion. She has been so good for him. I was beginning
to think he would never settle down there for a while and now he is
a husband with a wonderful wife and a wonderful family. I just pray
that they will have many more years together like we have had.”
“So do I, Roy, so do I.” Joanne had known for a long time
that if anything ever happened to Johnny there would be several people
who would be lost and have a very hard time dealing with it. But she
knew that there was now another person so entrenched in their lives
that if anything ever happened to her the loss would just as great
and that was Nicole. “I pray that Johnny makes it through this
for Nicole’s sake. They are so much a part of each other like
we are that if anything ever happened to one of them the other would
only be half there. They are both such special people and have given
so much to so many others that they would truly be missed.”
“You’re right, honey. I know there are several people
praying for them. I know all of us who have worked with Johnny in the
fire department and gotten to know Nicole would be lost.”
The rest of the trip to the DeSoto home was quiet. Joanne and Roy
were both lost in their own thoughts and thought that Nicole was asleep.
What they didn’t know was that she had not fallen asleep but
had heard every word they had said. Neither of them noticed the tears
that streamed down Nicole’s cheeks as she thanked God for friends
and “family” who really cared for her and Johnny. For the
first time in her life, she knew she belong somewhere and to a special “family.”
Brackett hated to do it, but he knew he needed to call Nicole. She
had only been gone for two hours. But things changed so fast in the
last hour. Johnny had developed pneumonia as well as infection in some
of the burns on his back. Johnny was very restless and combative. Remembering
another time that Johnny was fighting for his life, he knew that the
only thing that would calm him down was Nicole. Reluctantly, he picked
up the phone on his desk and dialed Roy’s home number.
Nicole had spent the first hour alone with her kids. It raised her
spirits and gave her a hope that Johnny could survive. She had put
them down for their nap and wandered out to the kitchen where Joanne
was making her a sandwich. As she ate, the feeling in the pit of her
stomach tightened. Johnny’s condition was worsening. Her spirits
were starting to wane. She tried to keep a conversation going with
Joanne, but when the feeling gripped her, she stared off into space.
Joanne turned when Nicole didn’t answer her question.
“Nicole? Are you alright?” Joanne had the same feeling
and when Roy slowly entered the kitchen, she knew that he did, too.
“Brackett’s going to call soon. Is there someone who can
take me back to the hospital?” Nicole knew that she didn’t
have to tell Roy and Joanne about her feeling. She knew that they,
too, had the same feeling.
“Yeah, Mike and Beth are still here and I’m sure they’ll
take you. Do you want to go now or wait until Brackett calls?” Roy
wanted to go but knew he couldn’t. He had just gotten out of
the hospital himself and he knew Brackett would be very upset if he
returned right away.
Neither woman had to answer as the phone rang and all three knew it
Roy answered the phone “Hello, Dr. Brackett.”
“Hello, Roy. “How did you—? Never mind. You, Joanne
or Nicole had one of your feelings didn’t you?” It was
a statement more than a question but Roy answered him anyway
“Well, all three of us did. What happened?”
“Johnny developed pneumonia and an infection in some of the
burns on his back. He is extremely agitated and very combative. We
need Nicole to come down here and see if she can calm him down like
she did once before.”
“Mike and Beth will bring her right away. Roy hung up and followed
Nicole and Joanne into the living room. Mike and Beth were ready to
go having been informed of the situation by Joanne.
Nicole stopped to thank Roy as he once again settled on the couch.
They would watch the Gage children. Roy and Joanne assured her of their
prayers. She told them that she would let them know how Johnny was
and left the house with Beth and Mike.
Roy stopped Mike as he went past. “Take care of Nicole.”
“I will, Roy. We’ll call you when we find out anything.” Mike
gently squeezed Roy’s arm before leaving to take Nicole to the
Dr. Bracket and Dixie were watching for Nicole as they worked. Dr.
Brackett secretly felt that Johnny wasn’t going to make it through
the night. So when Mike, Beth and Nicole arrived, he turned his patients
over to another doctor so he and Dixie could accompany them to ICU.
Mike and Beth had to wait in the ICU waiting room as only Nicole would
be allowed in to see Johnny. She had to put on a surgical gown and
mask. But the one thing that all the doctors knew was that Johnny would
need to feel her touch. So instead of gloves, she had to scrub her
hands thoroughly just after entering the room.
Nicole’s heart broke when she walked in and saw how restless
Johnny was. She kissed him on the forehead through the mask, whispered
that she loved him in his ear and sat in the chair the nurses had made
ready for her. She picked up Johnny’s hand and starting quietly
singing to him. Mike, Beth, Dixie, Dr. Brackett and the nurses on duty
were watching through the glass to the isolation room Johnny had been
placed in. They were all amazed that as soon as Nicole took his hand
and started singing, Johnny immediately quieted and seemed to rest
peacefully. Each one sent up a silent prayer of thanks that Nicole
had been able to calm him and a prayer for both of them. Mike left
to call Roy and Captain Stanley to let them know and to stop by Chet’s
room to tell him and Marco who were waiting to find out what was going
Nicole had been sitting beside Johnny’s bed for more than five
hours. Every time one of the nurses came to check his vitals and Nicole
had let go of his hand, he became very agitated. So the nurses found
a way to work so that Johnny never lost contact with his wife. Not
only did it seem to keep him calm, his vital signs were stable. As
soon as he lost contact, his vital signs changed—and not for
the better. When Dr. Brackett came to check on Johnny at the end of
his shift, he found Nicole asleep with her head resting on their joined
hands. He smiled and moved so the orderlies that were following him
could move in the bed they were going to place next to Johnny’s
for her. While they worked, he did a quick check on Johnny. Even though
Johnny was stable for the moment, Dr. Brackett did not expect him to
make it through the night. But he was not about to tell anyone that—he
Once the orderlies were done, Kelly Brackett gently woke Nicole up.
It was going to be a little tricky, but he wanted her to lie down on
the bed where he knew she would be more comfortable. Somehow they worked
it so that Nicole never broke contact with Johnny as she climbed on
the bed. Kelly Brackett smiled as he noticed that Nicole was back to
sleep with Johnny’s hand safely secure in both of hers before
he even made it to the door. He decided that instead of going home
to wait for the phone call he was sure would come, he would sack out
in his office where he could be at Nicole’s side in an instant
when it happened.
Roy sat on the couch thinking about Johnny and what he had done for
his shift mates. Chet had called earlier and Mike and Marco had just
left. Captain Stanley had called just before Chet and was pacing the
waiting room outside of ICU. Roy knew that Chet was beside himself
since Johnny had been moved to ICU before Chet had a chance to see
him. Each one was praying that they would get the opportunity to say
thank you to Johnny for saving Chet, Marco and Roy.
Joanne brought Roy his breakfast along with a cup of coffee and noticed
that he was lost in thought. “Honey, are you thinking about Johnny?”
“Yeah, I am. When Dr. Brackett called yesterday and asked Nicole
to go and see if she could calm Johnny down, I really had the feeling
he was telling her he didn’t believe Johnny would live through
“I had that feeling, too. But I guess it is good news that the
phone didn’t ring last night, right?”
“I sure hope so.”
“What else is bothering you?”
“Well, I realized that Johnny put his life on the line for all
of us. If he hadn’t, Chet, Marco and I probably would have gotten
killed in that fire that day—or at least one of us would have.
What if he hadn’t been able to make it through? What if he doesn’t
“Aren’t you the one that keeps saying that you can’t
live with the what ifs? What ifs won’t change what happened,
so we need to look at the future and see where we go from here.”
“You’re right. I just pray that Johnny will make it through
“So do I, honey, so do I.”
Dr. Kelly Brackett woke at the sound of knocking on his door. Looking
at his watch he realized that it was 7:30 a.m. The phone call he had
been expecting either didn’t come or he slept right through it.
Running his hand through his hair like a comb, he got up to find a
grinning Dixie on the other side of the door.
“Good morning, Kel. Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I did. I didn’t realize how tired I was.”
“Did you stick around to keep an eye on Johnny?” Dixie
had something she needed to tell him.
“Yeah, to be honest with you, I was almost sure he wouldn’t
make it through the night and I wanted to be here when I was needed.
Either he made it or I slept through the call.”
“Well, if his being awake and asking to get taken off the respirator
because he’s hungry means anything, I think we can say he made
it through the night.” Dixie was grinning at the look on Dr.
Brackett’s face as what she was saying slowly sunk into his tired
“He’s awake? And hungry? But how? He was—he was—“
“Why don’t we go check on him and you can see for yourself.” Dixie
was just as happy as Dr. Brackett. She, too, had been afraid that Johnny
wouldn’t make it. But the nurses who took his vitals and listened
to his lungs said he was on the road to recovery.
It took less than two minutes for Dixie and Dr. Brackett to make it
from the Emergency Room to Johnny’s room in ICU on the sixth
floor. Standing at the window watching Johnny with grins on their faces
were Mike Stoker and Captain Stanley.
“Hey, Dr. Brackett, you might want to get in there. Johnny is
arguing with the nurse about his respirator. I’m not sure but
I think he wants to eat something solid.” Chief Hank Stanley
had a grin on his face, but he also had unshed tears in his eyes. Mike’s
face matched that of his Chief.
“Well, I’ll go see what I can do.” Dr. Brackett
and Dixie’s smiles could have lit up all of Rampart. They hurried
to gown up and go see their favorite patient.
Johnny’s face was lit up with his lopsided grin—as much
as he could grin—when they entered the room “Talking” a
mile a minute to Nicole with his hands, he let them know he was hungry
and really wanted something solid to eat.
“Well, Johnny, I want to get an x-ray and run some tests, but
I think we can remove the respirator. We will turn it down while we
are running the tests to see if you can breathe on your own and then
we’ll go from there. Ok? We’ll keep you here in ICU for
a couple more days until the infection in your burns heals a little
more, but I think you will make a full recovery.” Dr. Brackett
couldn’t believe how much better Johnny’s lungs sounded
just overnight. Someone was watching out for him.
If it was possible, Johnny’s grin got bigger as he shook his
head yes setting off the vent alarms. Everyone laughed as Dixie turned
off the alarm and gave Johnny a kiss on the forehead.
“Johnny, while you are having your tests done, I’m going
to go call Roy and Marco and then stop by Chet’s room to tell
him. I’ll be here when you get back.” Nicole didn’t
try to stop the tears that ran down her cheeks. These were tears of
joy. At 3:00 that morning both Nicole and the head nurse were ready
to call everyone to let them know that Johnny wasn’t going to
make it. Then all of a sudden, everything changed and Johnny was on
the way to recovery. Johnny squeezed her hand and grinned as they wheeled
him from the room.
Roy was getting anxious. He had not heard from Mike or Nicole this
morning and that worried him. He had been relieved when he woke up
and realized he had not received the expected call in the middle of
the night. But that didn’t alleviate his fears. Just as he as
about to pick up the phone and call the hospital, it rang causing him
to practically jump off the couch. He answered it before it finished
the first ring. “Hello.”
“Hi, Roy. You must have been sitting right beside the phone.” Nicole
couldn’t hide the amusement in her voice.
“Well, umm—yeah, I was.” Roy was too worried to
hear the laughter in Nicole’s voice.
“I thought you would be. I’m sorry I didn’t call
sooner, but things have been a little busy around here.”
“Why, what happened?” The knot in Roy’s stomach
“Roy, everything is ok. They are running some tests right now
and if the results come out the way Dr. Brackett expects them to, they
will be taking Johnny off the respirator.” Nicole’s shoulders
sagged as she realized that indeed things would be ok.
It took Roy a few minutes to realize what she was saying. “Off
the respirator? You mean, he’s going to be ok?”
“Well, he was asking for solid food this morning because he
was hungry.” Nicole knew how to let Roy know that Johnny was
going to recover.
“Hungry? He’s hungry?” Roy still couldn’t
believe what he was hearing.
“Yes, Roy. He wants solid food instead of the stuff they are
feeding him through his IVs. There’s still some infection that
needs to clear up so he’ll be in ICU for a couple of days. Then
he will have to undergo skin grafts and all that other stuff but he
will make a full recovery.” Everything that had happened over
the last four days and the emotional roller coaster she had been riding
for those four days finally took its toll on her and the tears ran
freely down her face.
Roy wished he could be there to hold her as he heard the sobs. “Nicole,
are you ok?” His worry about Johnny was eased, but he realized
how much Nicole had been suffering, too.
“Roy, Hank’s got her and we’ll take care of her.
Dr. Early said that if you were careful and wanted to come to Rampart,
it would be ok—they won’t yell at you.” Mike was
grinning from ear to ear.
“Thanks, Mike. Joanne and I will be right there. Has anyone
talked to Chet or called Marco yet?” Roy was already standing
up and getting his jacket and keys.
“I’ll call Marco right now. Nicole was going to call him
after she talked to you. She stopped in to see Chet on her way to call
you guys. Hank called his wife and she is on her way over to your house
to help take care of the kids. Roy, please take it easy getting here—we’ll
take care of Nicole and Johnny is going to be ok.” Mike knew
that Roy wanted to be there as soon as possible.
“I will, Mike, I promise. Joanne will be doing the driving.
She’s the one that can keep calm and knows what to do. We’ll
be there just as soon as we can.” Roy’s heart was soaring.
The original A-shift family was all in tact. It would be awhile before
Johnny would be able to return to work, but he would return.
Joanne, Jenny and Chris had just entered the room when Roy hung up
the phone. “That was Nicole and Mike on the phone. Jenny, will
you and Chris please stay here with the kids until Mrs. Stanley can
get here while your mother takes me to the hospital?”
Joanne thought for sure it was bad news. “What happened?”
“Well, it seems that Johnny wants to be taken off the respirator
because he is hungry and wants solid food.” Roy waited a minute
for his words to sink in.
“He’s hungry?” Joanne couldn’t believe what
she was hearing.
“Yeah, and Dr. Brackett expects the results of the test to show
that they can take him off the respirator this morning. He’s
going to be ok.” Roy couldn’t keep the face-splitting smile
off his face.
“Sure, Dad, we’ll stay here. Give our love to Aunt Nicole
and Uncle Johnny for us.” Chris was 14 and pleased that his mom
and dad would trust him and Jenny to watch the Gage kids until another
adult arrived. Jenny was 12 and Chris knew they could handle the kids,
but he was also glad that someone was coming to help.
Five minutes later, Roy and Joanne were on their way to the hospital
with a very happy Mrs. Stanley on her way to the DeSoto home. At that
moment fifteen people were sending up heart-felt thank yous for the
miracle taking place in Johnny’s recovery. All of them knew that
this could have had—and probably should have had—a different
Marco and even Chet in a wheelchair met them in the waiting room.
The results of Johnny’s tests had come back positive and Dr.
Brackett was removing the respirator. No one could believe the difference
in just 24 hours. Christmas was going to be a happy celebration after
Nicole entered the room after Dr. Brackett and Dixie had left. The
tests and removal of the respirator had worn Johnny out and he was
sleeping when she entered. She quietly walked over and kissed him on
the cheek before sitting down with his hand safely in both of hers.
Dr. Brackett was going to tell the others that Johnny was sleeping
and they would be allowed to see him a little later. As she sat watching
her husband, Nicole sent a thank you heavenward for his life. And out
in the waiting room several thank yous were also being sent heavenward.
Two hours later, Johnny was awake and being his normal “patient” self.
Each of those sitting in the waiting room had been in to see him and
now Roy was spending a few quiet minutes with his “brother.” “Johnny,
I just want to say thank you for saving Marco, Chet and me. I’m
usually the calm one in those situations, but you came up with the
“Roy, you would have thought of it in time to get us all out
of there. I just happened to think of it first. Besides, you already
had Marco over your shoulders. It was just faster for me to do it.” Johnny
winced as he moved. It was almost time for his pain medicine and his
much dreaded treatments to clean his burns. Roy knew the conversation
on that topic was closed.
“Are you in much pain?” Roy wished he could trade places
“It is getting better. However, when they come in to debride
my burns and then rebandage them, it is almost unbearable. Dr. Brackett
has issued standing orders that I get a good sized dose of pain medication
half an hour before any treatment and that helps tremendously.” Wanting
to turn the attention away from his injuries, Johnny looked at Roy’s
face and saw the fatigue setting in. “Roy? Is Nicole really handling
this ok? I know she is trying to be strong for me, but how is she really
doing—during the times that she thinks no one is watching?”
“She’s letting us be there for her, Johnny. She has broken
down a few times, but when she does, she lets one of us hold her and
just be there for her. At the times you see her strongest, she really
is handling it fine. She’s not ashamed to let us know that she
was worried or how happy she is now that she knows you are going to
make a full recovery. Don’t worry about her—Hank, Mike
and I are taking care of her for you.”
“Well, I’d say you’d better take care of yourself.
You were just released from here yesterday and you look awfully tired
to me. I don’t want you ending up back in here.”
“You’re right, I am tired. But I really needed to see
for myself that you were off the respirator, hungry and being your
usual ‘patient’ self. I needed to see that you were ok.”
Nothing more had to be said between the two men—they both knew
how the other felt and what the effect would have been if something
had happened to either one of them.
Just as Roy was about to say goodbye to Johnny, Nicole stuck her head
in the door. “Roy, I really think you need to go home so you
can rest and recuperate. I don’t want you to have a relapse and
end up back in here.”
“That’s what your husband just said to me.” Roy
smiled at how much alike Johnny and Nicole were and the perfect match
“And I agree with both of them. Kel and I gave you permission
to come and see our favorite patient, but I am ordering you home.” Dr.
Early had followed Nicole into the room.
As all four laughed, Roy stood up. “Thanks, Dr. Early, for letting
me come to see for myself that Johnny is up to his usual tricks causing
trouble for the nurses and doctors. Now I can really rest and get better.”
With another round of laughter at the look on Johnny’s face
at Roy’s remarks, Roy walked over laid his hand on Johnny’s
arm and whispered in his ear. “Thanks again, junior. And I thank
the Lord that He didn’t take my ‘brother’ this time.”
Johnny put his hand over Roy’s and let that say it all. “Take
Nicole home with you. I think she needs some rest and to see our children.”
Nicole was going to protest when Johnny continued. “Nicole,
it is almost time for my pain medication and another round of debriding
and treatment. It always wears me out and I will probably sleep after
it is over. So, please, for me, go and get a good hot meal instead
of the stuff they call food in this place and rest in a real bed instead
of the cot they put in here. And most of all, give my children hugs
and kisses from me.” Johnny knew his wife needed a break from
the hospital and all the worries it brought. “Then you can come
back after supper and tuck me in for the night.”
Nicole saw the love in Johnny’s eyes. “Ok, honey. I am
kind of tired and would enjoy a home cooked meal or even a pizza—and
I do miss the kids. But I’ll be back at dinner time. I love you.” She
leaned over and kissed Johnny on the cheek and followed Roy out of
the room. It was a happy group that went their separate ways knowing
that soon A-shift would be home again.
A week after being taken off the respirator, Johnny underwent his
first skin graft and a week after that he was released. Roy and Joanne
were glad they lived right next door to the Gage’s so they could
be there to help with Johnny and the kids. Chet had been released four
days after Johnny had been moved out of ICU.
Thanksgiving had been subdued, but the celebration at Christmas more
than made up for it. It had a very special meaning to the Station 51
family this year.
Johnny was undergoing a skin graft and had just been settled into
a room after spending time in recovery. He was still a little groggy,
but smiled when he saw Nicole sitting by his bed.
Nicole smiled as she noticed Johnny’s eyes watching her. “Hi,
Teddy Bear, how are you feeling?”
“Hi, Chipmunk, I’m not feeling much pain right now, but
I think they must have remembered what happened last time and gave
me some good pain medication.” He was still under the influence
of the anesthetic and pain medication and was losing his battle with
staying awake. “How are you feeling? I know you had a doctor’s
appointment this morning.”
Nicole saw his battle to stay awake, but she really wanted to tell
him about her appointment. So she quickly went to his bedside. “Johnny?” She
slipped her hand into his.
“Yes?” Johnny was losing the battle to stay awake fast.
“I just wanted to tell you that you are going to be a daddy
again in November.”
“That’s nice, honey.” It didn’t quite register
as Johnny’s eyes slid shut and he gave in to the sleep that had
Roy and Joanne walked into the room just as Nicole gave Johnny the
Joanne hurried over to hug Nicole. “Really? That’s wonderful.”
“Yes, but there’s more.” Nicole hoped she would
be able to tell Johnny first, but she knew he wouldn’t be upset
that she had told Roy and Joanne before she was able to tell him.
“What’s that?” Joanne wondered if there was a problem
with the pregnancy.
“The ultrasound showed I am going to have twins.”
“Man, you two don’t do anything in a small way, do you?
Your first pregnancy resulted in twins. Your second pregnancy resulted
in quadruplets and now you are expecting twins again.” Roy was
happy for their friends.
“Well, I guess it’s like everything Johnny seems to do—do
it in a big way and get it over with.” Do you think he will remember
when he wakes up?”
“I don’t know—only time will tell.” Roy was
wondered whether Johnny would remember, too.
During the two hours Johnny was sleeping, Nicole and Joanne had sat
discussing all the new problems that came with having twins when there
were already seven other kids at home. That would mean that Johnny
and Nicole would have nine children with eight of them under the age
of five. That, of course, would present several challenges. Roy had
gone to check with Dr. Brackett about how the skin graft had gone.
The two women were discussing the fact that the Gage home was getting
a little crowded and Nicole was going to have to move bedrooms around
when Johnny started waking up.
“Hi, honey.” Nicole reached over and took Johnny’s
hand in hers.
“Hi, Angel.” Johnny smiled at his wife. He sent up a silent
thank you for the woman who completed him. Then he thought about his
family and sent up a silent thank you for each of his children. And
now he was going to be a father again. Then it really hit him. Did
he hear Nicole right or was he dreaming? “Nicole, did you tell
me before I fell asleep that I am going to be a father again?”
Nicole laughed at the look on Johnny’s face—half hopeful,
half fearful. “Yes, honey, I said you were going to be a father
“When is the newest member of the Gage family scheduled to make
his or her appearance?”
“Well, they are due around the end of November.”
“They? Did you say they? How many are they?”
“Well, honey, there are two more Gages scheduled to arrive in
November.” Nicole laughed harder at the look on Johnny’s
“Hey, Junior, you never do anything in a small way do you? Are
you trying to populate the world all by yourself?” Roy had entered
just in time to hear Johnny ask Nicole when the babies were due.
Johnny looked at his wife and then at his two closest friends. “I
guess not. Wow, we are really going to have to add on to the house
“Well, I think we missed something here.” Dr. Brackett
and Dixie had heard Johnny’s comment as they entered the room
to check on their favorite patient.
“Just my wife telling me I am going to be a father again.” Johnny
was elated and a little fearful that he would soon be the father of
“Well, congratulations. When is the baby due?” Kel Brackett
was happy for his friends.
“Not baby, Doc. Babies.” Roy couldn’t help but tease
his ‘brother’ about it.
“How many are there?” Dixie couldn’t believe it
when Roy said babies. The Gages already had one set of twins and a
set of quadruplets.
“Two.” Nicole smiled at the thought of being a mother
“Are you trying to populate the world all by yourself?” Dr.
Brackett joined in the good-natured teasing, too.
“That’s what I asked.” Roy joined the others as
they all laughed once again.
“Well, it sure wasn’t planned that way. After we were
married, we planned on three or four kids, but I guess God had other
plans for us.” Johnny’s grin lit up the room as Dr. Brackett
began taking his vitals.
Brandon Stoker sat at his desk in his room thinking about the assignment
Mrs. Cranson, his Senior English teacher, had given them. It was the
last assignment and he knew writing was not his strong suit. He thought
that it was probably this assignment that would determine the valedictorian.
Mandy Scranton and Brandon had the same grade point average and they
would be both working their hardest to have the highest GPA. But the
one thing that was a problem was that Mandy was good at writing and
The topic was supposed to be what he wanted to do after graduation
and why. Brandon knew what he wanted to do, but to put why into words
might not be so easy. Brandon wanted to follow in his father’s
footsteps and be a firefighter. He had been afraid that his mother
and father would be upset with him when they found out, but he had
their full support. His dad was even proud when Brandon said that he
wanted to be a paramedic as well. Brandon wanted to be a firefighter
because of his father and “uncles”. But could he put it
As he wrote “I want to be a firefighter/paramedic” his
thoughts started tumbling out and he started writing. It was two hours
later that he looked at his first rough draft. He hoped he could just
let everyone know how proud he was of his father and “uncles”.
He had also included the police officers he had known and the sacrifices
It was graduation night and Brandon looked out to see his father,
mother, brother, sister, all the original A-Shift crew and their families
sitting in the front section of those who had come to see their loved
ones graduate. Looking further up into the bleachers he saw the rest
of the “Station 51 A-Shift family” sitting there. He was
nervous. The Principal had not yet announced the valedictorian. Both
he and Mandy had to prepare speeches.
The ceremonies started and Brandon turned his attention back to the
speaker. After the preliminary speeches and introductions, the moment
that Mandy and Brandon had been waiting for. Principal VanSteensen
stepped up to the platform.
“This year we had a tough time selecting our valedictorian.
It actually came down to the grade received on the final writing project.” As
the Principal was talking, Brandon felt his heart break. He knew that
Mandy was the better writer. “I would like to read a part of
the essay written by our valedictorian. The subject of the essay was
what the student wanted to do when they graduated and why.” Brandon’s
heart started beating harder when the Principal started reading his
essay. He was the valedictorian.
When the principal finished, he asked that all members of the fire
department and the police department to stand. When all the personnel
stood, the gymnasium erupted in applause. Brandon had done what he
had wanted to do—show how proud he was of his father and all
the people he worked with.
After he gave his valedictorian speech, his father and “uncles” were
on their feet clapping for him and Brandon knew he was joining a very
special group of people.
Brandon’s graduation open house was held at the Gage ranch and
everyone made sure to thank him for the honor he had given them. Chief
Stanley handed him the uniform he would be putting on the next Monday
when he started the fire Academy. As the evening ended, Mike took his
son aside and told him how proud he was of him. It was with tears in
his eyes, Mike hugged Brandon and welcomed him into the fire brotherhood.
Johnny had to have more skin grafts over the months following his
accident. It had been a long eight months, but today he walked into
the station returning to work. He was the first one to arrive. As far
as the others knew, he was still on medical leave and wasn’t
scheduled to return for another month. Even Roy was unaware of the
change in plans. The DeSotos had spent every free minute with the Gages
to help out with Johnny’s recovery and the kids, but had not
found out what had transpired at Johnny’s last appointment. Nicole
had dropped Johnny off at the station and he left a large box of donuts
on the table and the fixings for a special dinner in the fridge. Then
he headed into the locker room to change into his uniform. The bay
was empty—C shift was out on a run. As he dressed he checked
the support bandages thanking God that he was still alive and able
to return to work. Sure there were times when he was in pain, but Nicole
had been with him every step of the way. She had helped him through
the times of despair when he wanted to run and hide or give up.
The men of the A-shift of Stations 51, 14 and 24 were meeting this
morning to plan a welcome back for Johnny. Roy and Hank arrived at
the same time. “Roy, you are here really early today. The meeting
isn’t for another hour.”
“Yeah, Joanne took Chris and Jennifer to her mother’s
for spring break and they left early this morning. Since I was up and
the house was so quiet, I decided to come in. Why are you here so early?” By
this time they were in the kitchen. “Hey, where did the donuts
“I had an early meeting at headquarters and then just came over.
I don’t know who could have left the donuts. Nobody else’s
car is here and C shift is out on a run. Let’s go see if we can
find anyone else in the station.” Hank and Roy headed for the
Johnny had decided that he would stay out of sight until the very
last minute and surprise the other guys, so he hid in his locker where
he would be out of sight but could hear everything going on in the
“There’s no one in here or the bathroom. Roy, let’s
look around the rest of the station.” Hank wondered who had brought
the donuts and how they had gotten in.
Chet, Mike and Marco had arrived and all five men were in the dayroom.
The other men of the three stations were milling about the bay. It
was five minutes to roll call and Roy and Hank had been unable to find
anyone else in the station.
“Hey, Chief? Who’s supposed to fill in for Captain Gage
today? I sure hope it isn’t Brice. I can’t wait until Johnny
gets back full time. And thanks for bringing in the donuts.” Chet
grabbed one of the jelly filled donuts.
“I didn’t bring in the donuts. And whoever it is, they
better get here soon.” Hank grabbed a powdered donut.
“Who brought in the donuts? Did you, Roy?” Chet picked
up another donut.
“No, I didn’t bring them. We don’t know who brought
them in. They were on the table when we got here.” Roy, too,
wondered what Captain would be assigned to work this shift.
Chet had walked over to the cupboard and had gotten glasses to pour
milk for all of them. “Yeah, I wonder---“ He stopped as
he opened the refrigerator and saw the fixings for dinner.
“Chet, what’s wrong?” Hank wondered what was going
“There is a complete dinner in here—it looks like it just
needs to be cooked.”
“A complete dinner? What is going on here?” Chief Stanley
walked over to the refrigerator followed by the rest of 51’s
A-shift. They all peered over Chet’s shoulder at the filled refrigerator.
The other guys from the other two stations were crowded around them. “Who
brought donuts and dinner? There’s no one here.”
“I hope no one minds if I cook tonight.” Johnny walked
into the dayroom with a face-splitting grin. “And I sure hope
you don’t mind working with me.”
All of the men jumped at the sound of Johnny’s voice. “What
are you doing here, Junior?” Roy was beside Johnny in a second.
“Yeah, and where have you been? Roy and I looked all over the
station.” Hank was close behind Roy.
“Well, Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early and Dr. Hanson have approved
me for full-time duty effective today. Here’s the paperwork,
Chief. I’m back! That is unless you don’t want me here.”
“Of course we want you here. Man, am I glad you’re back.
Your crew was ready to start a mutiny. This is great.” Roy’s
grin matched Johnny’s.
“You didn’t answer my question and I’ll add another
one. Did you bring the donuts?” Hank was as happy as Roy that
Johnny was back to work doing what he loved.
“Well, you looked everywhere but my locker and yeah, I brought
the donuts. Also, no one answered my question. Does anyone mind if
I cook tonight?”
“Is it something Nicole sent?” Bob was a big fan of Nicole’s
“We made it together.” Johnny laughed. He had become a
better cook since he married Nicole.
“Then I say Johnny cooks today.” Chet loved it when Nicole
sent something for their dinner and Johnny was back full-time. Today
was going to be good.
“Well, it’s time for roll call. I am doing the cooking
so now it’s time to give the rest of you your assignments.” Hank
looked at all their faces. He saw the same smile he was sure graced
his face. As the crews of Stations 14 and 24 loaded up to head back
to their stations, their smiles were as big as those of the crew of
Station 51. The Station 51 A-shift family was finally as it should
be once again.
Everyone was once again gathered at the Gage ranch for Thanksgiving
and to celebrate Brandon Stoker’s graduation from the Fire Academy.
He had graduated at the top of his class. It was unusually warm for
November and they had decided to have the festivities outside.
Johnny and Roy were walking back from the barn when Johnny noticed
that Nicole had a strange look on her face and went to sit down. He
knew what that look meant—he had seen it before. Without a word
he took off on a run towards Nicole. His actions got the attention
of everyone present. He made it across the yard in record time. “Nicole,
do I call a squad or go in the car?”
“Well, my water broke and the contractions are hard—I
think you’d better call a squad and be prepared to help deliver
your kids.” Nicole was glad that Johnny knew without a lot of
fuss what was going on.
“Dr. Brackett, can you get your bag? Roy, will you call for
an ambulance? Joanne, will you grab some clean towels and a couple
of blankets out of the backroom?” Johnny didn’t stop to
explain to anyone, he just asked.
Dixie was the first one to reach the Gages. “How close are the
“About eight minutes apart.” Nicole knew they probably
would have at least one of the babies in the back of the ambulance
if not before with the others close behind.
“You are just like Johnny. You don’t do anything in a small
way do you?” Dr. Brackett had realized as soon as Johnny asked
him to get his bag what was going on.
“Nope, I have to keep all of you on your toes and make sure
you don’t forget anything.” Nicole tried to smile but was
caught in the grip of another contraction.
Continued in Joys
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