For personal use and select distribution only © by Addmom

DISCLAIMER: "Emergency!" and its characters © Mark VII Productions, Inc. and Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

The poems and songs used in this story do not belong to me. I have indicated the singer/writer of each one.

No infringement of any copyrights or trademarks is intended or should be inferred. This is a work of fiction, and any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental. This story is only written for entertainment. No financial gain is being realized from it. The story, itself, is the property of the author. Please ask before archiving elsewhere and/or using characters created by the author.

I am in no way connected to the medical profession and take responsibility for all mistakes in dealing with treatments, diseases, etc.

A Dark Cloud or A Silver Lining?

November, 1982 (Thanksgiving)

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 side.

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 for him.

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 right.

“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 happened?”

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 than ever.

“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 you.”


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 ok.


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 tonight.”

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 Johnny?

“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 change that.”

“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 to you.”

“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 eyes.

“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 medications.

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.”

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 stay.

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 promise.~

“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 was Brackett.

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 hospital.


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 on.


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 just couldn’t.

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 the night.”

“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 make it?”

“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 this.”

“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 brain.

“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 got tighter.

“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 outcome.

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 all.


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 solution.”

“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 with Johnny.

“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 they made.

“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.


March, 1983

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 called him.

Roy and Joanne walked into the room just as Nicole gave Johnny the news.

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 again.”

“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 face.

“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 now.”

“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 ten children.

“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 again.

“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.


May, 1983

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 Brandon wasn’t.

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 into words?

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 they made.


June, 1983

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.


July, 1983

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 come from?”

“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 locker room.

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 locker room.

“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 on.

“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 cooking.

“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.


November, 1983

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 contractions?”

“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 and Heartaches.

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