Life had settled into a comfortable routine. Chris
DeSoto and William Stoker had both graduated from high school and followed
their fathers into the fire service. Chris was planning on becoming
a paramedic and William wanted to an engineer like his father.
Hank Stanly had been a Battalion Chief for just under seven years
and he had the same respect and loyalty from all the men in his battalion
that he had from the original Station 51 A-Shift crew. Everyone knew
that the loyalty and respect were earned because he was willing to
do anything he asked of his men and he cared about them. If there was
any member of his battalion that was injured, he was one of the first
firefighters at the hospital checking on them.
Today Hank was reminiscing through the years since he was assigned
to Station 51 during the early years of the station. His first crew
there had become a big part of his family not just his coworkers or
friends. He wasn’t sure why he was feeling so nostalgic, but
there was something niggling at the back of his mind. All of a sudden
he had a feeling that something big was going to happen. He prayed
that all the responding personnel would be kept safe. He had no way
of knowing that his world was going to change forever.
The call came in for a huge MVA on the 405. There were over 100 vehicles
involved and 15 stations had been called out—among them were
stations 14, 24 and 51. Hank joined Chief McConnikee as he headed to
the accident. Both men prayed that there wouldn’t be too many
deaths or serious injuries. However, they both knew they were just
hoping. With over 100 vehicles involved, there had to be some fatalities.
Hank was out of the car before McConnikee had even come to a complete
stop. He saw the trucks in front of him and walked over to Captain
Mike Stoker who had been the first Captain on the scene and was in
charge. “Mike, what do we have?”
“There are three semis that collided starting a chain reaction
because no one could stop in time to keep from hitting the vehicle
in front of them. The bad part is that there are three school buses
right in the middle of all of this. Glancing at his watch, Hank realized
the abuses were on their way to school and most likely were fully loaded
with kids. This was one time he was grateful he was not the most senior
firefighter on scene.
All the responders had been given their assignments and Hank began
walking down the line of crushed vehicles to see if there was some
place he could be of assistance. Over the years he had missed the teamwork
and closeness of a station crew. Today he seemed to miss it the most.
Thinking about the original Station 51 A-shift, he wondered where Roy
and Johnny’s crews had been assigned. He was pulled from his
thoughts when he heard Johnny’s voice calling out instructions
to his crew. He had reached the semi that had caused the accident.
Making his way through the wreckage, he found Roy’s crew working
on the occupants of the semis while Johnny’s crew was working
on the kids in the three buses.
Hank saw that Roy’s crew had the three semi-truck drivers out
of their vehicles. He also noted with sadness that two of the three
men were Code F. Turning from the flurry of activity around the surviving
driver he went to Johnny to see where he could help. “Johnny,
what do we have?”
Johnny turned and saw his chief walking towards him. “Most of
the kids are just shaken up, but we will be sending them to Rampart
to get checked out anyway. We have two of the buses emptied. The kids
are all over at the triage area waiting to be sent on the buses that
are on their way. Burton and Lincoln are taking care of them. Two of
the drivers have suffered broken bones. They are already on their way
to Rampart. Bob and Jim are getting ready to cut the third driver out.
The driver’s seat broke off and pushed forward while the steering
wheel shaft bent and twisted to the left. The driver was pushed under
the shaft and the pedals. We need to pry her out. Bob is going to use
the Jaws of Life to bend the steering wheel shaft back while Jim and
Chet pull back on the seat. Bruce and Bill are getting the rest of
the kids off the bus. We hope to have her out in about fifteen minutes.”
“I noticed the kids as I came by. They all seemed to be doing
ok. What can I do to help?”
Johnny looked at his boss. Hank should have been the one in charge
and should have been telling Johnny what to do. “Aren’t
you supposed to be telling me what to do?”
“Not this time. You are doing a great job and today I just want
“Oh, ok. Will you please go and see what you can do to help
Bob and Jim with the driver? I’ll help Bruce and Bill with the
rest of the kids.”
“Sure, and thanks Johnny.” Hank smiled at Johnny’s
obvious discomfort in giving him orders. He took a moment to think
about the men who had once served under him at Station 51. He let himself
feel a little bit of pride as he thought about how well each of the
men performed. Turning his thoughts back to the problem at hand, he
made his way to the front of the bus.
Johnny took a second to watch Hank walk towards the bus. Then he turned
to help his crew members unload the kids.
“Bob, what can I do to help?” Hank grinned at the startled
looks on both Bob and Jim’s faces.
“Um, Chief, um, well.” Bob had a hard time talking as
he exchanged looks with Jim as Hank climbed aboard the bus. He brought
the blanket he had heard Bob ask Jim for as he arrived. Still waiting
for one of the paramedics to find their voice, Hank covered the bus
driver with the blanket.
“Thanks Chief.” Jim finally found his voice and began
bending the steering wheel shaft back. Bob grabbed one side of the
driver’s seat while a giggling Chet grabbed the other side. Nothing
more was said as the four men worked on releasing the bus driver.
Johnny smiled as the last of the children climbed down from the bus.
Two of the older girls had kept the younger ones calm by singing nursery
rhymes and playing with them. Johnny made a mental note to make sure
the appropriate authorities and news media knew that these two girls
played a very important part in this rescue.
Once he had delivered the last of the kids to the triage area, Johnny
stopped by where Brandon and Andrew were working on the surviving semi-driver.
He was relieved to find out that the driver was going to be alright.
Roy walked up just as Johnny started to head back to the bus and his
crew. “John, is everyone off the bus?”
“Bob, Jim, Chet and Hank are working on getting the bus driver
out. She is caught between the steering wheel drive shaft and the driver’s
seat. Jim is trying to bend the drive shaft back with the Jaws while
Chet and Bob are working on moving the seat and Hank is keeping her
company and covered. I’m heading back there now to help.”
“I’ll go with you. My crew is working with Mike in helping
to clean up the mess from the outside in. I’ll have Brandon let
Mike know where I am.” He looked over at his paramedic and received
a nod of acknowledgement and then followed Johnny towards the bus.
The closer the two men got to the bus where the rescue was going on,
the tighter the knot in Johnny’s stomach became. Something was
wrong, but he wasn’t sure what. He picked up the pace and started
trotting towards the bus. Roy didn’t know what was spurring his
best friend on, but he knew that Johnny’s instincts were telling
him something. Johnny’s instincts were rarely wrong, so he trusted
his friend’s urgency.
Looking at the location of each of the vehicles in the original crash,
Johnny noticed that one of the semis was a tanker. Up to this point,
there had been no evidence of leaks or problems with gas. But Johnny
smelled gas and was beginning to worry. Turning to Roy he realized
that Roy smelled it, too.
Just as Johnny reached the bus to see how the efforts were going and
to warn his friends, Roy noticed the leak getting bigger and was headed
right towards the bus. He stopped when he saw a man headed towards
them smoking a cigarette. A knot formed in Roy’s stomach as well
as his heart as he headed towards the guy. “Hey, don’t
you know better than to smoke around here? And who are you?”
Johnny sighed as he saw Bob and Jim carrying the bus driver off the
bus. Chet was close behind with the Jaws and some of the medical equipment.
Johnny rushed over to help Hank gather up the rest of the equipment.
Bob, Jim, Chet and the victim were 100 feet away from the bus when
Roy’s warning came. Johnny and Hank were still on the bus.
Roy’s presence and questions had startled the man that had been
walking through the wreckage. He was from the shipping company that
one of the destroyed semis belonged to. The reason for his presence
was to find out the extent of the damage of their vehicle and cargo.
He had thought all the emergency personnel were gone. When he jumped
at Roy’s shout, he dropped his cigarette—right into the
stream of gas running from the tanker. Roy yelled for Johnny and Hank
to get out of the bus when he saw the flames spread in both directions—towards
the tanker and the bus.
Hank looked out the driver’s window when he heard Roy’s
shout. With a quick prayer, he turned around, grabbed Johnny and pushed
him out of the bus. They were almost free when the tanker blew. That
was the last thing either man remembered before everything went black.
Chet, Bob and Jim had been knocked off their feet when the tanker
exploded, but had been far enough away that it just knocked the wind
out of them. They were back up on their feet and headed towards the
triage area with the bus driver. It wasn’t until they got there
that they realized that Johnny and Hank were not behind them. Chet
set down the medical equipment and started back towards the bus. The
knot in his stomach tightened the closer he got to where he knew his
friends were. The fire from the tanker explosion was shooting into
the air and it looked like the bus was already in flames.
Roy jumped up from where he had been knocked down when the tanker
blew. He had been far enough away that when he flew, he landed on the
grassy area next to the road. Worry about his friends who had been
on the bus made him shake off the dizziness that threatened him. His
friends needed his help. As he came around the back he almost ran into
Chet. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Bob and Jim got the bus driver over to the triage area. Johnny
and Hank were supposed to be right behind us, but I haven’t seen
them.” Chet kept running as he answered Roy’s question.
Both men skidded to a stop when they saw Hank and Johnny lying on
the ground. From what they could tell, Johnny had been thrown to the
street. His helmet had somehow disappeared and Roy could see the blood
where his head had hit the pavement. Hank had been slammed against
the side of one of the semis and then fallen back to the street. “Chet,
go get some paramedics, back boards, c-collars and oxygen. I’m
going to see if I can find the man who was smoking and started all
this. Also, tell them to get some lines over here to take care of this
Chet turned to do as Roy asked and ran into Mike Stoker. He smiled
as he realized that Patrick, John, Rich and Craig were already coming
to their aid. He took off towards the triage area as fast as he could.
Mike had seen the explosion and had radioed Roy’s crew. He was
pleased to find out they were already pulling lines and heading towards
where they knew their captain had been. His engineer had driven faster
than he should have, but Mike’s crew followed close on the heels
of Roy’s crew. Mike grabbed Bruce and Bill to help search. They
came across Roy checking on Johnny and Hank. “Roy, what happened?
Is everybody else away from here?”
“Just as they got the bus driver out, I saw a man walking through
the wreckage smoking a cigarette. Johnny and I had smelled gas. I must
have startled the guy when I asked him what he was doing here and told
him he shouldn’t be smoking around here. He jumped and dropped
his cigarette right into the gas. The fire spread both directions.
When it hit the tanker, the tanker blew. I couldn’t see him when
I got up. He should be around here somewhere.”
“Ok, I’ll take Bruce and Bill to go see if we can find
him.” Mike took one last look at his friends lying on the ground
and silently prayed that they would be alright. Things really didn’t
look very good from his standpoint, but he wasn’t a doctor. “Take
care of them Roy.” Mike turned and headed in the direction Roy
had indicated wondering if they would find the man who had inadvertently
caused the explosion.
Coming around the bus, Mike saw the form of the man Roy was talking
about. As he hurried over to where the man had been thrown by the blast,
he had the sinking feeling the man was dead. His suspicions were confirmed
when they reached him. The firefighters couldn’t tell whether
it was the blast or the fire that had caught him in its wake when it
jumped from truck to truck that killed him.
Engine 36 was already spreading foam on the fire from the tanker.
They had just been informed by the shipping company about the contents
of the tanker and that water would make a fire burn hotter instead
of extinguishing it if the tanker caught fire when it blew. Engine
36 had been close enough they had been able to get the whole thing
under control in just a matter of minutes.
Bill and Bruce moved over to the burned body of the shipping company
employee. They carefully laid the backboard down. After moving the
man to the backboard, they covered him with one of the yellow blankets
from the engine and started back to the triage area where he would
be picked up by the county coroner’s office.
As they walked by the activity surrounding Johnny and Hank, Mike looked
over with worry. Roy noticed the yellow blanket and turned back to
what he was doing with sorrow. The man had been smoking where he shouldn’t
have been, but he didn’t deserve to die. But then again, Hank
and Johnny didn’t deserve to be fighting for their lives, either.
The look on Roy’s face made Mike worry even more. Brandon, Jim,
Bob, Andrew, Russ and Greg were all working frantically to treat their
friends. Mike knew that Chief McConnikee would want an update on what
had happened. Bill, Bruce and Mike all said a silent prayer for their
friends as they headed towards the triage area.
Roy had been anxiously watching the activity around Johnny and Hank.
Neither one has regained consciousness. His concern was soon replaced
by a pain in his head. As he saw the ambulance attendants arrive, his
vision narrowed to a pinpoint and then everything went black. Brandon
and Andrew caught him before he hit the ground. Russ and Greg were
loading Hank into one ambulance as Jim and Bob were loading Johnny
into a second one. Jim saw Brandon and Andrew working on their Captain.
Making a decision he hoped wouldn’t cost his Captain his life,
Jim looked over at Russ and Greg who were starting towards the activity
around Roy. “Russ, Greg, go ahead and get Chief Stanley to the
hospital. He can’t wait. Captain Gage is stable right now and
can wait a few minutes. We’ll make room to bring Captain DeSoto
Greg nodded his acknowledgement and both men hurried back to their
patient who suddenly took a turn for the worse. Mike, Chet and Marco
arrived back at the scene just in time to see the ambulance pulling
away with Greg and Russ performing CPR on their friend. All three men
said a silent prayer for their three “family members” as
Brandon and Andrew loaded Roy into the back of the ambulance with Johnny.
Brandon rode with Roy while Jim rode with Johnny while Bob, Andrew,
Mike, Chet and Marco watched the ambulance pull away.
Clean up at the accident site had taken three hours. Chet, Mike, Marco
and the rest of the three crews hurried into the Emergency area at
Rampart. Looking around Chet finally spotted Dixie walking down the
Dixie looked up at the faces of the firefighters who had come to check
on their friends. She knew there was good news and bad news. Their
lives were about to change forever. Taking a deep breath, she debated
with herself whether to deliver the news or let one of the doctors
do it. The decision was made for her when Kelly Brackett stepped out
of treatment room 3 and came face to face with the men.
Seeing the unspoken question on each other faces, Dr. Brackett took
a deep breath. “Gentlemen, let’s go into the lounge where
the rest of your crews are waiting. I can tell all of you at once what
is going on.” Kel knew he was just postponing the inevitable,
but he couldn’t help himself.
In the lounge, Mike found Jim, Russ, Greg and Brandon waiting with
Joanne DeSoto, Nicole Gage and Emily Stanley. He figured Rebecca Lopez,
Kimberly Kelly and Beth, his wife, were probably staying with the Gage
and DeSoto children. He walked over and sat down next to Nicole pulling
her into his arms. How many times had they been in this same position
over the last few years? Marco had positioned himself next to Joanne
and was holding her.
“Well, doc, how are they?” Chet was tired of waiting to
hear about their friends.
“Roy has a mild concussion and has been situated in his room.
I know that both Joanne and Nicole have seen him and he is sleeping
right now. He will be released tomorrow. Johnny has a hairline fracture
of his skull and a broken right arm. He is in the same room as Roy,
but has not regained consciousness. We are concerned that he hasn’t
woken up yet, but believe he will be alright.” Kel stopped and
took a drink of the coffee Dixie had handed him. He was dreading giving
the next piece of information he had to give.
“What about Chief Stanley?” Brandon was the one who asked
the question that was on everyone’s mind.
Looking at the expectant faces staring back at him, Kel Brackett delivered
the news. “He has just been taken to recovery. We had to operate
to find the cause of the internal bleeding. We were able to repair
the damage. However, during the operation we discovered that Hank sustained
some damage to his heart. We need to do some tests to find out the
extent of the damage.”
“Dr. Brackett, I know you have to do the tests and I won’t
hold you to it, but what do you think his prognosis is?” Emily
Stanley knew what her husband’s career in the fire department
meant to him.
Looking at the faces of each of the people in the room, he knew they
needed to know the truth. He was 95% certain that Hank Stanley would
finish his fire fighting career behind a desk or on disability. His
activities were going to be restricted. Hank’s life was going
to change and he would need the support of all his friends. Taking
a deep breath, he calmed his feelings. “Not having completed
the tests, but I believe that Hank will either spend the rest of his
career behind a desk or on disability. Which one depends on the extent
of the damage. Either way, his world is going to change.”
“Thank you, Dr. Brackett.” Emily’s shoulders started
shaking as her silent sobs became stronger. Nicole and Joanne moved
to either side of her and put their arms around her. The three women
sat together as the others in the room tried to absorb what they had
just been told. It wasn’t very long before Emily took a deep
breath, wiped away her tears, and sat up straight. “Can I see
“Yes, he is still coming out of the anesthetic, but it will
do him good to see you. I’ll make arrangements for you to stay
with him as long as you want and while we run the tests.”
“Thank you, Dr. Brackett.” Emily stood and followed the
doctor out of the lounge. It was several minutes before anyone in the
room said anything.
Nicole was sitting beside Johnny’s bed. It had been five hours
since he had been admitted, but Johnny had not regained consciousness
yet. Joanne had gone home to be with her children. Nicole had been
torn. She wanted to see her children, but she wanted to be there when
Johnny woke up. Mike had let her know that he and Beth would take care
of the kids so that she could stay by Johnny’s side.
Roy had been awake until he had received some pain medication. He
was as worried as Nicole and she was relieved when he couldn’t
stay awake any longer. He was becoming agitated and the longer Johnny
was unconscious, the more agitated Roy become. Nicole prayed that Johnny
would wake up soon and relieve all their minds.
Dixie found Nicole sound asleep with her head laying on top of her
hands wrapped around Johnny’s hand. Roy was beginning to stir.
She was going to get Roy to go back to sleep when she realized Johnny
was looking at her. But the blank look in his eyes scared her. “Hi
there handsome. How are you feeling?”
Nicole heard Dixie’s soft voice and looked up at Johnny. Her
heart broke as she noticed that he seemed to be staring right through
her. “Hi, honey. How are you feeling?”
Johnny didn’t say a word. He wasn’t sure where he was,
who these two women were, or even who he was. He slowly closed his
eyes hoping he would remember when he woke up. He had seen the terror
in Nicole’s eyes even though he didn’t know what was causing
it. No matter who she was, he hoped he would be able to ease that terror.
Nicole looked over at Roy as she heard him stirring. She said a silent
word of thanks that Roy hadn’t been alert enough to see what
had transpired with Johnny. She was glad Roy had not seen Johnny’s
Dixie hugged Nicole and quietly left the room praying that when Johnny
woke up the next time the blank look would be gone.
Nicole walked over to Roy’s bed as he opened his eyes. “How’s
“Nothing’s changed, Roy. But things are going to be alright.”
“How’s cap? Have you heard anything?”
“I was just going to take a walk. I’ll go see if there
is any news.”
“Thanks, Nicole. Johnny and Cap have to be alright. We all need
them.” Roy squeezed Nicole’s hand as she leaned down and
kissed him on the forehead.
Nicole quietly slipped out of the room and went to see how if here
was any word on Hank Stanley.
Hank woke up saw the tear stained face of his wife seated in the chair
next to his bed with her head on their clasped hands. He knew that
something was seriously wrong. He looked up when he heard the door
opening and saw Nicole. “How are Johnny and Roy?” He was
anxious to find out what was going on. There were tear stains on his
wife’s face and he overheard the ambulance attendant and the
paramedic talking when they are transporting him to the hospital. His
first though was that the tears were for one of his paramedics.
Nicole didn’t know how he knew about Roy and Johnny but she
saw the fear in his eyes. “They are both just fine Hank. Roy
is resting peacefully. Johnny is still unconscious.” Nicole and
Dixie had silently agreed that they would not tell anyone about Johnny’s
blank stare until they had a chance to see him awake again. “They
are worried about you.”
“Me? Why are they worried about me?” He knew that he was
had been injured severely. But he didn’t know the extent of his
Nicole knew that once he found out he would be devastated. “Because
the injuries you sustained were the most severe. She didn’t want
to tell him the extent of his injuries. She felt that was either Dr.
Brackett’s or his wife’s job. She was very pleased when
Dr. Brackett walked in just as Emily Stanley woke to the sound of voices.
“How are you feeling, honey?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a ten-ton truck and thrown against
a brick wall. What are the extent of my injuries?” The sinking
feeling that gnawed at Hank’s stomach when Nicole said that Johnny
was still unconscious was pushed aside as he saw the concern on his
Emily was relieved when Dr. Brackett chose that moment to come in
and check on Hank. He had heard Hank’s question and steeled himself
to break the news to him.
“Well, I’m glad to see you are awake, Hank. How are you
feeling?” Dr. Brackett knew he was stalling, but he did it anyway.
“As I just told my wife, I feel like I’ve been hit by
a ten-ton truck and thrown against a brick wall. What’s the verdict,
Knowing it wouldn’t get any easier Kelly Brackett figured he
might as well just tell Hank the truth. “Well, Hank, you had
some internal bleeding that we had to go in and repair. You received
some damage to your heart that will be permanent. We won’t know
the extent of that damage until we have run some tests.”
“Permanent damage to my heart? When are you going to run the
tests?” Hank’s mind was rapidly running through what permanent
damage to his heart would mean and how his career as a firefighter
would definitely change. But he determined that no matter what the
outcome was, he had been privileged enough to have had a good career.
He had a wonderful wife and family and really great friends. He knew
that with their help he would get through anything.
“We are going to wait until tomorrow to run the tests. Your
body needs a little time to heal and you are going to be here a few
days so we didn’t see a need to rush them. Hank, do you have
“No. I just need to let it sink in a little.” Hank felt
his wife’s hand tighten around his. He knew that she as well
as Nicole was worried about how he would take this news. “Emily,
Doc, Nicole, I want you all to know that it will take a little getting
used to, but I know that I can make whatever adjustments I will need
to make. I have had a great career and had all the support I need.
I have had to change from being on the front lines every day with a
crew to being in an office setting more so I know that I can adjust
to a permanent office job. Not being as active or doing all the things
I used to do will be different, but even if I have to go on disability,
I know that I will make it.”
Nicole had moved to the side of Hank’s bed opposite Emily. “Hank,
I know why my husband and all the original crew of Station 51’s
A-shift admire and respect you. But you have just proven once again
why their loyalty for you is so strong. You’re right. You have
Emily and your ‘family’ who will be there every step of
the way to help you in any way they can.” Nicole had picked up
Hank’s other hand in hers. “After all we have to watch
out for ‘dear old Dad’, now don’t we?”
“Thanks, Nicole.” Hank joined the laughter at Nicole’s
last statement. He had been dubbed the “father” of the “Station
51 family” a long time ago. He had often thought back to his
days as Captain of Station 51 and realized that he felt like the father
of the group—not because of his age, but because of his position.
As he thought about that fact now, he realized it was also because
he knew that the five men that worked for him looked up to him even
then. There were many times when his office was a place were confessions
were made, advice was sought and feelings were let out in the open. “Dear
old Dad is thankful for the ‘kids’ who keep him in line.
Now how about you go check on the two ‘kids’ who are upstairs
and give me a full report after you have had your dinner. Hank knew
that Nicole, Joanne and his own wife would need to be gently prodded
to eat. “As a matter of fact, take Emily with you. And if Joanne
is around take her, too.”
Nicole smiled at Hank’s concern for them. “We will do
that.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek which made
him turn red as his wife kissed his other cheek. Emily laughed slightly
at his discomfort and followed Nicole out of the room. She would wait
until they were away from Hank’s room before she asked Nicole
what Nicole wasn’t telling them about Johnny’s condition.
Nicole had explained to Emily what was going on with Johnny. She also
told her that Dixie was the only other person who knew what had happened.
Emily agreed to her request that she keep it a secret until they found
out more about what was going on and the extent of Johnny’s condition.
There was more than one prayer being said for the conditions of three
very special men that evening.
When Nicole returned to Johnny and Roy’s room, it was after
l0:00 p.m. She was relieved to see that Roy was still asleep. She didn’t
want to have to explain about Johnny to him. Pulling up the chair the
nurses had moved during their 9:00 vitals check, Nicole sat down and
took Johnny’s hand in both of hers. “You have to be alright,
honey. We have been through so much. I need you and so do the kids.”
After talking until she could talk no more, Nicole laid her head on
their joined hands and cried herself to sleep. She wasn’t sure
what woke her almost two hours later, but she knew she was going to
have a very stiff neck. As she stretched, she looked down and saw two
brown eyes watching her. “Hi, teddy bear. How do you feel?” She
was afraid she wouldn’t get an answer. Her fears were that Johnny
would once again just look through her. A smile lit her face when she
heard Johnny’s voice.
“My head feels like someone is taking a jackhammer to it and
my arm hurts.” Johnny squeezed Nicole’s hand.
“Do you want me to see if I can find a nurse and get you something
for the pain?” Nicole was pleased to have him talk to her. She
wasn’t sure what she would have done if he had just stared at
“Just push the call button. I need something for the pain, but
I want to be awake for a few minutes with you.” His smile turned
into a grimace of pain.
Nicole reached up and pushed the call button. She wanted to talk with
Johnny, but she didn’t want him to be in pain. “Johnny,
do you remember what happened?”
After a few moments, Johnny’s expression turned to one of worry. “Yes,
we were just coming off the bus when something blew. How is Chief Stanley?”
“I’d like to know, too.” Roy had woken up at the
sound of Johnny and Nicole’s voices. “And how are you,
Johnny slowly turned his head towards Roy’s voice. “You
were hurt, too?” He stopped short of turning his head completely
to the side. It hurt too much and it made him dizzy. “What are
the extent of your injuries — and mine?”
“I just have a mild concussion. I think I’ll be going
home tomorrow.” Roy noticed the pain on Johnny’s face.
“And you have a fractured skull and broken right arm.” Nicole
had also seen the pain etched on Johnny’s face. She turned as
she heard the door open.
“Oh, you’re awake. I’ll contact Dr. Brackett and
Dr. Early. They wanted to know as soon as you woke up.” The nurse
was pleased to see their patient had finally regained consciousness.
She hurried to contact the doctors.
“What about Chief Stanley?” Johnny needed to know about
“He had surgery to repair some internal bleeding.” Not
wanting to worry the two men, Nicole was reluctant to tell them the
rest of the news. But she also knew that they would know she was not
telling them everything no matter what she said. “They are going
to be running some tests because they discovered some damage to his
heart during the surgery.”
“How badly was his heart damaged?” Roy sat up in bed.
“Enough damage that we are 95% certain he will finish his firefighting
career behind a desk or he will have to go on disability.” Dr.
Brackett had walked into the room followed by Dr. Early just as Nicole
had told them about Hank’s condition.
“How is he taking it?” Roy was worried about how his boss
would take either a desk job or disability.
“He said that he would be able to make the adjustments with
the help of his family and friends.” Dr. Early wanted to ease
their patient’s minds.
“That’s great.” Johnny’s voice was laced with
pain and could barely be heard.
“Let’s get you something for that pain.” Kel quickly
took Johnny’s vitals as the nurse entered with the prescribed
Roy watched as Dr. Brackett completed his examination and the nurse
injected the pain medicine into Johnny’s IV. He hadn’t
said anything to Johnny or Nicole, but he was a little worked about
the possible damage from Johnny’s fractured skull.
“Tell Chief I’ll visit him as soon as I can.” Johnny
lost the fight to stay awake as Nicole leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“I will, Johnny, I will.” Dr. Brackett patted Johnny’s
leg as he and Dr. Early left the room.
Roy relaxed as Johnny drifted off to sleep and the doctors left the
room. “Nicole, we are all going to be ok. You’ll see.”
Nicole walked over to Roy’s bed and helped him back into bed
and pulled the covers up. She kissed him on the forehead. “I
know. I think Johnny will sleep for the rest of the night, so I think
I’ll go home and hold my children. I know I don’t have
to ask, but please have them call me if Johnny wakes up or if something
“I know Johnny would want you to get some rest in a real bed
and take care of your kids. I’ll tell him that you are giving
them a hug and kiss for him. And, yes, I’ll make sure they call
you if anything changes.” Roy soon lost his fight to stay awake,
Nicole kissed both men one more time before leaving their room. After
a quick stop in Hank’s room to let Emily know about Roy and Johnny
and to check on Hank and a stop in ER to say goodbye to Dixie, Dr.
Brackett, Dr. Morton and Dr. Early, Nicole was on her way home for
Hank was getting tired. They had been running tests all day and he
was getting discouraged. His resolve to accept the fact that his life
was changing was starting to slip. He had made the change to Battalion
Chief easy enough, but that had some active parts to it. He still had
to go to fire scenes and be in command. But having to sit behind a
desk and doing only dreaded paperwork was beginning to terrify him.
Hank was still deep in thought when Nicole entered the room. Emily
had taken a break and gone home for some needed rest and a shower.
Nicole saw the look on Hank’s face and remembered when Johnny
had thought he would never walk again. She saw the same pain in Hank’s
face and knew he was having a hard time dealing with it.
“Hi, Hank.” Nicole smiled when he jumped slightly at the
sound of her voice.
“Hi, Nicole. How’s Johnny today?”
“Giving everyone a hard time as usual. If it wasn’t that
they want to keep an eye on him for a few more days because of his
skull fracture, they would have booted him out here when Roy was released.
How are you doing, Hank?”
“I’m getting tired of all these tests. And I guess I’m
a little afraid of what they are going to find. Sitting behind a desk
is not my idea of firefighting.”
“Hank, I remember when Johnny thought he would never walk again.
I know how hard it will be and it probably isn’t much of a comfort,
but all your family and friends will be here to help you through it.
None of us knows exactly what you are feeling. It is not wrong for
you to feel the way you do. But maybe you can think of the good things
that you can do at headquarters. Is there anything that you would like
to see changed about the department? If there is, maybe this will be
your chance to influence those changes. And maybe you can become an
instructor instead of just sitting behind a desk. As an instructor,
think of the impact you would have on the future firefighters of LA
Hank looked at Nicole with a huge smile on his face. “You know,
I was thinking only of what I would miss. But you have given me an
idea of how my life can change for the better because of this. I can
still have an influence in the department, but not have all the heartaches
that come with having to send men into a fire and worry about their
safety. You have given me a lot to think about, Nicole. No wonder Johnny
loves you so much.”
“Hank, just remember that there are going to be times in the
near future as you recuperate and your life changes that you will still
be discouraged. But like I said before, you have your family and friends
who will help you through this. You have a right to feel the way you
do, but please don’t let this win.”
“Thanks, Nicole. I know that I have a lot of people who care
for me and I will not let this change me even though my life may change.
Thank you for being the special person you are.”
“I’m not special, Hank. It is easy to help all of you
after all that Johnny and his friends and ‘family’ have
done for me. You all have accept me and made me a part of this group.
I am just trying to take care of those who mean more to me that anything
else in this world.” The tears had collected in Nicole’s
eyes. She couldn’t stop them from slipping down her face.
“Hey, come here. I’d like to give my ‘daughter’ a
hug.” Hank thought about all he had learned about the life Nicole
had before she met Johnny. He couldn’t believe how anyone could
have suffered through all she had and still turn out to be such a caring,
kind, wonderful person and had opened up to all of them. He pulled
her into his embrace when she walked into his open arms.
Johnny was released from the hospital two days later. He stopped to
see Hank. “How are you doing today, Chief?”
Hank smiled at Johnny as he entered the room. “Hi, Johnny. I’m
doing better. But now, thanks to Nicole, I have some thinking to do
and a decision to make.”
“Oh, what did Nicole do?”
“She made the suggestion that instead of just sitting behind
a desk there might be something at headquarters I could do or maybe
I could be an instructor at the Academy. Well, I told Chief McConnikee
about them. The next day he told me I have the choice of working in
the public relations department to help build the image of the Fire
service, working in personnel to help screen new applicants, or teaching
at the Academy. The thing is I’m not sure which one I want to
take. I wasn’t sure I could make it having to sit behind a desk
but now I have something to look forward to. As a matter of fact, I
am really looking forward to making the change. Nicole has shown me
other areas in the Fire service that I would never have even considered
if it hadn’t been for this accident. I can be a positive influence
in the training or development of the department without having to
worry about the safety of every man I send into a burning building
or dangerous situation.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Chief. We couldn’t imagine
the LA County Fire Department without Hank Stanley being a part of
it. I can’t think of a better person to fill whichever job you
“Thanks, Johnny. I appreciate the support. I know it will be
a hard step, but I’m not dreading it like I was when I first
got the news. Have you got any suggestions as to which position I should
“Johnny, call me Hank. I’m not going to be your boss anymore
and we are ‘family’. When we are at ‘home’ I
am not the Chief.”
Ok, Hank. And thanks. I think you would be a great instructor at
the Academy. I know I learned an awful lot from you when I served
under you at Station 51. You combine knowledge with common sense
and a care for those under you. It is that caring that helps when
something is hard to grasp or things are going wrong. You never made
any of us feel like we were stupid or couldn’t get it. You
gave us the encouragement we needed to try a little harder and accomplish
anything you gave us. That is what is lacking in some of our new
recruits coming out of the Academy now. I had a new boot who was
with us for three shifts and couldn’t do anything right. It
seems we spent more time teaching him what he should already know
than we did getting to know him. If you asked him, he had the knowledge,
but not the confidence that comes with the encouragement from the
right people. Knowing how to do something, doing it in the Academy
and actually doing it in a real-life situation are very different
things. In the Academy, you know that no one’s life depends
on you and that nothing serious is going to happen if you make a
mistake. But even in those training situations, encouragement is
needed to learn what is needed when you face that first big fire
or dangerous situation.”
“Wow, you need to be on the Academy instructors’ review
committee. I think that a lot of them forget what it is like to be
in the real-life situations. I think they need to hear about the experiences
Captains have with new boots. Can I ask you a question?”
“Will you make sure that I never lose sight of the real-life
situations and that I keep that edge that trains recruits right?”
“Sure, Hank. So I take it you are going to accept the Academy
“Yeah, thanks to two very special people I know exactly where
Hank and Johnny spent the next hour talking about the future and the
past and letting their relationship grow.
Hank didn’t start his new duties until October, but he was amazed
how he knew he was where he belonged right from the start. He was pleased
to be a part of Chris DeSoto and William Stoker’s training. He
knew they were learning things that many of the other instructors had
forgotten. As part of his planning, Hank determined that he would spend
one day every six months visiting one of the stations in the department
so that he never lost sight of the “little, every-day things” that
happen in a station which weren’t taught in the Academy. Things
that if the recruits learned before they were sent out as probies would
help not only them, but the Captains they served under and the crews
they served with. It was another idea he had to thank Nicole for. She
had recommended it when he had mentioned the promise he had asked Johnny
When graduation day came for Chris and William just before Christmas,
no one was prouder of the two recruits than Hank. He had seen how hard
they worked and had been thrilled when they asked for his insight and
quizzed him about what life was really like at a station. They were
determined to learn everything they could and were graduating as the
top two members of the class. Hank knew he couldn’t be any prouder
as he watched Roy and Mike pin the badges on their sons. He was proud
of the men who had served under him and where they were going in the
LA had gained two more members of the “Station 51 Family” and
Hank knew the people of the county were better off for it. It was even
better when William was assigned to replace Bill Canady at Station
51 and Chris was assigned to replace Rich Watkins at Station 24.
New Year’s Eve 1986
Johnny stood in the doorway of the kitchen. From there he could turn
one way and see Nicole, Joanne and the other women busy preparing the
snacks for their celebration. When he turned the other way he could
see the men of the original Station 51 A-Shift and their offspring
who had joined the “family” over the years. He smiled as
he saw Brandon, Chris and William who had been young children when
he first met their fathers and who were now proud members of the “Station
51” fire-fighting family. He knew that Brandon was one of the
best paramedics in the department, Chris was going to train to be a
paramedic sometime during the coming year and William was working towards
becoming an engineer like his father. Now they were old enough to have
brought dates with them. Johnny was beginning to realize he was growing
As he thought about his “brothers” his mind turned to
his meeting earlier in the day. None of the others in the room knew
that Johnny had been helping the arson investigation team on the latest
string of arsons. No one had been able to find a connection between
the businesses and homes that had been torched. It seemed that the
arsonist was just randomly targeting buildings. They didn’t have
a connection until Johnny started looking closely at the fires from
a different angle—one that even he didn’t honestly believe
until the pieces kept falling into place. He didn’t like and
couldn’t believe what he was finding.
It was the sight of Brandon with his fiancée that made Johnny’s
thoughts change from work to when he had met Nicole. Remembering all
they had gone through made him send up a prayer of thanks that all
his family was here and enjoying a wonderful time together. He was
so lost in thought, he didn’t realize that Nicole had walked
up beside him and wrapped her arms around his waist. The sound of laughter
brought him out of his reverie. He looked at all the faces smiling
at him. He looked down at Nicole smiling up at him.
With a chuckle, Roy voiced what had been going on. “Johnny,
you’re under the mistletoe. Are you going to kiss your wife?”
“Of course I am.” Johnny grinned as he pulled Nicole into
his arms. As they kissed they forgot where they were and everyone around
them. It took Roy, Chet, Marco, Mike and Hank all calling Johnny’s
name to finally get their attention.
“Get yourselves a room, Cap.” Chet couldn’t resist
teasing his friend.
“Two weeks latrine duty for that Chet.” Johnny enjoyed
the bantering with his friends.
“Aahh, Cap, two weeks?”
“No, Chet, I’m not giving you latrine duty for that. I
just had to give you a hard time.” Johnny joined the laughter
at the look of relief on Chet’s face.
Brandon and Johnny were busy gently guiding everyone into the living
room for the New Year’s countdown. Both men were in the kitchen
when Brandon thought he heard something strange outside. Both men went
out back to see if they could find out what it was. As they opened
the door the smell of gasoline assaulted their noses. Without stopping
a second, Johnny turned and headed back towards the living room issuing
commands at the top of his voice. Brandon was not sure what was going
on, but he knew that something was wrong.
“William, Chris, Marco, Chet—take some of the others with
you and form a line to get the kids from upstairs. Chief, Brandon,
Mike—take the others and do the same thing down to the basement.
Roy call 911 to report a fire and get the ladies started heading downstairs
Everyone saw the looks on Brandon and Johnny’s faces. Hearing
the word “fire” they all started to do as Johnny told them
without any further questions. They had most of the children and women
in the basement when the first flash exploded. Roy, Hank, Mike, Marco
and Chet were the last ones in the living room. All five men stopped
for a brief second when they saw the flames climbing the outside walls
all the way around the house. There was no way out. They could see
the flames licking all the way to the top of the house. How did the
fire spread that fast? And how did Johnny know there was going to be
a fire? The answers would have to wait.
Johnny’s friends wondered why he was sending them to the basement.
They would be burned alive down there. Hank was the last one down and
he turned to ask Johnny just that when he saw Johnny and Nicole moving
a large set of shelves. He hurried to help with Mike following close
behind. It was when they got the shelves out of the way that Hank and
Mike realized what they were doing.
“Ok, everyone, this passage leads to the barn. Just follow the
left branch and you will end up at the bottom of a staircase. Follow
it up and you will find yourselves in the tack room. I need everyone
to stay in the tack room out of sight, please. And try to keep the
children quiet. I will explain everything when I get there. Nicole
will lead the way and I will bring up the rear.” Feeling the
heat that was getting more intense each minute, no one said a word
as the men took the flashlights Johnny handed them and the women made
sure the children were all accounted for and taken care of. Roy, Mike
and Hank all helped Johnny as the group hurried through the passage
that led underground to the barn.
Johnny was helped up the last few stairs from the underground passageway
as Mike looked out at what once had been Johnny and Nicole’s
home. Johnny grabbed Mike’s arm and pulled him back into the
tack room. He picked up the phone in the tack room and listened as
it rang. As he waited for it to be answered, he indicated to everyone
else they needed to stay in the tack room quiet and out of sight. Not
sure what was going on, everyone trusted Johnny and did as he asked.
When his call was answered, Johnny turned his back to everyone and
talked so no one could hear what was being said. Only Nicole knew that
he was talking to his arson “captain”.
When he was done, Johnny put a finger to his lips to keep everyone
quiet. Talking just loud enough for everyone to hear, Johnny tried
to answer the questions he knew were on everyone’s minds.
“Someone washed the house down with gasoline. Brandon and I
heard it when we were in the kitchen. It sounded like it was raining
outside, but when we both knew it wasn’t we went outside to check
around. The gasoline smell was unmistakable when we opened the door.
I think whoever did it is still out there and I don’t want them
to know we got out. They think we are all still in there.”
“What happens when there are no screams and the fire department
shows up?” Marco couldn’t believe that someone would deliberately
set a house full of people on fire.
“They will hear screams—at least for a little while.
I hope they leave before the tape runs out or the machine burns up.
Several of them jumped as the screams started.
As the sirens gradually grew louder, the sounds of four car doors
slamming and an engine starting could be heard from the end of the
driveway. The car was long gone by the time the fire engines pulled
The group, hidden in the tack room was starting to get restless. They
had been in there for over half-an-hour and wanted to know what was
going on outside. The sounds of the fire had not changed during that
time and everyone knew it was a “surround and drown” situation.
“Johnny, are you here?” Hank jumped when he heard the
voice that was just outside the tack room door.
Johnny was at the door before anyone else could respond. Opening the
door he slipped out. Hank could hear the sound of a quiet conversation
on the other side of the door but he couldn’t make out what was
being said. Shortly the door opened and Captain Shawn Carlisle of the
arson investigation team followed Johnny into the room.
“I’m sorry you have had to wait in here so long, but we
had to be sure before we came to find you.” Captain Carlisle
looked at the people in the room. What he was about to ask them would
not only be hard for all of them, but it had to be done if they were
to find out who was setting these fires.
“Shawn, what’s going on?” Hank had a feeling that
somehow one of his favorite paramedics and captains was involved in
the arson investigation, but he wasn’t sure how.
With a nod from Captain Carlisle, Johnny turned to the group. “Let’s
go out behind the barn in the pasture where we can sit on the benches
and be comfortable without being seen.”
Without waiting for a response, Johnny turned and led the way through
the barn. It only took a minute for the entire group to be seated and
ready to find out what was happening.
“Well, to begin with, I’m sure you are all aware the Gage
home has been totally destroyed. The cause was arson. Because the arsonists
believe that there was no way any of you could get out or us to get
to you, they believe you are all dead. That means that we are going
to have to put all of you somewhere out of sight and keep up that idea—at
least until we can catch these arsonists.”
“But there have been over 20 fires and none of them are connected.
How can you catch these arsonists if you don’t have any idea
of where they might strike next? You don’t even have any idea
of who would be setting these fires or why.” Chet thought they
would be “undercover” for months.
“Well, Chet, we were expecting this fire. We were hoping it
wouldn’t be tonight, but we were ready in case. And we do have
“You do? But all the information given says differently. And
you expected this fire tonight? What about all of us being inside?” Even
Hank was surprised by what he was hearing.
“I can’t give you details, but thanks to Johnny, here,
we not only have a reason for the fires, but are fairly certain we
know who is setting them. Yes, Chief, we were planning for this fire.
We had hoped that we would be able to save the house, but Johnny and
Nicole knew there was a possibility they would lose it. They said it
could be replaced. Johnny knew they could get you out through the underground
“But what about all their pictures and important things—they
can’t be replaced.” Roy was getting upset that the department
would expect a fire and do nothing about it.
“Roy, we didn’t lose anything.” Johnny wanted to
let everyone know they were alright.
“What do you mean you didn’t lose anything?” Roy
couldn’t believe his friends were taking this so calmly.
“Remember Nicole bringing over all our pictures and mementoes
over to your house to organize them into scrapbooks and boxes for the
kids? Don’t forget, she took all the kids clothes over to your
house to clean and fix them while spending time with Joanne. And Mike,
remember those boxes we asked you to hold for us while we ‘redecorated’?
They really were all our clothes. All our books and important papers
are in boxes up in the loft here in the barn. The pictures in the house
were copies that we had made so we wouldn’t lose anything. We
would never have put any of your lives on the line. I had found the
passageway one day when I was cleaning up when I first bought the house.
I had forgotten all about it until recently.” Johnny hoped his
friends weren’t too mad at him. He had been under strict orders
not to tell anyone other than Nicole what was going on.
“So you didn’t lose anything?” Roy was still trying
to understand what was going on. Then it hit him. “You said you
hoped the tape didn’t run out or the machine burn up. You had
a tape recorder? You were planning for this? How could you have put
our lives in danger that way without telling us?” Roy wasn’t
the only one who was getting upset at that idea as he voiced it.
“No, we didn’t lose anything. All the kids’ toys,
our books and mementoes as well as jewelry and everything else was
been moved to safety. Yes, we were expecting this fire. I was not aware
that it would be tonight, but we had to be prepared. None of your lives
were in danger. I knew that no matter where the fire was started, we
could get out through the underground passageway. As it was, since
Brandon and I heard the hoses dousing the house with gasoline, we were
actually able to get out quicker.”
“And he was under orders from me to not tell you unless absolutely
necessary. Actually the fire engines were just down the road. We had
stations all along the way run their sirens so it sounded like we were
coming from a distance. It was Johnny’s call that was the signal
you had all made it out safely. If it had been even two minutes more,
we would have brought the engines in sooner.” Shawn could see
the anger rising. “Johnny wasn’t aware that we had put
the plan into motion this soon. When we first discussed it, we had
planned to do it in a couple of weeks. But because of what Johnny discovered,
we had to step up the plan and were not able to let him know. I know
that he would not have gone through with it without telling you what
was going on. He was adamant about that.”
“You mean you put all of us, including Johnny and his family,
in danger without letting us know? It was a good thing that it didn’t
happen while they were asleep. What would have happened then?” Chet
didn’t know whether to be angry at Johnny or not, but he did
know he was mad at Captain Carlisle.
“If we had more time, we would have let Johnny know and he could
have said something to all of you. But things happened so fast, we
couldn’t wait. If they had been asleep, we would have come in
the moment the first flames were seen.”
Roy had been listening to the conversation and bits of it registered
in his brain. “Shawn, what did you mean when you said thanks
to Johnny you now know why these fires are being set and have a good
idea of who is setting them?”
Shawn knew that he was going to have to tell this group everything
if he was going to get them to go along with the plan. He needed their
cooperation and right now he wasn’t sure he was going to get
it. Even though Johnny had been working with them for awhile, after
this stunt he wasn’t sure even Johnny would go through with the
plan. “Johnny has been working with the arson team for about
three months now. Last week he took another look at all the evidence,
but did it with a different angle. The theory was so far fetched none
of us even thought it was viable. But when the information came back
today that verified his theory, we had to move and move quickly.”
“And just what was Johnny’s theory and what happened that
you had to do this tonight?” Mike was beginning to realize what
Johnny had really put on the line tonight. He had been willing to do
something that might have cost his family their lives if things had
For the next twenty minutes, Shawn and Johnny went through the evidence
and explained Johnny’s theory. Shawn went on to explain why they
had to put the plan into motion immediately and the next phase. He
prayed that they would agree to remain hidden until the suspects could
be caught. It was a very subdued group that finally agreed to do as
they were asked.
“You mean you have been working with these guys for three months
and you never told me? And from what Shawn has said, you put your life
on the line if the arsonists had found out you were doing it.” Roy
couldn’t stay mad at his “brother”.
“It started out as just a meeting on one of the arsons that
we responded to. Then little things kept adding up until things started
falling into place and I didn’t like what I was finding. I didn’t
think about telling you, since it wasn’t until last week that
I realized how much time I was spending on it. I couldn’t at
the station, because I never knew who as listening on either end and
I haven’t really had time to see you this week.”
Roy and Joanne had been helping Johnny and Nicole to build a cabin
out in their woods for overnight “getaways” when they needed
some quiet time. Roy didn’t know, however, that because they
knew they might have to “hide” because of the arson investigation,
the cabin had been finished during the last week. He was surprised
when the group arrived for their extended stay to find it finished
and completely furnished and stocked. The only thing they would need
was more beds and Shawn had promised to get them the next day—well,
really later that morning. Still being very cautious, Johnny talked
with Hank and set up a schedule for all the men to keep a 24-hour guard
just in case the arsonists found out they were still alive.
Over the next few days, the group enjoyed a time of relaxation and
walks through the woods. Johnny periodically met with Captain Carlisle.
Although every one was enjoying their time together, they all really
wanted to get back to their own lives. They all prayed that this would
It had been a week since the fire and Johnny was once again meeting
with Captain Carlisle. But as the time wore on and he did not return,
Roy started to get an uneasy feeling. Nicole and Joanne joined him
at the front window and by the looks on their faces; he knew they had
the same feeling he did. Something had gone wrong.
Hank and Mike had noticed the trio standing at the window and were
sure something was happening. The familiar look that told the others
one or more of them had a feeling was on all three faces. Just as they
started towards the group shots rang out in the woods in front of the
cabin. Hank, Mike, Chet and Marco joined Roy as they gathered everyone
together in the living room and accounted for all the children. The
adults pushed the kids to the floor and covered them with their bodies
to protect them. It was fifteen minutes after the shooting had stopped
before anyone would get up. It would be another half-an-hour before
they would find out what had taken place outside.
Shawn knocked on the door with trepidation. The last time he had seen
Johnny, he was running in the opposite direction. Their suspicions
had been right, but the guys had caught on when they accidentally came
upon Shawn and Johnny talking in the woods. They were supposed to stay
at the house, but had come looking for Shawn. Neither Johnny nor Shawn
had wanted the arsonists to be Shawn’s partner, Bruce, and one
of the other arson investigators—Shawn’s best friend, Calvin.
He had been reluctant to even consider Johnny’s idea until he
had kept coming up with more and more proof.
Johnny had wanted to make sure Bruce and Calvin didn’t find
the cabin and the rest of the group, so he took off in the opposite
direction with Calvin following him. Bruce had pulled a gun on Shawn
but Shawn was able to get the gun away and arrest him. The gun fire
had been from Calvin and from other investigators who had discovered
three other guys hiding near the barn. These men had been working with
Bruce and Calvin and wanted to be sure the arson investigators didn’t
find any evidence. There had been gun fire from both sides as the three
men were finally captured and arrested.
Shawn hoped that Johnny had slipped away from Calvin and gotten back
to the cabin. His heart sank when Roy opened the door and immediately
began to interrogate him.
“What was all that gun fire? Where’s Johnny? Is he alright?
What’s going on?” Roy didn’t give Shawn a chance
to answer one question before he asked another. When he finally stopped
for a breath, Shawn began to explain.
“I don’t know where Johnny is. Calvin and Bruce came into
the woods to find me and saw Johnny as he was leaving our meeting spot.
Calvin took off after him and Bruce fought with me. I was able to arrest
Bruce and after that gun fire you heard, the rest of the arson team
was able to capture the other three men involved. I was hoping Johnny
had made it back here. I know he was leading Calvin in the opposite
direction so he wouldn’t find all of you.”
“Shawn, what’s next?” Nicole wanted to keep the
rest of the group calm. She knew that Chet, Mike and Roy would get
“I’m going back out and follow the path Johnny went. Bill,
Steve and Ron will be helping me. We’ll find him.”
“But in time?” Roy realized that once again Johnny put
his life on the line to save the rest of them. He just prayed that
Johnny would be alright.
“If the last three months have shown me anything, Johnny will
be alright. He’s a fighter and won’t give up. I’ll
find him.” Shawn squeezed Nicole’s hand and headed back
into the woods. He caught up with Bill, Steve and Ron and they started
off in the direction Shawn had last seen Johnny.
They had been searching the woods for about 45 minutes when Shawn
heard something coming off to their right. The four men pulled their
guns and trained them in the direction of the noise. Shawn dropped
his arm in relief when Johnny came out of the woods pushing Calvin
in front of him. Johnny had the gun and Calvin had his arms tied behind
When Johnny saw Shawn he threw the gun at him. “I never want
to have to hold one of those again.” Then Johnny passed out.
Shawn was at Johnny’s side in an instant. Bill and Steve grabbed
Calvin and Ron went to help Shawn. Although they had been searching
for 45 minutes, they had circled back and were near the cabin. Shawn
took off at a dead run to get Roy. When he knocked on the door, he
was not surprised to see Roy open it almost before he had finished
knocking. “Roy, Johnny passed out. You need to come and check
Roy turned and smiled as Brandon came up beside him with the first
aide kit Johnny had stocked in the cabin. They both took off so fast;
Shawn had a hard time keeping up with them.
All the possible injuries Johnny could have were running through Roy’s
mind as he ran towards where his best friend lay on the ground. He
prayed that whatever the extent of Johnny’s injuries where, they
weren’t too serious. Ron was kneeling next to Johnny not knowing
what to do. He moved out of the way when Brandon and Roy kneeled to
get Johnny’s vitals and to check him out.
After careful examination, neither Roy nor Brandon could find any
injuries. Roy wondered if there were some internal injuries that they
couldn’t see or a head injury they hadn’t found yet. “Shawn,
what happened just before Johnny passed out?”
“Well, we heard a noise. When we turned around Johnny was bringing
Calvin out of the woods. Calvin’s hands were tied behind his
back. Johnny tossed Calvin’s gun at me and said he never wanted
to touch another one of those again. Then he passed out.”
Roy laughed as he leaned over and pulled something out of the drug
box. Brandon, Ron and Shawn wondered what he was laughing about. They
soon joined him laughing when Johnny sat upright after Roy waved the
smelling salts under his nose. “Welcome back, Johnny.”
“What happened?” Johnny looked around at the men standing
“You passed out.” Roy’s smile was huge. “You
threw the gun at Shawn and passed out.”
“I was so afraid it was going to go off that I just wanted to
get rid of it. I guess it was just too much. Help me up. I want to
hold Nicole.” Johnny held out his hand for Roy to grab and help
him to his feet.
“You mean he’s alright?” Shawn was sure that something
had happened to him. “Why did he pass out?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. It was just the high stress of the chase
and holding the gun that finally became just too much for him. There’s
nothing to worry about.” Roy patted his friend on the back and
started back towards the cabin.
“Johnny, if you dislike guns so much what are you going to do
when you join my team? You will be issued a gun for just such times
as this.” Shawn was walking beside Roy and had turned his head
to talk to Johnny.
Roy stopped dead in his tracks causing a chain reaction. “Joining
your team? Johnny’s going to become an arson investigator? Johnny,
you hate guns.”
“Yes, I hate guns, but it wasn’t the fear of guns that
made me pass out. It was when I stopped to realize just how close I
came to having a bullet in my heart. And Shawn, remember our agreement—I
won’t be carrying a gun if I am on duty.”
“What do you mean?” Roy hadn’t been told this part
of what had happened.
“Well, Calvin chased me through the woods. I tripped and he
caught me. When he pulled me up, he put the barrel of his gun right
on my heart and cocked the gun. I was so angry, I wasn’t thinking
straight. I got mad and grabbed the gun pushing it up. It went off
over my head and I pulled it away from him. It wasn’t until I
tossed it at Shawn that I realized just how it could have ended and
what a stupid thing that was. I guess it just all caught up with me.”
“That was a stupid thing, Johnny, but I’m glad you did
what you did. You would have ended up dead if you hadn’t. But
what is this about you joining the arson team?” Roy couldn’t
believe what he was hearing.
“I’ve asked him to join my team because he has a natural
instinct for it. Not only did he solve this case, but his insights
solved three others we had run into road blocks on. And yes, Johnny,
I remembered. I guess I was trying to see if you had changed your mind
about the ‘terms of the agreement’.” Shawn really
hoped Johnny would consent.
Johnny didn’t know whether to be insulted or complimented by
Roy’s comment, but his thoughts turned to the conversation about
the arson team. It was something he really wanted to talk to Nicole
about as he needed her insight to help him make the decision. They
had become as one and often she knew him better than he knew himself. “No,
Shawn, I haven’t changed the conditions under which I would accept
the position. Roy, I am seriously considering it, but I need to think
about it a little bit more.” By this time they were nearing the
Before anything more could be said, the door opened and Nicole flew
into Johnny’s arms. “Are you ok?”
“Yes, honey, I am.” Johnny held her tight. His thoughts
again returned to what could have happened out in the woods. Did he
really want to have the possibility of facing a gun again? But then
he faced the hazards of fire every day. He really wanted to be alone
with Nicole and think things through.
The rest of the group had surrounded the men and questions were flying
right and left. Hank finally got everyone quieted down and back into
the cabin where Shawn started and finally told everyone what had been
transpiring since the arson investigation began. Johnny told them all
what had happened in the woods with Calvin. He felt Nicole’s
hand tighten around his as he told them about taking the gun away from
him. He squeezed her hand to let her know he loved her and understood
Everyone had remained quiet until Roy again asked the question he
wanted an answer to. “Johnny, are you going to join Shawn’s
arson team?” Chet, Mike, Marco and Hank all started asking questions
“What do you mean join Shawn’s team?”
“You’re giving up being a Captain?”
“Won’t you be giving up the paramedics?”
Johnny didn’t even try to answer any of the questions that were
flying. He just waited until everyone had vented their feelings about
the news. “I haven’t made up my mind, yet, but I am considering
it. One of the things I told Shawn is that I’m not sure I want
to give up being a station captain, but I really have enjoyed working
the investigation angle. We are working on details so that I will be
doing arson investigation as part of my regular job. In discussing
the issue, the idea that having someone at a fire that could look the
scene over immediately might be beneficial to the department so I won’t
be giving up either the station or the paramedics. It will be much
like it has been for the last three months, only on an official basis
instead of voluntary. But like I said, I haven’t made my decision
yet.” Johnny was grateful for the support he knew Nicole was
giving him when she squeezed his hand.
The Gages and DeSotos had finally gotten their children quieted down
and in bed. The Gages were going to be staying with the DeSotos while
their house was being rebuilt after the fire. The two couples were
sitting in the living room discussing the day’s events.
“I am so glad that this is all over but the trial. It feels
good to get back into our own home.” Roy looked up guiltily as
soon as he had said the words “own home”. “Sorry.”
Johnny just smiled at his best friend. “It’s ok, Roy.
We may have lost our house, but we haven’t lost our ‘home’.
We were able to save all our important things and we still have our
loved ones and friends. And I think you should know it is all over.
There won’t be a trial.”
“There won’t? Are they going to let these guys go?” Roy
sat up straight when he heard what Johnny said.
“No, they aren’t going to let them go. They all confessed
so all that has to happen now is for them to be sentenced.”
“Yep, they figured it was uselessly to try to deny everything.
Calvin knew the amount of evidence we had and with what happened in
the woods, they thought it might go better for them if they just admitted
what they did.”
“Then it really is over. Are you going to join the arson team?” Roy
was relieved that none of his friends or family would have to testify.
“Well, I don’t know yet. Nicole and I need to discuss
the implications first. You’ll be the first to know, Pally.”
“Thanks, Junior.” Roy pulled his “brother” into
the huge bear hug he had been waiting all afternoon to give him. When
the two men let go, the two couples retired for the evening with a
sense of security they hadn’t felt in a long time.
Nicole and Johnny had talked into the wee hours of the morning about
the decision Johnny knew he wanted to put behind him. As he brought
up all the cons that would come if he chose to join the arson team,
Nicole had shown him the positives of that decision. So after a lot
of talking and soul searching, Johnny decided he would join the team.
If it didn’t work out, then he could always give up that part
of his job. After all, one of the stipulations to him agreeing to even
think about the arson team was that it would be in addition to his
current position and only on a part-time basis. That also meant he
would not have to carry a gun. Johnny’s love for Nicole had grown
stronger as they talked. He knew she would support him in whatever
decision he made. As he drifted off to sleep, he thanked the Lord for
his soul mate.
Roy looked up as Johnny and Nicole entered the kitchen for breakfast.
One look at Johnny’s face and Roy knew what Johnny had decided. “You’re
going to take the position aren’t you?” Roy didn’t
even say good morning.
“Good morning, Roy, and yes, I am.” Johnny laughed at
the blush that was climbing up Roy’s face as he realized how
blunt he had been.
“I’m sorry, Johnny; good morning, and good morning to
you Nicole.” Roy was chagrined that he had blurted it out without
“Good morning, Roy.” Nicole smiled as she went to help
Joanne get breakfast.
“It’s ok, Roy. I would have done the same thing.” Johnny
patted his friend on the back.
“Are you sure it is what you want to do?” Roy was thinking
about the gun and how much Johnny hated them.
“Yes, and don’t worry. I won’t have to carry a gun.
I told Shawn I would only consider it if I could stay in my current
position. All my new duties will include will be to keep my eyes open
at every fire—especially the big and suspicious ones—to
see if I can get a head start on any possible arson investigations.
Then I will look at some of the evidence they gather and see if I can
be of any assistance to them. If it doesn’t work, all I have
to do is give up that part of my job.” Johnny hoped his friend
would support his decision.
“Sounds like something all captains should do.” Roy was
glad his friend wouldn’t have to carry a gun.
“It is, but we need to see if it is going to work before we
can teach station captains what they need to look for. And some things
look normal even to the arson team, but may not be normal. There were
a couple of things I pointed out to them that they had missed or hadn’t
even considered. It was only a fresh set of eyes and a new point of
view that helped them. I may not have those same insights the next
Roy thought about what Johnny had just said. He then thought about
the instincts and insights Johnny had had over the years when they
were working together. Johnny would always have that instinct and insight—he
knew Johnny was making the right decision not only for himself, but
also for the Fire Department. “Congratulations, Johnny. They
couldn’t have picked a better man.”
“A better man for what?” Chet had just entered the kitchen
along with Mike, Marco and Hank.
“What are you guys doing here? I thought you would all be enjoying
the couple of days off and spending it with your families.” Roy
had a good feeling about why the four men had returned so soon.
“We couldn’t wait to find out if Johnny had made his decision
yet or not. I don’t want a new Captain. I want Johnny.” Chet
blushed when he realized how much of his true feelings for Johnny he
had just given away—his feelings not only as a friend, but also
as a Captain.
“A better man for the arson team.” Roy was proud of his
friend and wanted everyone to know it.
“But, Johnny, you can’t leave Station 51. We need you.” Chet
was beginning to dread the decision to not wait to find out whether
or not Johnny would take the position.
“Chet, I won’t be leaving 51.”
Johnny shook his head and went on to explain to his friends his stipulations
for taking the position just like he had explained it to Roy. It was
a very happy quartet that accepted the offered cups of coffee and seats
at the table as discussion centered around Johnny’s experiences
for the last few months working with the arson team.
The next few months were spent preparing for and celebrating Brandon
Stoker’s wedding. It was with great pride that Mike Stoker stood
with his son as his best man and all five of Brandon’s “uncles” stood
as his groomsmen. Once again the Station 51 family was expanding and
they welcomed Brittany Chandler as the newest member.
Roy sat in his office trying to complete the endless stream of paperwork
he, as Captain, always had. But his mind kept wandering back to the
annual 4th of July picnic at the Gage’s ranch. It had been great
fun as always, but he was worried about Nicole. She seemed overly tired
at the picnic. When he had mentioned it later to Joanne, she had responded
that she had been noticing that Nicole had been more tired than usual
for about two weeks. Nicole’s response to Joanne when she mentioned
it was that Nicole didn’t sleep well when Johnny was working
on a case and he had been working on a big one. But as Roy thought
about the symptoms he had noticed, he wasn’t so sure it was just
that she wasn’t sleeping. His thought were pulled back to his
job as the tones sounded calling his station as well as Johnny’s
and Mike’s to a warehouse fire.
To be continued in
A World Turned
Upside Down – for the Better?
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