On the first day of her captaincy, JJ Jensen rode shotgun in her new rig, Engine 2. The call had come in at one p.m. and the five firefighters sped to a site for one of the worst kinds of fire—in a hospital. They pulled into the Memorial’s circular driveway where she caught sight of Incident Command, which would run the operation. Jumping out in full gear, with her air pack ready to go, she crossed to the jeep where she wasn’t surprised to see Fire Chief Joe Redman in charge, the structure blueprints in front of him. An acrid smell of burning debris assaulted her nostrils the closer she got.
“Engine 2 on scene, Chief.”
“You’re first-in, Jensen. Go in and find the seat of the fire. There’s fire reels in each section for you to use.”
“Yes, sir.” JJ glanced down at the layout of the building, which she’d already seen before. “I came here for a fire drill before my new job started.”
“Good for you.” More softly, he added, “You can do this, JJ.”
Jogging back to the rig, she faced her squad, who’d gotten off the truck. “Full turnout gear. Grab tools. There fire reels and extinguishers are inside.” Fire reels were hoses connected to water inside a building. “We’re gonna look for the point of origin.”
Lt. Abe Quinn, second in charge, buttoned up his turnout coat and put on his Nomex hood. Then his air mask and helmet. “Should I go in or take the rear?”
“You go first. I’ll follow you inside.”
They hurried in through the ground floor, which housed the ER. Smoke hadn’t reached here yet, which was a good sign that the blaze was contained. Retrofitting years back had compartmentalized the hospital into closable sections for keeping fire contained. Firefighters would have to check each floor regardless, and soon reinforcements would arrive to help with that. Pulling off her air mask, she sniffed. She followed the smell up the steps and came to floor two. The sign read SICU—Surgical Intensive Care Unit. The smoke thickened as they strode down the corridor until they reached Surgery.
The unit was semi-dark with smoke, but they had some visibility. “We’re in the surgical unit, chief. Smoke indicates fire might be here.” To the others, she said, “Let’s go down to the end. Looks like the point of origin. I’ll check each room on the way to be sure they’ve evacuated.”
As her team covered the distance at a fast pace, she did a cursory check of each OR they passed. OR 1—empty. God forbid they had an active surgery going on. OR 2—the same, but the third operating room was occupied.
Shit, JJ thought.
Straight ahead, they could see fire. “It’s in here,” Quinn called in his radio. “The Surgical Sterilization Center.”
JJ joined them. “Morey, pry the door open. Cortez, hook up to the hose reel about three feet down from you, low, on the wall. If the unit itself is on fire, Lt. Quinn will put it out with the Class C extinguishers inside and the rest of you use the reel to contain fire that’s spread.” These life saving devices had also been installed when the place was brought up to speed on the new standards.
Morey lifted the halligan, set the pick end on the door handles and Cortez hit the end hard with a large hammer. The door opened. The others made quick work of the fire wheel and soon had the hose ready.
Inside the room, the smell was metallic. She watched as Quinn grabbed the extinguisher and sprayed the cleaning device, which doused the fire. The others opened the hose nozzle on the walls. She radioed the chief. “Fire’s out. Point of origin is the sterilization section.”
“Makes sense. Teams searching the rest of the hospital report no sign of fire. Do you want more people to search for victims and do the salvage and overhaul?”
“Maybe one squad.” Quinn, on the call, too, spoke for all of them. “We could use more hands to make sure there’s no fire hiding in the walls.”
Cortez had already begun the process.
“You got it.”
“Copy that.” JJ added, “There’s an operating room in use.”
Redman swore. “You go, Jensen, and assess the situation.”
“I’m heading to the active OR.” She looked at her lieutenant. “You got this, Quinn.”
JJ jogged down to room 3. The windows were obscured by smoke in the corridor, so she opened the door, ducked inside and quickly closed it. A thin mist of smoke had already permeated the space. Four people stood around a table, gowned and gloved, wearing goggles and face shields. A patient lay hooked up to machines.
“I’m Captain Jensen of the CCFD. I’m breaking sterilization because you already have smoke in here. We gotta clear this room of its occupants right away.” She gestured to the manifold wall lever to turn off the gasses.
“Stay where you are!” a doctor with his hands in a guy’s chest, shouted. “I have to get him off the bypass machine before we can leave.”
“Bypass?” You gotta be kidding me.
“We’re almost done with a heart repair. If you stop us now, he’ll die.”
“How long do you need?”
“Minutes until you can cut the power.”
Their face gear kept enough visibility for them to work quickly.
Soon, he said, “All right, Macon, punch in a higher dose of anesthesia then we’ll cut the gases. Nurse Baker, get the portable oxygen tank in the emergency compartment.”
As they worked, they started to cough.
The woman brought over a kit zipped into a medium-size bag, took it out and attached the tank to the bed. They switched masks on the patient because the second was hooked up to a battery.
“Now, Captain,” the surgeon called out.
JJ pulled the lever next to her. The bright lights shut off and a smaller light over them went on.
The surgeon said, “Everybody but one person, go. I’ll need help getting the bed out.”
The anesthetist stood. “I-I can stay, Dr. Barrows.”
“I’m an EMT,” JJ told him, “I’ll stay.”
“My call, doc.” To the others she ordered, “Leave on your goggles and shields. The smoke’s penetrable in the corridor, still. Can you find your way to the unaffected section of the hospital?”
“Yes. We practiced this.” This from the nurse.
Into the radio, JJ barked, “I’m sending out the anesthetist and two nurses.”
They left the room.
“All right, Captain. Stay where you are until the man’s closed up.”
She saw that he still had his hand in the man’s open chest! He poked the heart with his finger. Nothing. “Come on, Barry.”
JJ held her breath.
He poked again.
“It pinked up. We’re a success!”
“I’ll have to put a temporary bandage on before we can move him.” He worked quickly as he spoke, cleaning the skin around the area, drying it, and applying a huge strip of medical tape she’d seen once on someone who had hip surgery.
Over the radio she heard, “Status, Jensen.”
She explained what happened. “We’re—”
An explosion rocked the room.
“Chief?” She waited.
Then she heard from Quinn, “Sterilization unit reignited. We put it out again, Cap. Truck 3’s helping us look for fire in the walls.”
Already she could see blacker smoke enter the hall.
“Everybody okay?” she asked.
“Nothing’s easy, is it, Captain?” Dr. Barrows coughed but continued to work.
Finally, he stepped back. “I taped up the wound and covered the bandaged patient.” He got out blankets. Minutes had passed.
“Jensen!!!” she heard over the radio.
“Just finished, Chief. Leaving now. Doc, go to the head of the bed. I’ll pull from the open door, since I’m right by it and then I can push. Once we get in the hall, I’ll share my air with you.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He moved to the head of the bed.
He was pretty calm for a critical situation. He was a surgeon, so she guessed he had to be.
She opened the door and more smoke filtered into the room, cutting visibility in half.
“Try not to bump him,” the doc called out.
“I won’t. We have to stay in lock step.” They maneuvered the patient into the hall. Thicker smoke, now, even blacker.
A coughing fit seized Barrow. “Take some of my air.”
“You’re too far away. Let’s go.” They headed down the corridor as quickly as possible. JJ couldn’t force him to take her air.
They got halfway out of the wing, when he started hacking—and he crumpled to the ground. She was going to kill a heart surgeon on her first outing!
Stopping, she moved around the bed, slipped her arms under his and dragged him to her end. She lugged him up and laid him over the legs of the patient, face down. Then she pushed hard. Harder. Fast. Faster.
When they reached the wing that had been compartmented off, the door opened and she pushed them inside.
“Bring him to this room,” a nurse called out.
JJ rolled them to a curtained off area. Three people surrounded the patient. She drew Barrows up and off the flat part of the bed. He fell into her arms. Someone shoved a gurney over and they slid him onto it.
“The doc needs oxygen. He wouldn’t take mine.”
Quickly, they hooked up oxygen on him while the others stayed with the patient.
After pulling off her helmet, facemask and Nomex hood, she heard over the radio, “JJ, talk to me.”
“We’re safe. In the west wing.”
“Thank God. Condition of the patient and doctor?”
“Patient’s fine,” one nurse called out, so the chief could hear.
“Getting oxygen now.”
Coughing, Barrows roused. “H-how’s…” More coughing. Then, “How’s Barry?”
“He’s on our oxygen, doctor.” Another nurse. “He’s in good shape.”
Bracing himself on his arms, he inched halfway up. “I applied only a temporary bandage. I have to stitch him up.”
“No, Nick,” A white-coated man who’d entered the room had come up to the bed. “I’m here to do it. Relax and breathe.”
He deferred, laid back and took a hit of his own air. Then looked up at her. “Oh, hell, you’re young.” He gave her a smile. “And pretty.”
Oh hell was right!