Six hours later.
“Medic-40, respond code-3 for the unknown, you’ll need to stage out for this.”
“Medic-40 copies we’re en-route and we’ll stage.”
Scottie had the last tech so this is my call. Scottie is driving us through the suburban neighborhood as I navigate using my iPad. Looking down at the map; “Hey, this is the same section-8 complex we went to three weeks ago for the 18 year old who was hyperventilating. Remember – it was your tech and we found her collapsed in the stairway?” Scottie had that call so fortunately I just drove that day. It was a ridiculous situation for a girl that had nothing wrong with her yet felt she needed to take an ambulance to the ED. It’s unfortunate but that’s what we deal with some days and we just strike it up to an easy call as we escort the patient to the lobby of the receiving ED. I really wish there was more I could do to help alleviate the system from abusive calls.
Scottie pulls over maybe three blocks shy of the complex as I’m pulling up the satellite view on google maps to refresh my memory on the apartment complex layout. Trying to get my bearings I’m looking in the direction of the complex. Three police cars pass us on the main arterial with their lights on and running fast. Then, with the windows cracked, I hear multiple fire engines and trucks approaching the same block. We can see the apartment complex roof from our staging post and I can see flames coming off the roof. A few seconds later I pick up the mic; “Medic-40, it looks like this is a structure fire, PD and FD are on scene; we’re going in.” The dispatcher acknowledges and tells us to advise on conditions.
As we pull up to the complex we have to park on the street as the fire engines/trucks/police cruisers are taking up the whole parking lot. We walk up to see what’s going on and to check in with the BC to tell him where we are and help out if there are injuries. I can see the building where the fire fighters are attempting to put out a third story apartment that seems fully engulfed in flames. There’s a woman standing on a balcony right next to the fire engulfed corner apartment. A fire crew is tilting up a very tall ladder to attempt a rescue.
Just then a woman runs out of the building next to us and literally throws her three year old son into Scottie’s arms. “He was is the fire, it started in the living room, please help him!” Then she runs back inside the building. The only problem is that it’s not the same building that’s on fire. This is a confusing fire scene with all of the people standing around, presumably evacuated from the burning building. The police are holding a perimeter to limit access to the area and and fire crews are clearing apartments, fighting a fire, and attempting to do a rescue. I’ve got to get to the BC; he’s the one calling the shots here and he needs to know where we are.
I turn to Scottie, “Take him back to the rig and check him out, I’ll check in with the BC.” As Scottie is carrying the kid back to the rig I keep going to look for the white hat that signifies the BC.
I finally find the BC and his two helpers on this scene; three white hats standing at the epicenter of all of the commotion. As I’m approaching them I see that one is a captain and two are lieutenants – one of which is LT from earlier in the day. So this is a three alarm fire and they brought out the more experienced captain to run the fire scene.
I acknowledge the two lieutenants and address the captain. “Captain, I’ve got one unit doing stand by on…” He cuts me off by holding up his hand as he heard something on his radio.
Speaking into his microphone. “Truck 5, cut a vent above unit 306, and one above the hallway. Engine 12, clear the first floor starting from the west. Engine 18 clear the second floor starting from the west.” Looking back at me. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”
He’s a busy man, I need to keep it short. “I’ve got Medic-40 doing a stand by on Halcyon with two medics on board. So far we have one possible patient but he came out of an adjacent building; not sure what’s going on with that, my parter is checking him out.” Looking over at the ladder against the building I see that they are half way down with the victim. “I’ll take her back to the rig and check her out. If we have any transports I’ll handle calling in other units. I’ll be on-scene until you tell me different.”
“Perfect, thank you.” He’s a man of few words. Then back to his mic, “Engine 8, lay supply lines from Halcyon to the number two exposure. Truck 3 – you’re clear to cut power.” As I’m walking closer to the ladder a fire fighter is escorting the rescued woman towards me. I’m thinking about the job that the captain is doing; coordinating six teams involved in – fighting the fire, rescuing people, searching for victims, overhauling burned out buildings. It’s overwhelming to me – I’ll stick with medicine.
The firefighter hands off the woman to me and goes back to the fire. As I’m walking her towards the rig I’m having a hard time communicating with her; she has a thick Indian accent and shakes her head when I ask some questions. She seems to have very limited understanding of English. Another woman from the crowd runs up to us as I get closer to the ambulance and starts talking with her in Hindi.
“Hey, do you know her?” I ask the young woman.
“Yes, she’s my neighbor, I was just asking if she’s ok.”
“Can you walk with us and translate for a little while?” She agrees and I hand the old lady off to Scottie in the rig along with a translator.
Looking up at Scottie, “Hey, where’s the kid?”
“His family came by and took him. He was totally fine, no soot in the nares or mouth, no burns. He wasn’t any where near the fire. Either his mother was just flipping out or she was setting up a law suite. Whatever…”
“Weird. So, this lady was just taken off of the balcony adjacent to the fire. Maybe 15 minutes of smoke exposure. She doesn’t speak English but I brought you a translator. If you can check her out I’ll see if there are any more victims.”
I walk back through the police perimeter to check in with the BC. Looking up at the building I see there are no more flames and just a few apartments seem to be burned with black soot ringing the windows like mascara. The rolling black smoke from before has turned to lighter wispy smoke coming from smoldering burnt wood that’s saturated with water.
Standing near the three BCs I quietly take in the sights; firefighters walking around with tanks on their back and carrying tools, ladders being taken down, hoses being drained and stowed on trucks. The captain is still coordinating things on his radio. “Truck 5 your clear to begin overhaul in unit 306. Engine 8 and Truck 3 are clear for station.” It’s looking like they’re just about finished.
The Captain turns to me. “We just had the one rescue from the balcony; no other vics. What do you have?”
“The kid wasn’t involved and checked out fine. His family took him. My partner is working up the woman from the balcony; minor smoke inhalation. We’ll get her transported but it’s just precautionary; she looks good. I can continue to stand by during overhaul if want us here.”
“No, that’s ok; you’re clear to transport.” He comes up to shake my hand. “I just want to say that I appreciate you’re professionalism, you guys did a good job, and that helped us do our job. Thank you.”
“Thank you sir, that means a lot to me.” I’m at a loss for any more words. That was high praise from a very competent man.
He turns to LT. “Can you go out to the rig and get information on the woman?” LT nods and we start walking back to the rig. They need patient info for their paperwork.
We talk about the fire and the crowd and the fire that we both went to this morning. It’s a good conversation and it seems that we’re past the point of having any bad feelings between us. I’m sure the high praise from his Captain reminded him that even good people make mistakes and our world is too small to let bad feelings continue. We’re two colleagues having a water-cooler conversation in the aftermath of a fire – quietly walking through the crowds of people, police officers, firefighters in smoky turn out gear, and the ever present street vendor selling popsicles and churros.