A/N: I can’t thank Midnight Cougar enough for her devotion to Firefighterward, but once more will never hurt. Thank you. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Here Comes the Rain Again,” Eurythmics
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond own the adorable little mouse whose needs inspired this very adult version of their story. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
I text the words “Bella’s back” to my mother and my phone rings instantly as I leave Sam’s Diner.
Holding my phone to my ear, I hear my mother’s cheerful greeting. “Good morning, darling.”
“Hey, Mom.” I can’t keep the grin off my face at this morning’s turn of events and walk toward my car.
“Sounds like you have wonderful news to start your day.”
“The best.” I unlock the door, slide into the driver’s seat, and immediately wish I were sitting at a booth back inside.
Emmett teased that Sam would be charging me rent if I didn’t eat any faster. He left not long ago, and I finally paid our bill, leaving a large tip in case Emily and Bella are forced to split it.
“So, what happened?” she asks.
I catch a glimpse of Bella carrying a tray full of food, and my eyes follow her movements as she tends to her customers happily.
“Emmett and I met up for breakfast at the diner and she’s here… working.”
“You’re still there?”
“I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot.”
She chuckles. “I hope that means you spoke with her.”
“Yeah. She remembers me.”
“That’s fantastic. I knew she would.”
“Emmett said Bella’s covering for Jessica Newton at the police station when she takes her maternity leave. I think I told you about her. She and Mike are expecting a baby toward the end of December.”
“So, it sounds like Bella will be next door to you for quite a few months.”
“Yeah, at least, and here at the diner, I guess.”
“Well, I’m very happy for you, Edward. Oh! They called my number. I have to go. I’ve been in line to get my driver’s license renewed, and it’s been over an hour of waiting. Keep me updated on how it goes.”
“I love you. Be safe.”
“Love you too, Mom, and you know I will.”
“Talk to you later, darling. Bye.”
Ending our call, I reluctantly start my car and let it idle for a bit, hoping to get one last glimpse of Bella before I go. After I do, I drive back to my apartment happier than I’ve felt since seeing her at the Post Office last Christmas.
Garrett is snoring softly in the recliner, while I’m sitting on the couch, watching another episode of Dudley Do-Right through an online streaming channel on our television at the station. I’ve spent the past few weeks catching up on the cartoon, as well as watching the available episodes of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in case Bella brings it up again whenever we see each other.
Our parking lot greetings always leave me longing for more time with her, but I know she’s busy training with Jessica. So, my short visits to say hello during my break are usually filled with us asking random questions about each other. My nervousness at saying the wrong thing fades slightly with each interaction, while my confidence and ease around Bella grows a little more every day.
It’s late when the alert chimes and the red emergency lights flash throughout the station, waking Garrett abruptly, as we listen closely to dispatch.
“Ops-2, Battalion-1, Rescue-1, Medic-1, Ladder-2, Engine-2…”
Garrett and I jump out of our seats in the lounge at the words “Engine-2,” and we follow behind Cap and Emmett, who will man Ladder-2.
“… Engine-3, Medic-3, Ninety-six, 9-6 Fauna Place, Cross street at Klahndike Boulevard, on a residential structural fire.”
Toeing off our shoes and stepping into our gear, we all move like a well-oiled machine while listening to the location repeat.
“Clallam County Fire, City of Forks. 9-6 Fauna Place, Cross at Klahndike Boulevard, on a residential structure.”
I glance at Garrett while positioning my suspenders, and he nods his head.
“Got it. We’re close. Three minutes tops.”
Cap presses the button, opening the doors to the truck bays, and moves swiftly, taking his place behind the wheel of Ladder-2 with Emmett climbing into the seat next to him. I throw on my bunker coat then grab my helmet, mask, and gloves before walking toward Engine-2 and opening the driver’s side door. Ladder-2 fires up with a hearty rumble, and soon, they are leaving the station. I climb inside the cab of Engine-2 and bring the truck to life.
“Did he say Ops-2?” Garrett questions from my side while stowing his gear and shutting his door.
“Yeah.” I check my mirrors, ease the truck out of the garage, and flip on the siren as we drive down Spartan Avenue then turn onto Calawah Way.
Garrett switches our radio channel, and we listen as our volunteer chief, Jared Cameron, arrives on the scene first. Chief Cameron dedicated over thirty years to the Clallam County Fire Department, but had trouble settling into retirement until Jasper suggested he take an assistant chief role and work Command for our area on fire calls. With his years of dedication and service, he’s a clear and decisive voice while coordinating the operations and logistics of an active fire scene.
“Battalion-1 on scene. Command to Fire Control. Battalion-1 will have Fauna Command. We have a working fire. I’m going to be out on a three-sixty.”
Fire Control repeats his arrival, then the Chief’s voice carries over the airwaves as he surveys the scene, while I turn onto North Forks Avenue then merge onto Sol Duc Way. Thankfully, traffic is almost non-existent at this time of night as I push through the intersections.
“We have a two-story private dwelling at ninety-six Fauna Place. Cross street is Klahndike Boulevard. Fire showing heavily on the first and second floors—Alpha-Bravo quadrant. Basement is not engaged. All units be advised, we have live wires down and arcing on the A-side of the structure. Status is unknown of the occupants at this time.”
I shoot Garrett a look that he knows all too well. At this time of night, it’s very unusual not to find people at home tucked safely in their beds, which means we’ll be doing a primary search upon arrival.
“Fire Control to Ladder-2. Checking your response.”
Emmett answers the call. “Ladder-2 is en route. ETA is less than two minutes.”
“Rescue-1 on scene.”
“Command to Rescue-1, start an attack line for Bravo-side.”
“Command to Ladder-2.”
“I want you to take A-side on Fauna.”
He’s placing Cap and Emmett at the front of the house.
“You’re clear, Chief.”
I look over at Garrett. “I don’t think we’ll both fit on Fauna. It’s not a through street and the ladder truck will take up most of the space. I wonder where the Chief wants us?” I question as we proceed down Sol Duc Way.
“I’ll find out.” Garrett grabs the two-way radio. “Engine-2 to Command.”
“Engine-2, go ahead.”
“ETA around two minutes. Do you have an approach for us?”
“Engine-2, stay on Klahndike and pull just past Fauna.”
“You’re clear, sir.”
I follow the bend in the road where it becomes Klahndike Boulevard and can see plenty of red lights flashing in the distance as we listen to the arrival of everyone on the call over the radio.
“Medic-3 on the scene, waiting assignment.”
“Command to Medic-3, mark the downed power lines with cones.”
“Command to Fire Control.”
“Go ahead, Command.”
“We’re going to require the power company to shut down electric.”
“Fire Control contacting Public Utility District.”
Emmett’s voice breaks over the airwaves. “Ladder-2 on the scene.”
“Command to Ladder-2, I need ground ladders on the Bravo and Charlie-sides. Get your stick up to the roof.”
“Command to Medic-3, I’m also going to need you to help Ladder-2 getting a line ready.”
I drive past Fauna and park Engine-2 as Garrett announces our arrival.
“Engine-2 on the scene. Engine-2 on the scene.”
“Command to Engine-2, I want you to search division two for possible occupants.”
Garrett and I grab the rest of our gear, which also includes our compressed air tanks and regulators as we prepare to search the second floor of the home. Black smoke is pouring from two windows of an upper level bedroom, and I can see flames easily from where we’re standing while hoses from Rescue-1 are pointed in that direction.
“Medic-1 on the scene.”
“Command to Medic-1, ready a line for Engine-2.”
Volunteer firefighters, Al and George, arrive in their gear and meet us at the truck, taking over manning the hose line for Engine-2 with the help of Paul and Quil from Medic-1. Garrett and I kneel in the front yard, readjust our hoods, and strap on our masks.
“Engine-3 on scene.”
I connect my air tank and regulator then add my helmet while taking a few deep breaths as calm settles over me before we begin our search of division two.
“Engine-3 stage your truck out of the way. Send your manpower forward for a primary search of division one.”
With the final adjustments to our gear and our searchlights illuminated, Garrett and I approach the front entry door each with an axe and Halligan bar in hand.
“You ready?” Garrett yells over the buzz of the radio, coordinating our efforts.
I nod and shout. “Let’s do this.”
When Garrett uses the bar, popping open and removing the front door with little effort, I get an uneasy feeling. Visibility is going to be a challenge, and the alarms mounted on our gear for our carbon monoxide detectors beep instantly then nonstop as we enter the residence. Our lights have trouble penetrating the gray smoke, and we know that time is of the essence.
Poisonous fumes from the burning of furnishings release lethal gases, like carbon monoxide and cyanide, and they are filling the home rapidly. Breathing this air for any amount of time is deadly, and it’s difficult to hold out hope that we’ll find anyone alive, but we push forward, never giving up.
I locate the stairway with Garrett following behind me. As we move to the upper level, I can feel the heat from the fire, while black smoke is building on this level. Even on a cool rainy night like this one, I’m sweating in full gear from the fire and we’re only getting started.
We work systematically, starting with the Alpha-Delta quadrant, pushing open doors and checking the beds and floors. From room to room, we find no one as we search for possible occupants overcome by the gases. I’m relieved, but worried when we bust open the last door in the Alpha-Bravo section where the fire continues burning from floor to ceiling and moving into the attic. Thankfully, our search of this room proves it’s empty too.
I grab my two-way radio, eager to get a hose on this level and proceed with ventilating while we’re here, but wonder if we should return downstairs to assist Engine-3 in their primary search.
“Engine-2 to Command.”
“Engine-2, go ahead.”
I speak slowly. “Division two primary complete. All-clear.”
“Command to Engine-2, how’s your air?”
I check the gauge. “Forty-five percent. We’re ready for assignment.”
“Go ahead and ventilate, but Engine-2, watch your air.”
“Engine-3 to Command.”
The words “Engine-3” get my attention and I hesitate following Garrett, grabbing his arm. “Wait,” I shout.
He pauses as we both listen to Engine-3’s report, hoping to hear the words, “All-clear.”
“Engine-3, go ahead.”
“One victim. Deceased. We’ve got fire in the walls.”
I know the realities, but it never makes it easier to accept as we are faced with them on every call. When a fire starts, a home’s occupants have about two minutes after the smoke alarms sound to get out of the building. It takes us about two minutes to put on our gear and get in the truck from the time dispatch alerts us, plus there’s our travel time. For this call today, it was about three minutes. At five minutes into the call, the possibilities of finding someone alive were slim, but now, I’m wondering if the smoke alarms ever sounded here. My gut tells me they didn’t, and no matter when we arrived, we would have found the same result.
“Where are you Engine-3?”
“We’re in Alpha-Bravo, division one.”
“Command to Medic-1.
“Medic-1, get your line to division two.”
“Copy that. Charging line.”
Al and George break through the hazy smoke of the lower level as they haul the hose upstairs and begin dousing the fire on this level in the Alpha-Bravo quadrant, hoping to contain its spread.
Garrett and I move to the Alpha-Delta quadrant again, locating windows and knocking out the glass. Garrett chooses his Halligan bar, but I find using my axe more effective on these windows. We move around the structure methodically, while the smoke dissipates gradually. When we’re outside the rooms, Garrett pauses.
“Damn. It’s getting hotter,” he shouts, uses his bar on the ceiling, and creates a hole, glowing bright orange.
We’re out of time. My heart sinks at the realization, and I grab my two-way immediately. “Engine-2 to Command.”
“Engine-2, go ahead.”
“We have fire overhead on division two.”
My radio goes silent.
We stare at the only bright spot above us filled with fire, and wait for him to continue as time ticks by, until we all hear the Chief’s ominous words clearly.
“Command to all units operating on the fireground: exit the building. Command to all units operating on the fireground: exit the building and standby for a PAR.”
The Chief’s order indicates the deteriorating safety of the structure is confirmed by not only us, but also the Safety Officer. We’re changing strategy and moving to a defensive position for fighting this fire. The air horns blast loudly to evacuate immediately for anyone outside of radio contact. I follow Garrett as we make our way down the stairs and out of the building.
PAR is a personnel accountability report, and as we find our way back to Engine-2, our volunteers, Al and George, are following closely behind us with Engine-2’s fire hose in hand. We take the opportunity to change out our air tanks for new ones, while we wait for the Chief’s roll call over the radio until it’s our turn.
“Engine-2, do you have PAR?”
I grab my radio. “Engine-2 has PAR.”
After everyone is accounted for, new assignments are made and we move into position when Chief announces that Engine-2 will remain on Delta-side fighting alongside Ladder-2 on the Alpha-side.
Cap and Emmett already have the ladder truck ready and proceed with raising the tower ladder until they are above the roofline. Within minutes, a master stream is spraying across the roof where the fire now rages in the fully engulfed attic.
“Command to all units operating on the Bravo and Charlie sectors. Stay clear of the building. Ladder-2 is operating an elevated master stream.”
The force of the water from the ladder truck can topple many of the compromised structural roof beams easily, and it isn’t long before we’re issued the same warning as debris falls on Delta-side.
“Command to all units operating on Delta-side. Stay clear of the building.”
We retreat backward to a safe position while aiming our hose through the open windows and dousing flare-ups along the eaves of the roofline when we see them. Our coordinated effort continues relentlessly from all angles until we receive word that the fire appears to be contained and suppressed completely.
I’m relieved, but exhausted and saddened that we were unable to save another life in jeopardy. The feeling spreads like a dark cloud among the crews as the reality sinks in while we work quietly, cleaning up the area and returning our equipment to our trucks. Garrett and I thank all who assisted Engine-2 and bid them a good night when they depart.
We’re silent on the ride back to the station, and I can feel my throat tightening with emotion at another loss. It isn’t easy. It’s never easy to process or accept. I know we did everything we could do, no matter how helpless I feel right now.
If you give a postal worker a love note, she’ll wonder about the identity of the author when it’s delivered by an unintended mail carrier.
After a visit from a sexy firefighter, the mystery surrounding the note will add to her curiosity, but it won’t be solved any time soon, when she has no choice and accepts another job far from home.
Her secret admirer will hold on to hope for their paths to cross again, and when they do, he will find that being near her again is better than he ever anticipated.
Visiting her during his breaks and getting to know each other will be the best parts of their days, until…