This story is by Abbie Wainwright and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Lieutenant Caelan MacInnis shouldered his duffle bag and headed for his firehouse, early morning mist hovering over the ground. He took a deep breath, preparing himself for the next twenty-four hours.
One of the paramedics of ambulance 12 fell in step with Caelan as he walked up the driveway.
“Morning, Caelan,” She said cheerfully.
“Morning, Darcy.” Caelan smiled down at her.
Darcy hefted her backpack higher and then turned, slowing to a stop. Caelan followed suit.
“Hey, are you doing anything after shift?” Darcy asked, glancing at Caelan’s eyes and then looking away, too shy to look at him any longer. Before he could answer, she jumped back in. “Cause if you’re not, I was thinking maybe we could get food, or something else. Like, a date. Or not a date. If you don’t want it to be. Or we could go and see how it works out, and then decide if it’s a date. A sort-of date. Or I could stop rambling…”
Caelan bit his lip. He liked Darcy; she was kind and strong and she understood his job. But they worked together, and in-house romances never seemed to work out. “Darcy, I really like you. And I would love to go on a sort-of date with you.” He laughed, and she smiled sheepishly. “But I don’t think it would be a good idea. With the jobs we do… It’s not a good time.”
Darcy nodded. “I understand. Still friends?”
Darcy entered the firehouse, leaving Caelan alone. He looked toward the sky and sighed; today was not going to be a good day.
Caelan flipped another page in his book, feet propped up on the table in the dining room of his firehouse. One of his firemen, Wallace, was cooking behind the counter, and with any luck they’d soon have a semi-edible meal to eat. Until then, he just had to hope that their alarm wouldn’t go off. It always seemed to ring just as they were about to sit down.
Two hands landed heavily on Caelan’s shoulders.
“Hey, MacInnis, a bunch of us are going out for some drinks after shift. You got any plans?” Jordan asked, coming around and sitting beside Caelan.
Caelan closed his book, thinking briefly about the plans he could have had with Darcy. “Yeah, I’m free.”
Jordan smirked. “No hot dates? Come on, MacInnis, step up your game.”
Caelan whacked Jordan over the head with his book. “Shut it, Jordan, or you’re on cleanup for the next two weeks. Besides, how am I supposed to pick up a hot date when I hang around your ugly faces all day? I think it’s rubbing off on me.”
Jordan laughed and walked away to bother their chef of the night. Whatever was cooking smelled good, but often that was a cover up for something that tasted off. It was an adventure every time he sat down to their table. With the men he worked with and their cooking skills, the likelihood of him dying of food poisoning was probably higher than dying from a fire.
“Dinner’s ready!” Wallace shouted.
The men in the room got to their feet, only partially eager to eat. Caelan just reached the counter to grab a plate when they heard the familiar sound of the fire siren going off.
“Truck 89, engine 4, ambulance 12, apartment fire.” The voice said over the PA system.
The men switched courses for the apparatus floor, donning their turnout gear, climbing into their designated trucks, and speeding out of the house with sirens blaring. They didn’t say anything as they drove. Their hearts raced, and stomachs twisted. No matter how many fires they ran into, it was never easy. Any one of their calls could be their last, and they had to treat it like that.
The truck turned the corner, and the firemen were faced with a blazing inferno. The three-story apartment building was small, but that was the only blessing. Flames were flickering out the windows, and smoke was streaming from the roof. Caelan jumped from the truck and took a good look at the building before ordering his men into pairs and giving them floors to sweep for victims. They had to move fast.
Caelan partnered with Jordan and went for the third floor, keeping close to the wall as they ran up the stairs.
“I’ll take the left, you take the right!” Caelan yelled to Jordan through his mask, then kicked open the first door he came upon. “Fire department – call out!”
There was no reply, and he did a search of the room, checking under the bed and in all the spaces they most often missed people who were unconscious. There were few things that made him question his job, and finding out that he had overlooked someone hidden in a room he had searched was on the top of the list.
There was no one in the room. He was as certain as he could be. He went into the hall and nearly ran into Jordan. He was empty handed as well. They both went for the next doors on their sides of the hallway. This time Caelan’s door was already open.
“Fire department – call out!”
“Hey, over here!” Someone shouted.
Caelan hurried into the room. Around the corner he found a man kneeling next to a woman who was trapped under a beam. She was unconscious, the fall having knocked her out. The man was struggling to lift the beam up and pull her out at the same time.
Caelan bent over the beam and wrapped his arms around it. “Three, two, one, go!” He lifted with all his strength, and the man pulled the victim clear. He scooped her up into his arms, shifting her slightly to get comfortable.
“I’ll get her down, then I’ll come back and help you.” He said to Caelan, stepping over the beam and heading for the doorway.
“No, you need to stay clear!” Caelan yelled, following.
The man stopped and turned. “I’m a firefighter too, man. I’m coming back in.”
Caelan shook his head but he couldn’t argue. If he was in that position he would do the same thing. “MacInnis.” He introduced, heading back down the hallway for the next door.
“Avery!” The man replied over his shoulder.
Caelan entered the next room, and found another victim. He pulled him out the door and into the hallway. He ran into Wallace, who was done his sweep and coming to help them, and passed his person off to him. He took the next door, using his crowbar to open it when he couldn’t kick it down. He entered cautiously, searching the entire room. He paused briefly to catch his breath, then moved once more. Sweat dripped down his back and neck, and his suit was so warm he felt like he would bake inside it. Caelan took one step toward the door. He heard a harsh crack, and debris collapsed upon him. Part of the ceiling had caved in, trapping him on his stomach. His head throbbed and his line of sight was spinning. When it finally stopped he squirmed, trying to free himself from the trap. His PASS alarm went off, signalling that he had been stationary for thirty seconds. He just had to hope that Jordan would come close enough to hear it before the rest of the ceiling collapsed.
He struggled to reach his radio to call for help but couldn’t quite make it. “Jordan!” He yelled, not willing to rely completely on the PASS. “Jordan!!”
Someone ran into the room, dropping beside Caelan and beginning to throw the lighter debris off of him and tug the heavier bits off the pile. But it wasn’t Jordan. Caelan couldn’t see very well, but he could tell his rescuer was not wearing turnout gear.
“Avery!” He yelled, relief and worry flooding him at the same time.
“Looks like you got yourself into a bind, MacInnis.” Avery grunted, heaving a piece of debris off.
“A little bit. Thanks for coming.”
Avery didn’t answer, focusing on his task. Caelan could feel the weight on his back steadily getting lighter. He readied himself for the instant he could climb out, not wanting to spend a second longer on the floor than he had to, especially with Avery so unwilling to leave him.
“MacInnis, you have one minute!” The chief yelled through his radio.
Caelan winced. When the chief said one minute, he meant one minute. “Avery, you know what that means. You gotta get out of here!”
“One minute is a long time. We’ll get you out of here.”
Avery pushed his back against a stubborn piece of debris, and finally it shifted off of Caelan. Caelan pushed his hands against the floor, and the rubble still on him fell off. He scrambled to his feet.
“Come on!” He yelled to Avery, heading for the door.
They were a foot from the doorway, Avery behind Caelan, when the rest of the ceiling buckled. Avery shoved Caelan in the back, sending the lieutenant flying into the hallway. Caelan looked over his shoulder to see the ceiling fall down upon the fireman, and the weight of it all sent the floor crumbling as well. All that was left of the room was a massive hole. Caelan scrambled to the edge, looking down for any sign of Avery, but he couldn’t see the man. No one could survive what had just happened.
Caelan forced himself to stand, and then he moved one foot after the other, running through the burning building and into the fresh, open air. Their chief did a head count, then ordered the hoses to start running.
Caelan didn’t sleep well that night, the image of Avery being crushed by tons of debris haunting his dreams. He woke early the next morning, cooked breakfast for the men and then sat at the table, and waited for his shift to end. It felt like the hours were moving through sludge.
Caelan looked up and saw his chief standing a few feet away, a woman by his side. She was shaking, her eyes red, but she was standing straight nonetheless.
“This is Nadia Avery, Logan Avery’s wife.”
Caelan looked away, his throat closing up like it did every time he thought about the wife and two kids Avery had left behind.
“They said you were the last to see him,” Nadia spoke, stepping closer to the lieutenant.
Caelan stood, nodding. “He saved my life.”
A few tears dripped from the woman’s eyes, but she brushed them away. “He was just going for a walk. He shouldn’t have been there.”
“He died a hero, ma’am. I will forever be grateful for his sacrifice.” Caelan said quietly.
Nadia ducked her head, covering her face with her hands. The fire chief put his hand on her shoulder, and she seemed to suck some strength from the touch.
“You should go home, Mrs. Avery.” The chief said to Nadia.
Caelan watched Avery’s wife leave with his chief. The instant she was gone he turned and left the dining room. He found Darcy standing in front of her locker, taping new pictures to the inside of the door. Caelan shut the locker from behind the paramedic, startling her.
She turned around, confused. “Caelan? Are you okay?”
“Are you still free tonight?” Caelan asked.
Darcy stammered. “I thought you said…”
“I know what I said. The firefighter who died last night was on a walk. He wasn’t supposed to die, he didn’t know it was coming. That could happen to me.”
Darcy shook her head, putting her hand on Caelan’s arm. “You’re not going to die…”
“I could!” Caelan shouted, then quieted himself. “I could die on any call we get. I said it wasn’t the time for a date, but we might not have time. I don’t want to waste what I’ve got waiting. So what do you say?”
Darcy smiled at him. “Absolutely.”