Everest

We miss the address on the first try.

As we come back the wrong way up the one-way street, we find it. Maybe. A tiny silver number resides on a black mailbox, in the weeds and bushes, at the foot of something that might be a driveway.

This has to be it. The numbers on one side are too low, and on the other side too high. The narrow strip of black asphalt climbs precipitously, rounding a corner and disappearing from view. There is precious little to indicate that there may be a house up there; just the mailbox and a ramshackle railing made of steel pipe. And darkness. Lots of darkness.

It could be our destination. It could be Frankenstein’s Castle or the Pearly Gates, too. There’s only one way to find out. I point the nose of the Medic 9 up the hill and slip the brakes. I expect the rear bumper to drag on the street, and it does.

We drag the bumper on inclines all the time; I mash the throttle to pull through the drag. Six tons of American steel crawls forward a foot, then stops. The wheels begin to spin.

I quickly let off the throttle, knowing we can’t pull through this one. I once saw a fire engine get stuck attempting a similar maneuver, and I have no desire to emulate their embarrassment. Thankfully we are able to reverse back down into the street.

Plan B, then. RP and I grab the stretcher and our gear and begin our Alpine climb. My small pocket flashlight does little to force back the darkness. At the top we do find a house, with a frantic family member waving from a deck, yet another story above us. RP heads inside with the gear while I attempt to find a way to secure our stretcher. Not only do we not want to lose it, but it would cause significant damge to the Medic 9 parked at the bottom of the hill.

Belated but welcome, our sherpas arrive in the form of four firemen. Like good sherpas everywhere, they come equipped with extra oxygen tanks. “Don’t you want the ambulance up here?” their Lieutenant asks.

I explain the problem. “I think we can back it up here,” he replies, scowling back down the hill to where the blinking LEDs of our now-invisible rig illuminate the treetops.

I leave him to it while one of his men secures our stretcher, and I head inside to assist RP.

From inside I can hear the beeping of the reverse alarm and the roar of our struggling diesel, and I wonder how much paperwork they’re going to cause. There’s no sense worrying, as it’s all in the name of patient care.

As we come back outside, I immediately note that the illumination is much better. Medic 9 sits at the top of the driveway, merrily blinking away. Her diesel roars into the night; and a set of large, black rubber wheelchocks hold her in place, one to the front and one to the rear of the tires, joined with rope like a fighter plane on ready alert.

Thank you, Lt. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

Now to get back down.

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