Camp Fires

It’s a cold night of epic proportions. The temperature dips below 0 degrees F. It’s not actively snowing, but a brisk wind stirs the recently fallen snow, obscuring the world outside our plate-glass windows.

I feel like a Civil War era soldier. My issued uniform is woefully inadequate for the conditions we face. Instead of layers of homespun wool, I am fortified with multiple layers of nylon and polypropylene. My version of the blue tunic is a bright lime sweatshirt, and my slouch hat is a black Navy watch cap.

Regular Partner and I do have some Civil War era technology: we pile three extra blankets on the stretcher, and we fold two more into a ‘burrito wrap.’ Any patients we see tonight will be cold.

Instead of a camp fire, RP and I huddle in front of our TV. The night passes slowly. RP retires to his bunk, and I fall asleep in the cathode ray glow.

I am awakened in the early hours of the morning, not by a bugle but by alert tones on the fire radio. The Late Late Movie is giving way to the Early Early News.

Fire Alarm has dispatched Engines 681, 682, and Truck 68; mutual aid to Major Highway at Nearby Side Street.”

I pad over to the fire radio in my stocking feet and stand bathed in its orange LCD glow. This is unusual. Fire Alarm would never send the entire on-duty shift out of town. As my brain slowly awakens, I realize the address is in town, not far from here.

Command to Engine 682, you work east of Nearby Side Street. We’ll work west. Truck 68, split up and assist us both.”

Dear God, they’re working a search pattern. Please, not tonight. It’s not mutual aid to another fire department; they’re working a grid search with the police.

I grab my boots, then pad to the garage to check the fluids in the IV warmer. Anyone caught in this weather without shelter will be near death, if not there already.

I knock on RP’s door to wake him. He joins me in front of the radio as we listen to the search progressing. I stare at the radio, with my head slightly cocked, like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads. His Master’s Voice, indeed.

Command to Fire Alarm, get EMS down here NOW!!”

Here we go.

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