The small boy stares in awe, doing what little boys have done at firehouses for over a century. He’s had plenty of time to see whatever he wants. He’s looked inside all of the compartments and had all of the tools explained to him. He’s sat in the engine and pretended to drive the gleaming monster, every boy’s dream.

Amazingly he’s not impressed with the ladder truck. He wants to go sit in the kitchen with the Real Firemen. One of them gives him a red toy helmet lettered Fire Chief.

And then the tones drop.

The middle aged man heads home from his errands, a quick run to the post office and the local grocery store. It’s a beautiful summer afternoon, if a bit on the hot side. The windows are down, the radio is up, and the last thing he sees is the chrome grille of the large SUV as it crosses the double-yellow line.

There’s a long pause. Pauses are bad. We don’t know where to go yet, and our lone dispatcher is too busy answering multiple phone calls to tell us. The young boy is oblivious to the sudden rise in tension; to him it’s just more radio noise.

After an interminable ten seconds, the dispatcher’s voice comes over the loudspeakers. “Attention Engine 683. Engine 683 respond, County Highway in the vicinity of Random Number for the motor vehicle crash.” His voice is calm, but the phones are ringing in the background.

My nephew’s grandfather offers to take custody of him for me. I grab my gear and head for the cab. I’m the last aboard, so I’m stuck riding backwards. The big Cummins propels the rig out the door with a puff of black smoke, and the sirens wind up as we turn left off the ramp. From my seat I can see my nephew in the apparatus bay, beaming. This is no demonstration, no parade; this is REAL, and he knows it.

Back in the cab, the headsets come out. “Fire Alarm to Engine 683. Police on scene report entrapment at your incident.” The multiple phone callers were right. This won’t be a minor job. Size-up continues. “Let’s see. The police station is in the 400s. The apartments are at 800, so Random Number must be. . .”

“The Curve,” the Captain interjects for me.

The Curve. Scene of numerous close calls and a few Bad Ones over the years.

We’re riding heavy today. Another call firefighter and I augment the regular crew. More hands are a good thing.

“Engine 683, police are reporting a possible Code F at your scene.” At least they didn’t ask us to ‘Step It Up.’ That’s a pet peeve of mine. We’re already moving as fast as we are safely able. No matter how much the PD begs, we can’t go any faster.

The paramedics arrive before us. They had a geographic head start.

As we approach the scene, we are forced left of the center line. No traffic is coming the other way.  None.  That’s a bad sign.  The early evening rush backs up in the right lane. At one point I feel the brakes pull hard and the engine jinks to the left. Some fool has tried to make a u-turn out of the backup, oblivious to the large, loud, brightly-flashing emergency vehicle approaching. The chauffeur was ready, though, and we pass without further incident. Hopefully the fool will think next time.

As we arrive and swing to block the road, I get my first view of the scene from the side window. The car is almost unrecognizable. Last in means I’m seated next to the door, so first out. I head straight for the heavy hydraulics, and the faithful Honda starts on the first pull. The medic makes one request:  “The sooner you get this car open, the happier I’ll be.”

The ballet begins.

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