Firefighter Lindsay Doucette stood still for the briefest of seconds, staring up at the marble building before her. Flames licked at the windows from the inside and people continued to pour out all of the exits. The crowd which had gathered to watch as the blaze grew inside of Kinsoo Ridge's oldest and largest business complex had been herded back behind a line of caution tape looped between several power poles across the street. The only personnel still milling about even remotely near the inferno were the rescue personnel; Lindsay's fellow firefighters and the medics.
Shouts filled her ears as she snapped back to attention, easily slipping into the rhythms as her team members assembled and marched into the building two at a time to check for trapped casualties. Others had already lined up with the hoses to extinguish the blaze. Lindsay considered her position and within seconds had taken hold of a silver fireproof suit, slipping into it within a matter of seconds and hooking up her oxygen mask. She took a few breaths, testing her equipment, and was glad to find everything in perfect working order.
As she stepped forward, Lindsay glanced over her shoulder and gave her chief, Scott Martelli, a quick thumbs up. With an approving nod from him she turned to face the blaze once again, steeling herself before venturing onward into the blazing heat. She barely had one foot in the door before she was assailed by a wall of orange light. If her visor hadn't been tinted the flames would surely have blinded her.
Shaking off the initial shock, Lindsay cautiously stepped forward through the flames, glancing around for any signs of life. The first wave of men had already cleared this part of the complex, now it was her job to move through where it was safe into the next building. With her axe by her side and her oxygen tank counting down from twenty minutes she was perfectly set. She'd be fine to make the trip if she relaxed and breathed steadily. A novice mistake like hyperventilating even the slightest bit could cost Lindsay her life.
Stepping over fallen beams and smoldering bits of insulation which had fallen from the ceiling, Lindsay made her way through the large atrium of the front building. She’d been there many a time in the past and she knew her way around. With practiced ease she found the double doors leading through the back of the room and into the rest of the building. So far so good; no signs of casualties anywhere.
Ducking under a beam crisscrossing the double doors, Lindsay segued into the next room. She could hear the roar of the fire licking at her silver, clawing its way through the layers of fire retardant fabric she wore. She remembered her days as a newbie, back when above the roar of the fire all she could hear was her racing heartbeat pounding in her ears. That thrill wasn't there anymore; not after everything she'd seen, all the fires she’d been out to. She was only twenty eight but in her three and a half years of firefighting, she'd seen it all. Lindsay had seen house fires, office tower fires, small brushfires, full blown and raging forest fires. There was nothing that could get her pulse racing anymore.
Now that's not to say that nothing got her adrenaline pumping. Lord in heaven, was it ever racing through her veins as she made her way deeper into the inferno. It wasn't the same kind of rush though. It wasn't a judgment blinding rush. She could think fast and move faster, which was the greatest rush of all.
All rational thought besides rescue aside, Lindsay continued on. She bypassed a chair frame and was about to head off into the next room when she heard something. Pausing, Lindsay held her breath and listened for the sound again. It sounded almost like a cry. Swallowing thickly she whirled around and glanced through the room. There was a large patch at the far end that was free of flames as far as she could tell. Through the orange glow Lindsay just barely made out the form of a child trapped between two fallen support beams.
Inhaling sharply, Lindsay glanced down at the floor space between her and the little girl. A good thirty feet separated them and Lindsay wondered what lay hidden beneath the flames in her path. There could have been anything there; fallen wood, debris, even bodies. She couldn’t let that stop her, however.
Come on, Doucette, think.
Glancing around once more, doing a thorough visual sweep of her path, Lindsay stepped forward quickly, cautiously. She could feel her boots bump up against something every step or two but she managed to stay upright. As she closed in on the girl she realized that the child looked familiar. However, Lindsay was too caught up in trying to figure out how to get the girl out as she approached to really think about who it was that she was seeing.
Reaching the edge of the wall of fire, a good fifteen feet still between her and the little girl, Lindsay took another step and stumbled over something. Looking down her heart caught in her throat when she realized that it was the charred form of what appeared to be a young woman. She was already burnt beyond recognition and Lindsay afforded herself a moment to thank her lucky stars that it wasn't going to be her job to identify the poor soul.
Brushing off the sick feeling at the pit of her stomach, Lindsay stepped over the fallen woman and rushed towards the little girl trapped beneath the beam. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and Lindsay took that as a good sign. Even if she hadn't trained as an EMT for a while she could have guessed that a screaming child was a child without serious chest injuries. From a primary visual survey, Lindsay was glad to see that everything seemed alright. There were still internal injuries and burns to worry about, but those could be seen to after they got out of there.
Stepping over the last beam in her way, Lindsay came to kneel beside the little girl whose eyes had widened in alarm. Reaching out, Lindsay held up a hand to show the child she only wanted to help. She knew the girl wouldn't be able to hear her from under the hood, but she couldn't help the girl if she couldn’t give her instructions.
That thought in mind, Lindsay ignored protocol and set aside her axe, reaching up and slipping off the thick silver hood of her suit. At the same time she slipped off her oxygen mask. It was extremely hot in the room, almost unbearably so, but it wasn't fatal. At least not at first. It was hot enough and dangerous enough that Lindsay knew she would have to work fast. On top of that, the air was thick with smoke and other fumes. What Lindsay was really worried about was carbon monoxide. She had to act and she had to do it quick.
Looking at the girl, Lindsay reached out and hooked her oxygen mask onto the child's face. She tightened the straps so that it would stay and met the girl's eyes, her hands settling on the child’s shoulders as she tried her best to assess the situation.
"Hi there," she said reassuringly. "My name's Linz. I'm a firefighter and I'm going to get you out, okay sweetie?"
The girl was crying, sobs wracking her body as she stared helplessly at Lindsay, nodding. As she held the girl's gaze, Lindsay moved and began trying to loosen the beam that was pinning the girl down. She didn't work with kids often and it wasn't her strong suit, but she had to do something. She had to calm the child down, help her focus. Looking back at her again she smiled softly, wiping a few beads of sweat away from her forehead with the back of her glove.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" Lindsay asked softly.
"F-Faith," the girl replied shakily, coughing.
"That's a pretty name," Lindsay commented.
She was amazed the girl was conscious, considering how long she must have been stuck in the building with the smoke billowing around her. Lindsay had only had her mask off for a minute or so and already she felt slightly dizzy. Shaking it off, Lindsay concentrated, tugging on the beam, feeling it give just a little. She glanced at Faith every few seconds as she went about moving the wood, making sure that the girl was still with her. Her head was bobbing a little and Lindsay could tell that she was getting drowsy. Reaching out for a moment, Lindsay shook her shoulder.
“Faith, I need you to tell me some things,” she said firmly. “I need you to tell me who you’re here with.”
For a long moment Lindsay worried that the girl was unconscious, but a moment later Faith lifted her head and spoke.
“M-Marin,” Faith replied.
“Marin?” Lindsay repeated. “Who’s Marin?”
“My nanny,” the girl said with a sob. “She was r-right th-there but the fire hurted her. She fell down and never gotted up. I’m scared! I want m-my daddy!”
Lindsay could see the girl was in hysterics. She glanced back over her shoulder toward where Faith had pointed. Oh, God; the body. Had the woman she tripped over been Faith’s nanny? She didn’t give herself the chance to consider it. Instead she got back down to work.
“We’ll find your daddy just as soon as we’re out of here, sweetie, I promise,” Lindsay said softly. “Now I want you to tell me, does anything hurt?”
Faith shook her head firmly. Lindsay knew she was probably in too much shock to be able to tell whether she was hurting or not, so she didn’t take the girl’s word for it. She’d have the medics take care of her once they got out of the building. In the meantime, however, all she focused on was freeing the girl.
A few shoves had dislodged the beam that was pressing Faith to another beam and one last, firm push had it moved aside enough to get the girl out. Acting quickly, carefully, Lindsay reached out and grasped the girl under the arms, pulling her out from under the pile of wood and into her arms. Lindsay coughed violently, her head lost in the smoke for a moment as she stood when getting the girl out, before dropping back to her knees, pulling the girl to the floor with her. Looking around she could see the blaze around them being smothered.
A moment later she felt a few heavy, sooty drops of water hit her face. It looked like the boys would have them out soon. Thank God, too. She coughed again and looked over at Faith, pulling the girl close and sheltering her against falling debris. Reaching out, Lindsay made sure the oxygen mask she’d slipped onto the girl was still firmly in place so that at least one of them could breathe.
Lindsay was hot, she was exhausted and she waited anxiously, Faith in her arms, for her fellow firefighters to get them out. The smoke was thinning around them and faint beams of light filtered into the room as pieces of the building fell away around them. More and more droplets of oily, dirty water rained down on them as the flames were slowly extinguished.
Looking over at Faith, Lindsay slipped off one of her protective gloves and reached out to gently ruffle the girl’s hair. It was gritty and matted from the smoke but it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that the girl was safe. Lindsay wasn’t even bothered about her own safety. She knew by the ache in her chest every time she breathed that she was suffering smoke inhalation, but that didn’t bother her. Her only concern was for Faith. The girl was much too young to have to suffer like she would have if Lindsay hadn’t given over the oxygen mask.
Shifting her attention back to her young charge, Faith tried to distract the girl from the whine of the saws cutting into the walls all around them to let smoke escape and allow the team to bring the hoses in to thoroughly put out the fire.
“Where do you go to school, Faith?” Lindsay asked hoarsely.
“I don’t go to school,” Faith replied shakily. “I go to kindy.”
“That sounds like fun,” Lindsay continued. “I bet you get to do lots of cool stuff.”
Faith nodded mutely. Lindsay tightened her embrace a little and cuddled the girl close, feeling water from the hoses beginning to flow all around them, slicking and coating the floor and all of the surfaces in the room. Lifting her head she looked around, noticing that other firemen were beginning to mill about the room. Most of the smoke had cleared and the walls had been broken away. The fire was out for the most part and things were much safer.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Lindsay sat up and flagged down a few of the other men, letting them know both she and Faith were alright. Coughing a few times Lindsay breathed in some of the cooler outside air beginning to surround them as she struggled to her feet in all the equipment she was wearing.
As soon as she was up, Lindsay stooped down and reached out to Faith, plucking the oxygen mask off of the girl’s face. She turned off her oxygen cylinder and stuffed the mask into one of her pockets before carefully scooping the little girl up into her arms. She furrowed her brows in concern as the child gave a small whimper but decided to worry about it only once they got out of the building.
“We’re safe, sweetheart,” Lindsay cooed gently. “We’re alright now. We’re getting out of here.”
She gasped a little in surprise as Faith’s arms wound themselves tightly around her neck and choked her already inhibited air supply. The child seemed to nuzzle herself into Lindsay’s shoulder for security and she didn’t mind it at all. She held the girl against her chest and headed slowly for the doorway, bypassing some fallen pillars and smoldering bits of debris. She paused a moment beside the body of the woman she figured must have been Faith’s nanny. The poor dear. Closing her eyes for a moment and saying a quick prayer for the young woman’s soul, Lindsay regrouped and continued toward the entranceway.
A few of her fellow firefighters waved to her, more than a few of them whooped and cheered as she passed by with Faith in her arms. She smiled softly and then groaned inwardly. She was going to be the talk of the town for the next week. It wasn’t something Lindsay liked. All she’d done was her job. She’d gone in and rescued a casualty. It was a team effort, it was thanks to the guys that put the fire out that she’d been able to bring the girl out alive, and yet she knew that she would get the publicity. It wasn’t fair and she didn’t like it, but it came with the territory. All she could do was grin and bear it.
Heading past the last few fallen beams, Lindsay reached the main door to the building. Looking down at the girl in her arms once more for a brief moment, Lindsay steeled herself against the hustle and bustle she knew to expect outside the building. She braced herself and stepped out the doors, narrowing her eyes immediately as the sunlight attacked her from all sides. In the thick smoke inside and the artificial orange light of the flames, she realized that she’d almost forgotten what it was like to see the sun.
Sighing softly and taking a deep breath, Lindsay felt her chest constrict and she coughed. Damned smoke inhalation. She swallowed thickly once, twice, and cleared her throat before heading on down the sloping marble steps of the building. Immediately she found herself caught up in a throng of emergency personnel. She was being swept about with Faith in her arms, being asked questions from all sides. She couldn’t exactly keep them straight at the rate they were being fired at her and so she chose to stay silent except for murmuring a few words here and there: we’re fine, good work, team.
It was a single shout that caught her attention.