It was 3 AM on a Sunday morning in the middle of June, 2005 or 2006, I’m not sure. Chuck and I were manning the medic truck and along with the rest of the guys at 22s, getting a few hours of needed sleep. With 24-hour shifts, you take sleep when you can get it.
The long steady beep of our fire tones jarred us awake and I was on the rig before I realized I was even conscious. Chuck drove that night; I wrote the reports. The report of a house fire was in our first-due district and we were a little excited as we would likely be the first truck on the scene.
We raced through the mostly-empty streets, preparing our minds to what we possibly could find when we arrived. We rounded the corner of a residential neighborhood and instantly saw the billowing smoke.
“Chuck, pull over here!” I shouted. “Leave room for the fire trucks in front of the house!”
He swerved between sleeping cars already parked along the side of the street as our engine and ladder blared past.
“I’m getting dressed,” Chuck shouted, indicating he was going to help the engine with fire attack as long as nobody needed EMS right away. I threw my door open with a different goal in mind. I decided to help the engine crew stretch their hose and hook to the hydrant. Not a very glamorous job but critical work just the same.
I no sooner arrived at the drive-way when I saw the panicked face of a middle-aged man in his boxers. Robe-clad neighbors stood with their arms around him, praying. I felt for the man, since I knew this didn't usually end well. “My mom’s in there,” he shouted between sobs. That’s when I pried my eyes away from my tasks and got my first good look at the house. Black smoke poured from the open front door and from the eaves of the roof. It was a worker, that’s for sure. The engine guys were knelt on the porch, masking up. I tried to comfort the man with words of doing our best as I scrambled past but I hadn’t time to stop. I helped straighten the hoses to remove any kinks.
The ladder crew followed the engine crew through the front door. Within seconds, I heard mask-muffled shouts and overturning furniture clatter. I rushed to the porch and crouched below the choking blackness.
“We got a victim,” one of the engine guys shouted.
I dug into my pockets and stretched my blue latex gloves over my hands. That’s when I saw Chuckles headed my way, head-to-toe in bulky turnout fire gear. “We got a victim!” I shouted.
Chuck stopped in his tracks with a stunned look like his half-asleep mind didn’t comprehend.
“Get your shit off! We got a victim,” I shouted again.
I saw the back of a firefighter emerge from the smoke. I couldn’t tell who it was at the time but later learned it was my buddy Mick. He struggled as he backed his lifeless discovery to the door. I held my breath and reached past him. I grabbed at exposed hot flesh and felt for an armpit or a leg or anything to grab hold of. Chuck shed his cumbersome gear, short of his pants and boots, and helped pull the burnt lady out of her inferno.
I was surprised at the heat radiating from her which was hotter than any feverish baby I’d ever felt. She was unconscious and barely breathing. The driver of the ladder truck ran to the medic truck and met us with our stretcher dragging behind.
Mick went back to the house, firemen counted on him to do what he needed to do in the same way our victim counted on us. We got to the medic, short-handed, as the ladder driver raced back to his tasks as well.
My mind darted straight to Sodium Thiasulphate and the IV needed to administer the drug. In my haste to deliver such needed medication, I forgot the most important treatment. Thank goodness Chuck was there to catch my omission.
“Should we intubate?” he asked and I felt like an idiot.
Chuck shoved a tube past her soot-covered lips and into her windpipe.
As more fire trucks, and more important to our dilemma, manpower arrived, we screamed for a driver. With that driver we left, roaring for the hospital.
That night was a perfect storm of firefighters and paramedics combining with ER nurses, doctors and everyone else who was where they were supposed to be, doing what they were supposed to do that gave someone on the brink of death a shot at life. Chuck was a vital part of that chain.
We don’t usually hear how people turn out after we have our 30 or so life-or-death minutes with them but this time I can report that, after a long battle in the hospital our lady survived and was able to return to her life once again.
She’ll never remember or know what incredible events had to take place for her to live, nor will she likely ever know that one of people who helped her survive has left this world, but that isn’t why we do what we do. That isn’t why Chuck did what he did.
That she can continue living a normal life is the very reason we chose such a life in the fire service. The fire department was a better place having known Charles Robinson.
Goodbye, Chuckles. We all love you and miss you already.