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The security guard, Burrows, lead them through the crowd and just nodded and walked by the police officers blocking the way. Dale and the others followed. Burrows walked right up to the flatbed truck the fire chief had commandeered to use as a command post, high enough to see and be seen. "Chief Majors." He said climbing up.
"WHAT!?!? Oh, sorry, Mike. Didn't expect to see you." The chief hollered into his radio for a minute.
"I got a couple of volunteers, what do you need done?"
"Put out the fire." The chief deadpanned to his friend.
Burrows shook his head. "That's your job. I'll buy the Scotch when it's cold."
"Your people can help. I want to move this rig back around to here." Majors pointed to a campus map he was using as reference. "We're losing these two wings." He indicated the long north wing that pointed toward the center of campus and the east wing just in front of them. "I want to be able to see all three wings." He shook his fist at the wind. "If that damned wind doesn't quit we might lose that tower over there... Why did they build these things so close..." He half mumbled the last.
Burrows didn't have an answer for the chief. "We'll drive you around back. Mind if I deputize my help?"
"Go." The chief said sharply while listening to two radios at the same time. A thick wash of black smoke was threatening the man on the snorkel again. The danger being that he couldn't see the rising flames being blown his way through the smoke. An assistant chief reported from inside that they were losing the battle to keep the flames from joining up again, the wind was fanning the blaze into a frenzy. They were told to fall back until more help arrived.
The lieutenant got word of some developments on the radio. "We should get out of here. The wind is getting stronger and blowing flame this way."
Jack came out of the stairwell. "They're moving a truck between the buildings."
Cindy was deep in thought. "I've got an idea. There is a brand new fire hose in the loft. I know there's water to it because we used it to wash cars. We could go through the trap door and use it to spray the roof." She started up.
The lady fire-fighter shook her head. "That's what the ladder truck is for."
"If we're doing that they can fight the fire in Westin." Mary said.
"I'll call for some linemen, you guys get out of here." It was too late, she saw Jack following Mary and Cindy up the stairs.
"You call. We'll get started." Cindy called down the stairs.
Jack pushed the trap door open and climbed onto the roof. He was amazed at how hot it was more than twenty yards from the inferno across the driveway. Mary heaved the hose up to him, then played out the slack. Cindy turned the water on. Mary held onto the hose as the stream came to full pressure. He sprayed the roof of Cannon nearest the fire. It steamed immediately. In a few minutes, he discovered that if he played with the handle on the nozzle his stream of water could reach the burning walls and windows of Westin. He did that for a few minutes, then hosed the roof again.
The lieutenant stuck her head up behind them. "You might as well keep it up, there won't be any help for awhile, and I've got to go. Cindy has my radio, if you get in a bad way, split then call. In that order."
"Yes ma'am. How's it going?" Mary asked.
The fire fighter shook her head and went down below.
In a few minutes a fire fighter on the ladder rig and Jack startled each other when the ladder swung into Jack's view. The basketball player showed the fireman what he was doing and got a thumbs up sign from him.
Later Jack was getting tired. Mary talked him into letting her relieve him for awhile, then Cindy took a turn. Jack walked down to Cindy's apartment and brought them back cold drinks.
"Dale... can you drive a stick OK?" Burrows asked him. Dale shrugged that he did. "All right, get in and start the truck, we'll move the crowd, follow us around the building. Miss Alice, are you still certified as an RN?" The lady nodded sharply. "Take over injury reports and ambulance dispatching for the chief, he's had to send his assistant to another scene."
"Yes sir." She said and climbed into the back of the truck.
"Dale, lay on the horn once in awhile." Burrows said as Dale started the truck.
"Wow." Dale said as the truck started. He eased it into first, the clutch was so stiff he needed both feet to get it into gear, he had learned manual transmissions from his grandfather, but that was his old pickup truck. This was a two-ton flatbed with 'granny' low and an extra shifter for the hydraulics. Dale felt like a kid in the huge seat with the enormous steering wheel.
Slowly the crowd gave way to Burrows with Peggy right beside him shouting as loud as she could. Just before they made the turn onto the driveway to go behind the building they ran into a crowd that didn't want to move. Burrows got Dale to honk several times but it made no difference.
"YOU GAWDDAMNED BUNCH A PRICKS! MOVE IT!!! OR YOU'RE ALL UNDER ARREST!!! GET THIS TRUCK MOVING!" The chief's voice came booming over his bullhorn. The crowd parted. They made it to where the chief wanted to be with no further problems. Peggy climbed in the passenger door.
Nobody in or on the truck was ready for the full sight of the fire in the north wing. It looked as though a great dinosaur had taken bites out of the roof and walls in places. The old building had a mainly wooden internal structure, inside a brick skin. There were many places where the fire was burning unchallenged from the fire fighters, eating away at the floors from top to bottom.
Miss Alice had dispatched several ambulances with injured fire fighters aboard. Several of them had been injured when a staircase had collapsed beneath them, others were suffering from heat exhaustion.
Now a full five alarm blaze due to the proximity of the other buildings, the fire occupied most of the six o'clock news on the local stations.
The University President stood in the crowd for awhile, then slowly walked back to his office to set up for what promised to be one of the longest nights of his career.
This school year had already been a bad one and it wasn't a full two months old yet. First the suicide by that Manning girl, then the drug business with the soccer team that had spread to much of the athletic department. There was a professor under investigation for forged credentials, and now, this.
From the administration building he could still see flames streaking up into the night sky.
In the office, the night switchboard operator was fielding calls from everybody from frantic parents to a pizza shop wondering where to take three different orders that couldn't get to the dorms near the fire scene (they apparently realized that orders going to Westin wouldn't be accepted).
Dr. Myersong helped field calls. He told the pizza guy to bring the orders to the office, where he paid for them and left them on the table in the hallway for the people that were coming and going all night. Fire inspectors, police, reporters, the dorm super, Maggie Carmicheal and all the rest of the people involved.
Maggie couldn't eat, but she stood and answered questions until the wee small hours from those that had no problem chewing up then cold pizza.
The noon sun streaming in the window woke him up on the couch in the Dean's office the next day. Dr. Myersong had a stack of messages on the table next to him. He looked at them and decided they'd all wait until after he had a shower and a shave. All but one that is.
He chuckled, "Thanks for the pizza. Dick." Fire Chief Majors had written on a napkin.
As the sun was going down Dale noticed a mist on the windshield, he felt water on his arm. It wasn't coming from the fire fighting effort. "Peggy. If it starts raining, that will help them put out the fire won't it?"
Jack was back on the roof. They had been spraying water for over four hours this time around. He noticed that before long the blaze would be below his range with the hose. He felt a cold shiver on his neck.
"What Jack?" She called up from below.
"I think its starting to rain."
"It Is!" Mary said looking around. "Cin. Tell them we've got rain up here."
Cindy called it in on the radio. It started as a light sprinkle, moving in from the north east. It got a little harder by the minute.
In half an hour it was a meaningful downpour, October's first measurable rainfall, and never more welcome. Those that had gathered behind the chief's command post cheered the development.
The rain gave the fire fighting effort a little more 'oomph', and the wind had died down a little, easing the concern for Wilson Tower. But it made several jobs more miserable than they already were. A fire fighter with a broken arm was sitting on the back bumper of a pumper in the street, his arm in a blow up cast. His eyes burning from the smoke he had been exposed to when he fell, his stomach upset from pain, he felt like he was going to cry.
"Firemen don't cry." He told himself.
Maggie, trying to calm herself, was walking around looking at the fire trucks. She heard a muffled sob. "Are you all right?"
"No." The man said softly, "I think they forgot about me."
She smiled at the man, he looked like hell, but there wasn't an ambulance anywhere near them. "Can you walk, I'll help you. JANE!" Maggie hollered to a girl across the street, "Help me with him, watch his arm."
Burrows knocked on the truck window. Peggy rolled it down. "I guess you kids can go ahead and go, the fire has been declared under control."
"Did we win or lose." Peggy asked.
"I wouldn't ask that question around the chief if I were you."
"Was it arson?" Somebody behind him asked. He turned to the small crowd that was still there.
"We don't know yet, that possibility will be thoroughly investigated."
They sat a little longer watching. The north wing was down from six stories to two, in the center of the building firefighters were working from room to room. The fire had lost, but it wasn't giving up without a fight.
It took another two hours of exhausting work before it was a done deal, but the ruins smoked for a whole day afterward.
The chief started totaling up the cost, eleven pieces of equipment involved, five alarms, nearly two dozen injuries, mostly minor, thank God. Total time, twelve hours and counting.
Maggie drove the injured firefighter to the campus hospital. There were several orderlies standing around in the emergency room parking area. Maggie shouted out the window, "We got a hurt fireman here!" Maggie shouted. He was eased out of her car and onto a gurney. The fire fighter's mood had improved a lot in the ride to the hospital. Maggie and Jane waited in the lobby for word on him, Maggie was grateful just to be away from the burning dorm. The fireman's brother arrived, Jane bought some cold drinks and they waited.
Jack and Mary had basically passed out in Mary's room as soon as the fire was declared under control. They had hung with the fight until the east wing was contained, but Jack stayed on the roof watching the battle rage in the north wing. He wished there was a way his water stream could reach it, but there was no way. Mary found him a cold beer and a couple of stale donuts, he munched and sat with her on the roof in the rain, tired but content. His troubles with the drug raid temporarily forgotten.
Finally, late at night, they climbed down, Cindy was asleep on some boxes, the fire radio quietly chattering next to her. Mary gently woke her and they all went downstairs.
Cindy said she'd return the radio and walked out into the rainy night. Mary and Jack went down the hall, her room looked like a war zone. When the fire started she had thrown on a pair of pants and a sweat shirt without even looking. Now she noticed she had the sweatshirt on inside out. Jack laughed a little about it then he crashed on her bed and fell asleep almost instantly. Mary went and washed her face, then she too relaxed enough to sleep.
The residents of the Roz house pumped them for every detail about what they had done at the fire. Did they like being on TV? Where did Miss Alice go with the Chief and Mr. Burrows after the fire was controlled? Why hadn't Dale washed the smoke out of his hair. And dozens of other questions.
Peggy's only concern was that she had grass stains on her new dress and the smell of smoke seemed to follow her around. Dale just took his shower, and then he ate everything Martha sat in front of him.
Finally they let exhaustion talk them into going to bed at nearly one in the morning on Sunday. Peggy slept so soundly she wasn't aware of anything until nearly lunchtime the next day.
It seemed like hours later when a nurse came out, with news of the injured fireman. Maggie and Jane were watching the late news on the TV, with a few families of fire-fighters being treated in the emergency department in the room, including the parents of the fireman they had helped. The news was showing what was left of Westin Dorm.
"Mr. and Mrs. Sterling? Mel is going to be fine, we had to put a pin in one of the bones in his arm, but he should recover full use of it." The nurse told them. His mother was visibly relieved. "You may see him in a few minutes." The nurse left.
The parents hugged each other. The father thanked them for all their help and asked them if they wanted to stay and say hello to Mel.
"We'd love too." Jane answered for both of them.
Later, after a brief visit with the recovering man, Maggie found a message for her to report to the university administration office. She sighed and nodded to the slip of paper.
Dale was up and ready for brunch before ten Sunday morning. He was on the back porch watching a sports show with some of the other men. Peggy came in dragging a bit. She was still sleepy but didn't want to stay in bed any more.
Harrison jumped up and clapped when she walked in, "Our heroine! Deputy Peggy from the Fire Police." Several of them stood and saluted.
"All she did was handle the crowd, I drove the truck." Dale said.
"Modest aren't you." Peggy said to him. She patted his shoulder tenderly. "I was hoping there was some breakfast left."
Martha had evidently heard the commotion. She came in with a tray loaded with good things for breakfast just for her.
Mary woke up to a thick smell of smoke. She ran out into the hall.
There was no fire, no alarms, everything was calm. She walked back into her room. Jack was still out.
"I wonder what will interrupt us this time." She said softly.
Jack stirred awake a few minutes later. "Smoke!" He said sniffing.
"From Westin. It's still smoking." She said to him. "It's a beautiful day out though. I want to go to church this morning, or at least out to breakfast. How about you?"
Jack had no idea where the nearest church was, except the one on campus. "I'll buy breakfast out at the truck stop."
"That's the only place you'll get breakfast at one on a Sunday afternoon." He smiled pointing to her clock.
They got ready and walked down to the Student Union. Maggie was there talking to some people, she looked like she had been run through a cement mixer. She shouted at them.
"What's up?" Jack asked her.
Maggie whispered to them, "Can you guys get me out of here?"
"Sure." Mary answered, "Jack's gonna buy us breakfast at the truck stop." Mary looked at Jack, he nodded.
"Sounds great." Maggie turned, "I'll be back in a few, I'll meet you in the snack bar." She shouted to the people.
They walked out to the parking lot. "My car's right here, wanna take it?" Maggie pointed to her massive old automobile. They nodded.
"So how are you doing?" Jack asked her.
Maggie fired the old car up. "I think I should join the Coast Guard. I got about an hour of sleep, that bunch was from three different insurance companies, and I haven't had anything to eat since some cold pizza last night talking to Myersong." Maggie never minced words.
They glanced at the haze coming from Westin as she turned around in the fire lane in front of the Union.
Maggie drove like somebody's grandmother. "I don't drive much." She admitted when she missed two opportunities to cross a busy road. "Plus Bertha won't go over forty, if you do she'll backfire about every ten seconds."
"What year is this thing?" Jack asked looking it over.
"Fifty-eight. She's on her third engine, and second transmission, I think she's got a half million miles on her. But she don't have much rust, and rides great in town." Maggie patted the dash lovingly.
Two Dorms Part 12
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