By: Gina Watson

St. Martin Family Saga

Emergency Responders Series


As he looked at the fresh young faces of the probies eager to prove themselves, Clay thought of the others who had come before them and not made it through the city’s probationary program. They had three candidates this time. The rest of the crew was there to demonstrate the Nineteenth’s unity. Even the paramedics had turned out for the welcome, including Clay’s good buddy, Jackson Olivier. As acting fire chief, Clay was instrumental in the orientation of new candidates. It was imperative they understood how working as a team could save all their asses.

He pointed to the one who appeared least intimidated. “You there, what are you most afraid of?”

“You mean like in life or love?”

Some of the unit laughed, until Clay pierced them with a squinting glare.

“Imagine your worst enemy. Has everybody got that person pictured? Now imagine that asshole is holding a weapon.” Clay made deliberate eye contact with the joker. With a raised brow he asked, “What’s yours holding?”

“Tommy gun.”

“Okay, a Tommy gun. Now imagine your enemy has duplicated himself a hundred times and each of him is aiming a loaded Tommy gun at your face.” More laughter filled the room, this time from the candidates.

“Enough. Fuck, the analogy usually works. Most of the time it’s not a Tommy gun. So… imagine one hundred evil dictators with a fully loaded hose of Agent Orange aimed at your face.”

One of the probies raised his hand. Clay nodded.

“What’s Agent Orange, sir?”

Shit. He was only thirty-five, but these young guys made him feel like those two-hundred-year-old turtles he’d seen at the zoo as a kid.

Clay stood, spread his feet, and squared his shoulders in an effort to project his most dominant stance, which, at six five, hadn’t failed him yet.

“Forget the analogy. Forget trying to make jokes.” He stared down at the joker who still sported acne across the bridge of his oily nose. “Fighting fire is no joke. She doesn’t have a sense of humor. The moment you take her for granted is the moment you lose the battle and possibly your life.”

As he spoke, he started to pace in the small classroom.

“The infrastructure in this town is quite old and it can cause fire to act differently than you’ve experienced in any drill.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of drills, we’ll start those today. You’ll be paired off with a senior firefighter and your performances recorded. As you meet the criteria, you may pair with your senior fireman on a call. If you don’t meet the criteria, you can tag along, but under no circumstances will you leave the truck. If you do go in, note that all probies will wear SCBA gear even if your partner does not, even if you think you don’t need it. No exceptions.

“First drill will be hose hauling and then binding hose packs.”

He saw the Joker’s hand go up, but he wasn’t about to acknowledge it until he was finished making assignments.

“Colin, your partner is Ace, Blake you’re with Hollywood, and Joker, you’re with me.”

The kid lowered his hand.

“Did you have a question?”

“We’ve just come from the academy, sir. Upwards of six hundred hours. At least half of those were hose binding.” He tapped his fist to his chest in a proud gesture. “Fastest in my class; no one can beat me. I’m good with binding and hauling.”

Keith Hamilton Billingsley III. Clay knew the kid was the city manager’s son, but he’d be damned if that garnered him special privileges. He thought back to his days as a probie. Fifteen years ago he would have never talked back to his chief. Clay pressed his lips together. If the kid didn’t respect him here, he wouldn’t do so during a fire, and that could mean his life. He snapped his fingers and pointed at the braggart. “Tell you what, kid. You beat me, no more drills. I’ll give you free rein. You can jump in, call your own shots, and you’ll get no guff from me.”

Mr. Billingsley’s face transformed as he figured he’d just won the pissing contest. He high-fived the other rookies and cocked his head at Clay. “You’re going down, old-timer.”

The fighters from Clay’s unit weren’t laughing; they knew the kid didn’t stand a chance of beating Clay in any drill. He walked up to Keith and dropped his hand on the kid’s shoulder, pressing harder every second.

“We haven’t talked about what happens when you lose.”

His laughter immediately abated at Clay’s deep baritone. Clay towered an entire head over the kid, and he wasn’t timid about pushing his advantage. He pushed into the kid’s space, nodding slowly as he looked around.

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