NO BATTERIES: NO SURVIVORS

NO BATTERIES: NO SURVIVORS

From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

No Batteries: No Survivors

Consciousness is the vital energy, which both gives life to the body and survives beyond the body in a different realm of existence.

David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.

“Oh, no. Not again,” Kim mumbled sleepily to her husband as he rolled out of bed to silence the blaring pager. It was 3:23 A.M., January 3, 2001, and Wyatt hadn’t been home from the previous call for more than an hour. “Can’t you skip this one?” she asked from under the blanket.

“Sorry, Hon,” he said, giving her shoulder a tender squeeze with his right hand as he grabbed for his jeans with his left. “House fire in Oak Orchard. Got to go. Be back as soon as I can.” Before she could open her mouth to protest further, she heard his footsteps bound down the stairs, the storm door bang and the truck engine turn over.

Must be twenty degrees, Kim thought, and he hasn’t had more than two hours’ sleep. How does he do it? She buried her face in the pillow, snuggled deeper under the covers and drifted back into a restless sleep—grateful that their six-month-old son hadn’t been awakened by the commotion.

Racing vehicles, mostly four-wheel-drives, pulled into the Millsboro Volunteer Fire Company from all directions simultaneously. Each firefighter donned protective gear and moved in sync like a well-oiled piece of machinery— the picture of efficiency that comes from years of training and well-rehearsed roles.

Wyatt took his place as engineer behind the wheel of the rescue truck as the fire engines pulled out with screaming sirens. He tuned them out, as usual, and estimated it would take six or seven minutes to get to Oak Orchard.

On first impression, except for clouds of billowing gray and white smoke mushrooming from every window, the ranch home with white siding didn’t look too bad.

“At least it’s not fully engulfed,” Wyatt yelled with optimism to his dad, Lynn, as they yanked the heavy fire hose into position and adjusted the nozzle.

“Smoke inhalation,” Lynn answered, “that’s my fear for the people on this one. You know how it can kill in a matter of minutes.” Turning to the left as they raced together toward the house, he called out over his shoulder, “Anybody know how many are in there?”

“No idea,” another firefighter answered.

As they hurried through the front door and into the living room, a wall of thick black smoke and flames rose up as if to threaten, “Get out!” But Wyatt and the undaunted firefighters pressed on through the heat and breath-stealing smoke—and into the roaring flames. Their heavy boots kicked furniture and bumped into who-knows-what as they plowed forward in the eeriness of being able to see nothing but dense smoke.

Where are the people? Wyatt wondered. His palms and knees burned as he crawled on the floor. Smoke coiled around his head like an angry serpent ready to strike. The monster had taken over.

One by one, four adults and seven children were carried from the blazing home into the yard and laid on frozen brown grass. Sounds of “CPR in progress” were heard over radios county wide—to no avail. Eighty-three-year-old Evelyn Shelton and ten members of her family died in that tragic, early morning blaze—Delaware’s deadliest in more than one hundred years.

Exhausted and red-eyed, with seared lungs, drooping shoulders and a bruised heart, Wyatt returned home four hours later. Kim met him at the door in her terrycloth robe, with Kade in her arms.

“I heard it on the scanner,” she said softly, her eyes brimming. Wyatt couldn’t talk. He just stood there in the doorway and flung his arms around his little family, pulling them close to his chest and hugging them tight.

“One was a tiny baby,” he choked out the words, “about the size of Kade.” He drew in a deep breath and shook his head, “I tried and tried to resuscitate him, but they made me stop. They said it was no use,” his voice cracked. “All I could think about was what if it were Kade?” He released his grip, looked deep into her eyes and continued, barely above a whisper, “Eleven people. We couldn’t save one. Not one.”

Kim steered Wyatt to the kitchen table, and he held the baby while she started breakfast.

“The worst part,” he continued, “is that it could have been prevented. They had smoke detectors in the house, but none of them had batteries. Seems so senseless. Which reminds me of the Simmons’ place. Did I ever tell you about that?”

“No, what happened?”

“The day of her fire, I was really down. Discouraged with firefighting. Grappling with my faith. Struggling with what to believe and wondering why I do this. Because my dad is a firefighter? And his father before him? And my brother? We got Mrs. Simmons out safe. But it was what we found in her living room that helps me work through tough times like today.

“Everything was destroyed. Everything. The walls were barely standing, and anything recognizable was either charred to a crisp or smoke or water-damaged. Except for one thing. We went back into the house to check once more for sparks and smoldering wood, and on the far wall was a picture of Jesus—you know, the one they have in Sunday school where he’s dressed like a shepherd carrying a staff and holding a little lamb?”

Kim nodded.

“If three of us hadn’t seen it at the same time, I wouldn’t have believed my eyes. That picture was as clean as if it were brand-new. Not a smudge of smoke or speck of soot. Nobody could talk. We just stood there, staring.

“It was as though Jesus himself, holy and invisible, stood there with us as we looked at it. But more than the picture, it was the caption that gripped me. From that day on, I’ve never questioned God or doubted why I fight fire.”

“What did it say?” Kim asked.

Wyatt lifted Kade high above his head, and the baby smiled down in innocent delight as he answered, “For this one I will lay down my life.”

“Hey, little man, what do you say we go check our batteries?”

Candace F. Abbott

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