The old apartment building was already in flames when Ladder 7 rolled up outside. Blazing embers leapt into the dark Manhattan night sky as a burly figure jumped from the still-moving truck.
Get that water on! Fast! I want it now! And where the hell are those smoke-divers? Get ’em in there now! And one more thing – get those people back from here. Set up a cordon. Where the hell are the cops, for chrissake?
The rest of the crew glanced at each other with quiet grins. It was only Murphy, Captain of Firehouse 9. That was just his way. He was rough, but Murphy got the job done.
A woman on the sidewalk sobbed, her grief-stricken cries piercing the throbbing rumble of the big Detroit Diesel as the crew gunned it, pumping up the high-pressure jets. Murphy paused, hesitated towards her, barked a dozen more orders at the crew and drew the woman aside. They could see him listening as the woman pointed towards the top floor apartment, and they could see his hardbitten features softening as he heard the woman’s story.
Guys, he said, we got a situation here. I’m goin’ in.
And with that he was gone, into the flames, a blurred and vanishing shadow among the smoke and the swirling embers. There was nothing anyone could do but try to keep the fire back, try desperately to give Murphy that tiny chance of survival. They kept three big lines at full power against the walls, through the windows, and every time a jet hit the flame, it recoiled and snarled. They saw him pass the second floor, and the third. Then the fourth – or was it just a trick of the dancing flames? No. There he was on the fifth, the sixth, and after an eternity, Murphy appeared at the top floor window.
I’m comin’ back, he shouted as a huge cheer rose from the crowd. He had a little bundle in his arms and he was waving an axe.
Cover me, guys!
They watched him down one floor, then two, then another three. The crowd fell silent, and as Murphy’s dim shape appeared at the second floor, an old man spoke up.
I’m the building caretaker, he said, and there’s a tank of gas in the lobby. It’ll blow any second now.
Come on, said one of the crew, we can’t leave him in there to die like a dog.
But the lieutenant held him back. Stay there, Son. Only God can help him now.
It started as a rumble, then a roar and the ground shook as the crowd surged back in terror.
The lieutenant crossed himself. Oh my dear Lord.
The windows blew out, almost as if in slow motion, and the roof erupted. But then a murky shape appeared at the gaping mouth of hell that used to be the door. Murphy, waving an axe, and with a baby under his arm, leapt into space while the building collapsed behind him. He wore that cheeky grin the boys in the firehouse had come to know and love.
Well I’ll be … muttered the lieutenant.
Another cheer rose from the crowd as Murphy slowly approached the woman, pushed his helmet back on his head, and wiped the sweat from his blackened face.
There you go ma’am. Here’s your axe, safe and sound.