CHICAGO FIRE DEPARTMENT: WE FIGHT WHAT YOU FEAR
8:09am Dec 22, 2010
"Pooh, wake up. Your cousin Monica just called...turn to channel 9...Auntie Janice is on her way...looks like 9/11...we have to find Big Steve--that's his Firehouse, he was working today...it's a May Day call...I need a cigarette and a good cry...help 'em lord...A May Day call....come on, get dressed."
On the 100th anniversary of the Stock Yards Fire on the 4300 block of South Loomis, a which resulted in the deaths of 21 Chicago firefighters--a bell rang to commemorate the fallen. The ceremony was interrupted by a May Day call on the south side at an abandoned building. It was a routine fire call, until the roof collapsed. My cousin Steven Ellerson was on the roof when it gave in.
The Car Ride To The Hospital
The two bickering old broads. Former Officer Lewis, thuglicious Mme Brooks, and the junior J. Nicole Brooks. Gospel music plays softly in the background, keeping tears at bay. The 30 degree weather seemed to be a luxury, but adrenaline and nerves made it feel like 90 degrees. Despite the unknown, the three women do their best to keep it light. They chatter to pass the time.
"Chicago is on fire, and California is drowning. Think the Hollywood sign will slide off the hill?"
"I hope so auntie. I hope so."
"Why you driving so damned slow? That light ain't gone change! Drive hooker, don't worry about a photo enforcement. You are the law. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.Your auntie crazy as cat shit Pooh."
"Naw Nicky, yo mama crazy--naw, she evil...see how she be talking to me?"
"Well, I know it's a tragedy, but you can put on some lipstick."
"Lipstick?! Woman it's barely 9am"
"So. You look like you been suckin lemons."
"Shut yo ass up."
"Shut yo ass? You shuddup. Least I got one. You ain't got enough ass to stank til 11 o'clock. Look at her pooh. Don't she look awful?"
"You both look beautiful." I toss.
"Turn here girl, there's the hospital. You cain't go in this entrance...its for ambulances."
"Um this is Little Company of Mary. We need to be at Christ."
"Shit, this Lil Company of Killers. This ain't the right place."
(I use my iPhone Around Me app to find the address of Christ Hospital. I pipe in)
"Christ Hospital is 1.7 miles west of here. Go left. We'll be there in 3 minutes."
"Janice put on some lipstick. Here take my Fashion Fair. You got your badge so we can get in?"
"Shit, I done forgot my badge. We'll get in, don't worry. We gone get back there."
A Sobering Universe
"Where is the charge nurse?"
"Excuse me ma'am we're looking for...well he's a fireman...he's our family member...Steven Ellerson...he was in the big fire this morning. He's my cousin...I ...is he...Is he here?
She quickly tapped the computer and her eyes darted back and forth searching the screen. Then her face became quite serious. My heart stopped. I didn't know what she was about to say. Was he dead? Seriously injured? Yet, I appreciated her midwestern South Side accent. "Oh yah hon...goe down dat hall, take a left, a right, a left and folla the signs for da ER, okay? God bless ya and good luck!"
We hurried down the hall my mom, aunt, cousin (Big Steve's daughter, my cousin Le Le) and another firefighter--a comrade of Big Steve's. We were all nervous, but it was his breathing--his fellow firefighter that is, that made me realize that we were about to cross over into a parallel universe. He was out of breath and his energy was frenzied. When a first responder is nervous, it isn't a good sign. But we followed him. He was like Theseus going thru the maze determined to be the victor. I admired his hegemony...still I feared the worst.
"Come on go this way. Y'all come with me." He commanded.
He quickly led us through a maze of hallways. We passed a little boy, who I suspected was Autistic. He held his hand up to us as we passed him. His little cherub cheeks were red, just like his hand which he proudly held up. "We're all done now. We're all done now. We're all done now." He was just administered shots, and was proudly showing his needle wound. We all said "Hey buddy good job! or Good for you kiddo." I remembered thinking "Wow, what a brave little kid. Hope I can be brave too."
We approached the final door. Through the glass I could saw a conglomerate of black and yellow. Firefighters still in uniform...I could smell the smoke yards away.
Is He Alive?
I saw my cousin Monica Ellerson--Steve's wife, my cousin. Her eyes looked glossed over, she wasn't completely there, but she supplied us for an update. "...Big Steve is alive...his partner Corey, they were on the roof...he didn't make it." I was relived for my cousin. But my heart filled with sadness. There was loss of life. I turned to my mother and aunt Janice and shared with them the news. Janice openly wept. She served on the CPD for 32 years--so any fallen cop or firefighter was her frat. My mother, who raised me to respect any and all first responders cried too. She taught me to wave and salute as the engines rolled by--to cheer them on as they extinguished fires, gave medical attention or pulled a cat from a tree. We were always proud that our Big Steve was a Chicago Firefighter. We saluted his station anytime we drove by. But this time, there was no protocol. There was nothing to do, but pray. And wait.
More to come....