Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features teen shenanigans, adult bullying of an innocent teen, abuse of authority, culpable bigotry, undermining the fire department's professional objectives, despair, outrage, frustration over lack of superpower awareness, and other angst. However, two adults stick up for the targeted teen. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Ruts in the Road"
Sandy enjoyed her job as a firefighter,
even on days when it meant supervising
a bunch of boisterous teenagers
instead of fighting actual fires.
The idea was to show them around
the fire station, give a presentation on
first aid for serious burns, discuss fire safety
topics such as when to break a window, and
hopefully coax some of them to sign up for
the weekend class in emergency teamwork
or the high rope course and smoke obstacles.
Sandy wound up spending most of her time
in the apparatus bay trying to keep Shana
from draping herself over the EMS truck
like a life-sized hood ornament.
If it wasn't that, it was Mark and Anthony
trying to pick up the firefighting equipment.
Sandy felt secretly grateful they were
too lazy to sign up for classes.
"What's that delinquent doing here?"
Chief Smithers said suddenly.
Sandy looked around, and sure enough,
Shana and Anthony were necking
on the hood of the ambulance.
"Sorry, sir, I'll get her away
from the apparatus," Sandy said.
"What?" said Chief Smithers.
"Not them, I'm sure Shana and
Anthony don't intend any harm.
I mean him." He jerked his head
to point out the real target.
Sandy followed it to where Jules and
Mariset had cornered her protégé Danys
to pester the firefighter/paramedic about
any other teen responder classes on offer.
She shrugged. "Yeah, they're pesky,
but Danys volunteered for teen watch today,"
Sandy said. "If it looks like they're wearing out
his patience, then I'll go rescue him. For now,
they're fine. I bet both kids sign up for classes."
"Oh hell no, I am not having that hooligan
in my fire station," Chief Smithers snapped.
"Get him out of here before he breaks something
and you make sure he doesn't come back, too."
Sandy saw Jules wilt, and Mariset --
who preferred not to speak aloud --
looked about ready to scream.
She could feel the chief's words like
ruts in the road, forcing Jules toward
a future that nobody with any sense
would want to see happen.
Danys flashed three fingers by his hip,
then stepped in front of the teens and
crossed his arms, muscles rippling under
his Firefighter/Paramedic t-shirt.
This was the third incident they needed
to demand a review of his fitness to lead;
Chief Smithers couldn't talk his way out of
acts that undermined department performance.
"Sir, before this activity, you instructed me
to secure as many enrollments as possible,"
Sandy reminded him. "Has that changed?"
"If you let that miscreant enroll, then you
can kiss your bonus goodbye," he hissed.
"I won't have him wasting class space
better saved for deserving students."
"Guess I'll have to have to earn
my pin money the honest way,"
Sandy drawled. "As for deserving --"
She scanned the apparatus bay again.
Mark was just sneaking into a tool locker.
"Put the axe down!" she barked, and
he hastily abandoned the equipment.
The fire chief threw up his hands
and stormed away, muttering
about kids these days.
Sandy headed for Danys and
the teens. As she approached,
she could hear him saying, "Let us
handle this with NHCO, please."
"Yeah, whatever," Jules said glumly.
"People keep doing that, and I don't even
know why. I've never been in a gang, and
I don't get into any more trouble than
anybody else my age does."
Mariset's silence held the ominous weight
of a storm just before a lightning strike.
"Some people are just wrong-headed,"
Danys said with a sigh. "You can't change
them. You have to work on getting them out
of the way before they do too much harm."
"We've been watching the chief's behavior,
and we do not approve of it," Sandy explained.
"However, he outranks us, so we have to take care
or else he would just fire us. This incident provided
the last bit of evidence we need to call our union
and insist that they do something about him."
"Really?" Jules said, looking up at her
through a fringe of black-and-blue hair.
"Really," said Sandy. She tugged
at the hem of her t-shirt which read,
Real women wear bunker gear.
"Don't worry about us, we face
scarier things than him every day!"
"That'd be nice, but ... there's not
much point coming here if I'm just going
to get kicked out again," Jules said.
"If you want to attend classes here,
we'll back you," Danys added. "I know
you're both eager to see our training room."
"Now, why don't you two tell me
what kind of things you're interested
in learning," Sandy said with a nod.
"I'll throw in a lesson at my house --
chief's got no jurisdiction there."
"Don't you have to work?" Jules said.
"I'm on tour duty today, which means that
I get off when your class lets out," Sandy said.
"All you have to do is give me a topic, and
get permission from your parents."
Mariset whipped out her phone and
began texting as fast as she could.
"Okay, thanks," Jules said, flicking
two fingers at Mariset, who nodded.
"We were hoping to learn more about
teamwork for teen responders, and
maybe more first aid than just burns."
"We can do that," Sandy assured them.
Mariset grinned and waved her phone,
proudly displaying her permission to attend.
Then she swiped to the one for Jules.
"My dad's busy, so he's sending a friend
to drive us to and from your place," Jules said.
"Apparently we come with free pizza."
"I never refuse free pizza," Sandy said.
"Let me just pass around the clipboard,
and we'll be out of here in a few minutes."
"Sure," said Jules. "Put me down for
teamwork and advanced fire safety.
I think I'd better skip the rope course
and the obstacles, though."
He was so clumsy, it worried people,
but at least he was sensible about it.
Sandy put him down for those, and
Mariset also wanted the obstacle class.
To her surprise, Shana signed up for
the obstacles too, but then again,
the girl was a cheerleader so maybe
the athletic aspect appealed to her.
With that, Sandy actually had
the dozen enrollments for the bonus,
so if she didn't get it, that was more evidence.
By the time Sandy shooed the teens
and their teacher out of the fire station,
Jules and Mariset's ride had pulled
into the parking lot to collect them.
"Who's the hottie?" Danys murmured,
looking at the voluptuous black woman
who got out to pick up the kids.
"That's Bethan," said Sandy.
"She's a speedster, and drives
the zoomwagon at Soup to Nuts."
Danys gave a wistful sigh as he
climbed into Sandy's truck. "I wish
I could learn soup care, but it's not
like they're offering that in any of
the continuing ed classes."
"Yeah, me too," Sandy said,
pulling her truck onto the road,
"especially the way things have
been going in town. We've gotten
a few too many calls already, and
what're we supposed to do if a soup
gets seriously hurt in a way that involves
their superpowers -- freaking guess?"
Then they turned from that topic
to discussing what to teach the teens,
and brainstorming ideas for the fun surprises
that Sandy had stashed in the back.
* * *
Sandy Vierra -- She has naturally tan skin, brown eyes, and long curly brown hair. Her body is muscular with wide shoulders, flat chest, and narrow hips. Her heritage is predominantly Latina with some Chinese plus a little British and Italian. She speaks English, Mandarin, and Spanish. Athletic and boisterous, Sandy loves communal sports such as beach volleyball or cooperative obstacle courses. She also enjoys waterfront recreation such as beachcombing and exploring tidepools, and she volunteers to protect baby sea turtles from predators as they scramble toward the waves. On the weekends she likes to visit the Pacific Ocean; during the week she favors the Merced River. Her favorite reading is the trashy fiction characterized as "beach books."
At home Sandy has landscaped her entire yard with plants, primarily native to the area, that require no supplemental watering except to establish new ones. Her house is a lovely little one-bedroom cottage with a studio loft which she has turned into a personal gym. One of her neighbors is a Yokut man who likes to make things from traditional materials. Sandy trades him things from her yard in exchange for him looking after her place when she gets called in to work suddenly or is injured.
Sandy serves as a firefighter in Mercedes, California. Her courage and energy make her very popular with her teammates. She is interested in learning soup care, but hasn't had an opportunity yet. Sandy is not good at ladythings such as painting her face or walking in high heels. She thinks she's hawt enough in fireproof pants and a sport bra. She is right.
Qualities: Master (+6) Boundless Energy, Master (+6) Courage, Expert (+4) Athlete, Expert (+4) Firefighter, Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Beach Fun, Good (+2) Hawt, Good (+2) Teamwork, Good (+2) Thermodynamics, Good (+2) Xericulture
Poor (-2) Ladythings
Danys Abrego -- He has sorrel skin, black eyes, and nappy black hair which he wears in many long braids. He has just a tuft of beard at the tip of his jaw. His heritage includes Mexican and Haitian. He survived some pretty bad abuse in Haiti as a small boy, before his family moved to America; it makes him sensitive about protecting other people. Danys speaks English, Haitian Creole, Haitian French, and Mexican Spanish. He is also studying Filipino, but he is terrible at it.
Danys works for the Mercedes Fire Department as a firefighter/paramedic. He excels at teamwork, but his impulsive nature poses significant challenges to his professional development. He's young, though -- just out of college -- and his mentor Sandy Vierra feels confident that he'll grow out of it, as most people do. He is interested in learning soup care, but hasn't had an opportunity yet. As a teenager, Danys enjoyed Sankofa Club and now does safety presentations for them. He is a ladies' man (and occasionally a gentlemen's man too) with a knack for sexy stunts such as holding a whole egg in his mouth and knotting cherry stems with his tongue.
Qualities: Expert (+2) Teamwork, Good (+2) Firefighter/Paramedic, Good (+2) Sexy Stunts (), Good (+2) Upstander
Poor (-2) Impulsive
Emergency workers such as firefighters and nurses should know key phrases in as many locally used languages as possible. In addition to Spanish, Chinese is gaining popularity in some areas. In parts of local-California, fire crew bosses can be fired for not speaking Spanish, and Terramagne-American departments often require at basic phrases in a wider range of languages. However, L-American conservatives have often blocked measures trying to teach basic phrases, arguing that it's the victims' responsibility to understand rescue workers. Language barriers are everyone's problem, and here are some ways to cope with them.
Benjamin Smithers -- He has fair skin and gray eyes. His dark hair is going gray, buzzed almost down to the scalp. He has a short white mustache. He has an old scar down his right cheek from sheltering another fireman in a building collapse. Benjamin serves as the Fire Chief in Mercedes, California. He does a fantastic job of bargaining for funds and a capable job of safety analysis. However, his bigotry causes problems, not just inside the department but throughout the town.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Politicking, Good (+2) Civic Duty, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Fire Science
Poor (-2) Bigot
This is Shana, a cheerleader.
Mark Hastings is the blond and Anthony Dice is the brunet.
Jules is on the left, Mariset in the middle. Here is Jules from the front with his hair dyed, and here is his firefighter ink. The front view of Mariset shows her Egyptian heritage.
Here is Bethan, who drives the zoomwagon at Soup to Nuts.
* * *
The Mercedes Fire Station customarily staffs three squads of six firefighting employees. On each team, two are firefighters, two are paramedics, and two are firefighter/paramedics; one of whom is the lieutenant in charge of the team. The monofocal employees are cross-trained in the basics of the opposite job. This allows a good balance between flexibility and specialization. Each team serves a 24-hour shift. The team that just left is logged hard off-duty. The team that will come up next is considered soft off-duty, unless other arrangements have been made. In case of emergency, the next-up team may be called in early, although they get overtime for this. Normally, surges and other extra demands are covered by an additional 6 employees who work a 40-hour week. Preferably, those are firefighter/paramedics, but that's more flexible. Then there's the fire chief and his assistant chief, plus assorted other office and support staff. Thanks to the chief's political connections, Mercedes has enough budget to do most of its staffing with full-time professionals, although they do supplement some areas with part-time or volunteer staff.
T-American safety standards require a minimum of 4 firefighters deployed per engine, and 2 medics per ambulance. There are some exceptions for sending additional crew in smaller amounts, if at least one full crew is already on the scene. Advanced Life Support requires two paramedics. For Basic Life Support, one paramedic and one EMT may be deployed. Larger crews for major emergencies may consist of two paramedics augmented with more EMTs, but some services add a field nurse or even a field doctor to the team. The latter is more common in big cities, airports, or places where some calls are likely to be catastrophic.
Here is a sitemap of the Mercedes Fire Station. See the exterior, front view, and directional views. Here is a cross-section of the truck bay and the climbing wall. These are the floor plans.
The fire department has a rescue ambulance with light rescue, Advanced Life Support, and transportation capacity. See the left side, right side, front, back, rear compartment, and cab.
Here is the paramedic truck, which also serves as the department's utility vehicle for running errands or transporting personnel.
T-American Fire Safety is commonly offered in Little Spark (up to 5), Junior (ages 6-12) and Teen (13-17) ranges, along with adult classes in college or community centers. Little Sparks begin with self-preservation skills: identifying a fire/smoke, understanding fire alarms, stop-drop-and-roll, crawling, stepstool safety, and calling for help. They usually wear kiddie fire helmets. Juniors explore prevention, what to do if someone flickers a pyrokinetic superpower, how fires burn, gauging the size of a fire, heat-testing doors, how to carry and use garden hoses and fire extinguishers, dragging child-size dummies to safety, tower climb over a playset, a low rope course, stepladder safety, and first aid for mild to moderate burns. Fire departments may have child-size firefighting gear for them to wear. Teens study thermodynamics, the different types of fire extinguishers and their uses, when and how to break windows or doors for escaping a fire, emergency teamwork, supporting a real firehose with a firefighter handling the nozzle, dragging teen-size dummies alone or adult-size in teams, navigating an obstacle course with smoke bombs representing fire, a high rope course, extension ladder safety, putting out several types of test fires, and first aid for more serious burns. They wear firefighting gear. Adult classes range from basics for people who missed those growing up through pre-professional training for people who want to enter a firefighting academy. These add things like effects of toxic fumes, advanced discussion of superpowers, climbing firetruck ladders, climbing a five-story tower while wearing a high-rise pack, using a fire hydrant, handling firehoses including hose hoist and advance, forcible entry, and rescue of heavy victims. They wear full firefighting gear including the supplemental air supply. Classes for minors may have a fee if private, but most fire departments offer free fire safety training at least once a year. People may also be able to hire firefighters to do special presentations -- a nice safety boost for schools or clubs, and a nice donation boost to the department's upkeep or compensation budgets. Classes for adults often have a sliding scale due to using more advanced materials, but some communities offer these free as well.
Teen Responder classes may cover such things as babysitting and first aid on up to EMT training. Disaster Readiness Actions for Teens and Community Emergency Response Training offer additional options. Some of these cover a very wide range of possible problems. In T-America, emergency education scales up with age and spans a variety of topics in school; field trips to individual emergency services go into more depth.
While people typically think of bullying as a problem among teens, it also happens when adults bully teens. Abuse of authority is thought of as a workplace issue, but it happens routinely by adults against youth, and sometimes with emergency services such as firefighters. Be an upstander, and know how to fight back. Most importantly, realize that if young people derive no benefit from following the rules, they will cease to do so.
The National Hate Crimes Office is an organization which tracks prejudiced offenses in T-America, often abbreviated NHCO and pronounced "nekko." It's an awkward compromise between people who are serious about stomping out hate crimes and people who like hate crimes but can't afford to say so publically. So NHCO has very little enforcement ability and was meant to look like it's doing something without being very effective. In practice, its members have learned to use their tools to mount oblique attacks on bigotry that are far more influential. While warnings and fines have some modest effect, the real short-term power lies in creating a track record of bigots and their activities which is used to justify convictions and stronger sentences when they come to court through other routes. The long-term plan is gathering a mass of data about bigots, how they think, and which tactics are effective in stopping them -- to be presented later along with a serious plan for thwarting hate crime, framed in a manner that will make it obvious anyone opposing the propositions is doing so because they really like hate crimes. So NHCO has no real teeth of its own, but considerable reach. Annoy them and they will gather data to hand over to someone else who does have teeth. For an office that a lot of bigots tried to cripple, NHCO is surprisingly effective.
See the Firefighter/Paramedic T-shirt that Danys wears. This is Sandy's firefighter T-shirt. They're on the clock, but assigned to a class group rather than to the apparatus bay. So they're wearing clothes that indicate their roles, instead of their regular uniforms, to underline that distinction.
Sandy has a red pickup truck with a silver flame design. See the left side, right side, front, cab, radio, and matching fire extinguisher.