The fire warning bell mounted high on the station wall rang. One, two, three, four, five, six times it rang. There was a pause. It rang again, six times. In every station throughout the city, firefighters stiffened and fell silent. The bell rang six times for the third time. Prayers went skyward, but the bell rang a final six times.
The loudspeaker came on. "The department regrets to announce..."
A firefighter had died.
Tim Bernard gasped for breath. He strove to keep his legs churning, his eyes fixed on the staircase in front of him. His partner ran beside him, panting with exertion. Laden as both were with full equipment, the six stories of the practice tower seemed to stretch straight up for at least for a mile.
If neither could spare breath for encouragement, other members of Rescue Squad 32 were vocal in their support. Cheers and demands and loud yells rang through the tower. Over all was the voice of the Battalion Chief, counting the seconds.
"One minute, fifty, fifty-one, fifty two..."
They had to break two minutes and fifteen seconds to win, to become the number one Rescue team in the entire district. They represented their Squad, their station, their Battalion. Tim hooked one hand on the banister, swinging himself around to the final flight of stair. His partner's hand grabbed his harness, using his momentum to catapult up several steps ahead. He shifted his gear and two free hands gripped and pulled each other along.
"Nine, ten, eleven...
With one last lunge they dove through the doorway to the top. The voice cut off with a loud yell of "Two minutes, thirteen!" and the waiting firefighters mobbed them.
As hands pounded him on the back and relieved him of his gear he felt a hand grasp his ear. The fingers pulled him around. He turned and a pair of lips met his, giving him one full blown kiss and then several others on his cheeks.
"Woooohoooooo!" screamed his partner, Firefighter First Class Carrie Southward. She flung her arms around him and bounced up and down. "we did it, we did it, we did it! We're Number One!"
Tim hugged Carrie back, dancing up and down with her. Reluctantly he broke the embrace as Chief Taylor stepped up to them, his face beaming.
"Good job you two!" He surveyed the pair with pride. "Now all you have to do is get ready for the city wide competition. Cut another seven seconds off that time and you'll stand a chance of winning. Judging by all the yelling you're doing there Carrie, you have plenty of spare breath to drag Tim up those stairs a bit faster." He started away and then turned back, a twinkle in his eyes.
"By the way, Tim, you've got lipstick all over your face."
The assembled firefighters laughed. Carrie winked at Tim and surveyed the crowd. "Just marking my partner," she mock growled. "Any one seeing that shade of lipstick had better back off."
The whoops, whistles and yells redoubled. Carrie's best friend Traci Bell's voice rang through the clamor. "Is that a threat or a promise, Carrie?"
"Maybe both," Carrie responded as she and Tim gathered their equipment. She groaned as she surveyed the stairs. "I guess I can't get any brave, sweet firefighter to carry this down for me?" She batted her eyes at the assembled crowd.
Three of the guys offered, two rather eagerly. Tim couldn't blame them. Carrie was attractive, even in the shapeless uniform. She wasn't classically beautiful, but her snub nose and the riot of short, red curls peeking from the brim of her helmet matched her full lips and the impish grin that always seemed to be present. Tim knew well from seeing her around the station that her body was shapely, the muscles that the job demanded making her somehow even more feminine rather than less so.
"Okay you all," Tim pretended to grumble. "To paraphrase someone who was just speaking, 'That's MY partner'. All you starry-eyed guys back off. Besides, Carrie," his eyes twinkled, "How about you show some of that liberated self-sufficient woman you are supposed to be and carry your own gear?"
"Why, Timothy," Carrie batted her eyelashes at her partner as she hoisted her load to her shoulder. "Are you jealous?"
Tim opened his mouth for an indignant denial. Then he grinned sheepishly. "Maybe I am," he admitted.
"Well," she suddenly surprised him as her expression grew serious. "Maybe it's about darn time you are."
Tim was rocked. He wondered if Carrie had guessed the feelings that had been growing inside him for the past few months. They had been partners for almost a year now. He had been a bit surprised to get a female partner, but knew that she had to meet the same physical, mental and emotional standards as any male firefighter in order to be assigned to a Rescue Squad
For her part, Carrie had also felt the attraction between them. That attraction seemed to be building every day that they worked together, every hour that they spent in station and every minute they spent in their truck. As she suspected Tim had, Carrie had fought it at first, reminding herself that partners should never get involved, be it romantically or even simply physically.
Fighting it hadn't helped. It was too darn easy to be attracted to Tim. He was tall, well, taller than her anyway. He had an easy grin and great, friendly nature to go along with his good looks. He had that "Jimmy Stewart awww shucks" attitude that made him friends everywhere, including quite a few members of the opposite sex, most of whom she firmly believed were much better looking than she. She figured one advantage she had was that Tim's attitude was no put-on; he really was as modest and unassuming as he appeared and didn't realize how those other females hung on him.
Carrie blushed to herself about one other thing. One day she had darted into the guys' sleeping area to get a book that one of the other firefighters had borrowed and had forgotten to return. As she scampered out she had heard the door to the men's shower close. Unable to resist she had looked back to see Tim crossing the room to his bunk, clad only in a towel. She had drunk in his lean, muscular build. Then the towel had gapped at his leg and she had seen his cock. While she was hardly a virgin, nor someone who was impressed by size alone, she had decided he was very nicely equipped there.
She would have been relieved, as well as probably quite amused, had she known that Tim was in a similar quandary. He had been drawn to Carrie first as a partner, someone he had found he could trust and depend on in any situation. He enjoyed her continual sense of humor, her ability to relax those around her in the tightest situation with a wisecrack. She also had tremendous compassion and the willingness to use it regardless of the situation.
Tim had really begun to appreciate that side of Carrie the day that he and another team struggled to extract two children from the back seat of an overturned car lying in a ditch. While the three men fought with the jaws of life, Carrie had managed to wiggle through a small gap in the shattered back window. For what seemed like hours she had hung upside down, holding the children's hands, talking and singing to them, and keeping their minds occupied until Tim and the others had freed them. Then she rode in the ambulance with them to the hospital and stayed with them while they were treated. and then waited with them until their father arrived and their mother was out of surgery.
Tim, to his regret, had never seen Carrie in a towel. However, during a Fire/Police Department competition for charity he had the opportunity to watch Carrie participate in a couple of races. Since it was a very warm summer afternoon, she had been wearing only running shoes, a loose tank top and VERY short nylon shorts. In fact, Tim's only problem had been his desire to watch Carrie's supple, strong legs and at the same time keep his eyes on her top, where her nipples were quite apparent through the sweat soaked material.
Tim couldn't understand why Carrie seemed to feel that she was a "Plain-Jane". Often when they went out for a beer or to eat after their shift, guys would hit on her. Good-looking guys, much more so than Tim considered himself to be. She always seemed to brush them off. It drove him crazy that she couldn't seem to see just how lovely she really was.
Finally the day came that their hidden feelings would bubble to the surface. It occurred when returning from a false alarm one day. Automatically monitoring the radio traffic while chatting, both of them recognized the address for a fire call involving trapped civilians.
"That call is practically right around the corner," exclaimed Tim. "Report us in on it."
Carrie nodded and grabbed the mike as Tim flipped the red lights and siren on. "Dispatch, this is Rescue 15. We're two minutes out." Tim stomped on the gas and Carrie corrected, "Make that one minute, Dispatch."
The truck squealed around a corner. The column of smoke was obvious from blocks away. They roared up to the wooden two story house, already furiously on fire. As they jumped out a woman ran up to them screaming.
"My children! My children! Oh God, please!"
As Tim grabbed the breathing gear from the side locker, Carrie swiftly gathered the information on the two children, more from a neighbor than the understandably hysterical woman. The pair of firefighters ran towards the house as Carrie filled Tim on the situation.
"Two girls. Their bedroom is at the top of the stairs on the left. They were taking a nap."
Tim nodded as they rushed through the front door, already smoldering. They both took the situation in with one quick glance. The lower floor was almost fully engulfed and the stairs felt shaky as they mounted them.
.... There is more of this story ...