The fire started in the kitchen, he told me, his mother and aunt had been drinking, and forgot about the pan of oil on the stovetop. It ignited, then before they could put it out the stove caught fire. It was an oil stove, he said, before they had natural gas. He was in the attic bedroom with his brother when he smelled the smoke, and heard the screams from downstairs.
The fire spread quickly, the entire first floor went up, then the flames came after him and his brother. He was terrified, and thought he would die. His brother went to a window, and stood on the ledge as the fire trucks approached, but he couldn’t wait, and he jumped. A branch from a tree punctured his side, and he died shortly after hitting the ground. He waited, a six year old boy, alone in an attic, fire approaching, heat intolerable, smoke choking him, but he waited, and the firemen came, and picked him up, and covered him best they could and carried him out of the house.
We sat in silence for a moment then, and I looked again at his leg, his entire calf and shin covered with scars from the skin grafts. The scars went all the way up he told me, but those firemen saved his life, and would have saved his brother, too, if he had waited.
“You fellas do a heck of a job” he said, as I checked the flow of the IV, and rechecked his vitals. He’s in his sixties now, has had four heart attacks, lives with a defibrillator implanted in his chest, and deformed legs, and a lost brother in 1954.
The sixty-something year old man on my stretcher still had the sparkle of the six year old kid whose life was forever marked all those years ago as he told me his story, and let another generation of Providence Firefighters do their job.
I closed my eyes for a moment, and pictured the old Jakes as they must have looked back then, and realized they were likely younger than me when they saved my patients life the first time. But to Albert it doesn’t really matter, because when he needs us, we are there.