Chicago Nightmare

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Lieutenant James Schrodinger of the Chicago Fire Department was in eminent peril. He found himself in a narrow corridor lined by a dozen drab wooden doors. The thick black smoke engulfing the ceiling banked down the graffiti laden walls. He took a deep breath from his mask.

The suffocating smoke darkened and the heat grew unbearable. James’s ears beneath his flash hood felt as though they might ignite. The ominous sign was unmistakable. The hallway would soon erupt into a hellish inferno. The apocalypse would consume any firefighter unfortunate enough to be trapped by the demonic firestorm.

James was alone on the top floor. He had gotten separated from his partner while searching for a homeless man reported trapped on the top floor. A partial collapse of the roof separated the two. James was not able to deploy in time the small diameter rope that he carried. As a result the firefighters were forced to find their own way out of the five story building.

His grip on his axe tightened nervously as James proceeded down the hallway. He silently prayed that his leather helmet, hood, air pack, mask and bunker jacket and pants could withstand the coming flames. He knew that the fire would reach temperatures that far exceeded the protective equipment's rating.

Fleeting images of his partner flashed through his mind. He forced his thoughts to tur to the dire situation at hand. James feared his wife being made a widow.

The abandoned eighty-year-old brick structure had been vacated three years previously. The sound of children that once could heard down the many passageways had been muted by the late night shrills of vagrants and addicts. This night, however, the cracking and popping of flames were the only sounds that could be heard.

James fled from the ensuing heat and through a nearby wooden door. He crawled in and slammed the door to provide a brief reprieve from the fire. Rapidly scanning the room he found that it was too smoky to see more than a few inches from his face. He probed the walls with his hands for an escape route.

After several confusing moments he realized that he was in a tiny studio apartment. He found the back bedroom and window he hoped led to the outside.

He had two choices before him, both of which may lead to his demise. Back in the main corridor was a conflagration. A wall of intense fire was likely by now raging towards his temporary oasis. In its continuous search for fuel nothing would be spared.

To go the other direction, through the window, would require a forty-five leap of faith. Knowing his discretionary time was nearly exhausted, James determined his course of action. He found the nylon bag containing the twenty-five foot escape rope.

James heard a crash as the heat in the room suddenly spiked. The front door had succumbed to the fire. At any moment the apartment in its entirety would erupt into flame as the hallway had.

He raised the ax and broke the window with a sharp jab. With a motion repeated hundreds of times in training, James unclipped his rope bag, pulled out the thin cord and tied it to the ax’s shaft. He held it diagonally in the lower corner of the window. The fireman then kicked the blade deep into the sheet-rock, replicating a grappling hook’s claw.

The smothering heat banked down from above. James’s breathing quickened.

The other end of the cord was thrown out the window into the midnight air. A middle portion was then wrapped several times around a steel reinforced strap of his air pack acting as a friction device to slow his descent. Carefully he crouched on the sill. A sick feeling flashed through his stomach.

James hesitated momentarily before embarking over the sill. He firmly placed his feet against the brick outer wall and bounced down the side of the building. The Lieutenant was forced to stop at the end of his line still nearly twenty feet above the sidewalk. Dangling below his egress point he stared up as the apartment burst into a fireball. Before he could further consider the implications of letting go the rope snapped.


Lorrie Schrodinger watched the morning news in horror. One Chicago firefighter killed and three injured in late night blaze.

Too stunned to react she stood flabbergasted for several agonizing moments. In desperation she pleaded with God that James was not one of the firefighters involved in the incident. They had been married for fourteen years. She couldn’t imagine life without him.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts. The pardon was short lived as she considered their eight year old son. He was a well-adjusted young man that was a carbon copy of his father. In the event that James were suddenly gone the emotional trauma would likely haunt him the rest of his life.

Ring… Lorrie bolted upright at the ringing of her cell. She reached her hand to answer the phone then faltered. Could it be the department on the other line bearing bad news?

Ring… Part of her was dying inside to learn her husband’s fate. From Lorrie’s perspective, until she received definitive news James was both dead and alive. If she answered the phone she would seal her husband’s fate.

Ring... Ring… Click.

About the Author: 
Since my youth I have been fascinated with quantum mechanics. My father and I would talk late into the evening about the nature of the world. The simple queries posed have remained with me long since his death. I am a career firefighter, paramedic, army vet and father of three.