Wendy and Linda Hutcheson
Blair reached for the thermos resting on the floor of the truck and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. He held the cup in both hands trying to warm up a little.
This was the third night in a row that they had been stuck on this stakeout and they had yet to even spot the suspect. A series of gas station robberies had been occurring for the last month. The case had broken wide open when the attendant at the last station had tried to prevent the robbery. The crook was identified when his mask had been ripped off during the struggle with the clerk. The gas station's security cameras had managed to capture a clear shot of his face. He was a two- strike felon named Harrison. A conviction resulting from this arrest would put him away for good.
The mayor, who was up for re-election this year, was campaigning on the platform that his administration had "made Cascade the safest city in America." The crime spree was headline news, and his opponent was capitalizing on the issue with the media. Therefore, after chewing out Simon for the lack of progress on the case, he demanded that Major Crime's best team be assigned to the case, Detectives James Ellison and Blair Sandburg.
"Cold and wet is my world. Tell me, Jim, why does Simon always stick us with the midnight shift on these stakeouts?" Blair took a sip from his coffee cup. Blair hated stakeouts. Stakeouts were the most boring duty that could be assigned to a cop, but on a cold, rainy night in March, they were the absolute worst. No heat in the truck because a running engine would attract attention and the visibility was poor, unless, of course, you happen to be a Sentinel.
"I don't know, Chief. What have you done to piss him off lately?" Jim looked over at his shivering partner with a wide grin on his face. "Where is that silly Fargo hat of yours? You should have brought it with you. That hat would keep you warm."
"It disappeared the last time I wore it to the station. Brown said that it crawled under his desk and died. He promised that he gave it a nice funeral."
Jim chuckled and focused on the house across the street.
"Actually, I saw him with it in the records department. He was trying to convince Vera that it was a live critter and to pet it. I was gonna get it back from him but we had to rush off to meet Sneaks, so I didn't get a chance."
"Don't worry about it, Chief. He'll return it eventually. Actually, maybe you should worry about HOW he's gonna give it back. Knowing Henri, I predicate that it will be in a very creative manner."
"I'll get it back. I'm not worried about it. Back to your original question, I haven't done anything to tick off Simon. Well, at least nothing lately. Well, nothing that he knows about anyway. Hey, maybe it was your behavior at the Mayor's last..." Blair's quick-witted response was interrupted by Jim's cell phone ringing.
"Ellison... Hey Captain... OK... Great... Gee, thanks a lot, Sir," Jim replied sarcastically before he disconnected the call, returning the cell phone to his coat pocket.
"We lucked out, Chief. The stakeout's over. Harrison was picked up by Rafe and Brown at his girlfriend's place."
"Great." Blair yawned and stretched his stiff back. "It's about time, I've had enough of sitting around in this truck bored out of my mind and freezing to death. What time is it anyway?"
"Almost 6:15 AM. Simon said we didn't have to be in the station before three, so we can catch a few hours of sleep at the loft before we head into the station to finish up the paperwork. Wasn't that nice of him?"
"We've been working double shifts for the last three days. We should have had to work at least two more before Simon cut us a little slack and what do you mean WE finish up the paperwork? When was the last time you did the paperwork after a case? What you really mean is that I'll finish up the paperwork, while you and Megan argue about something."
"Well, Chief, you are the JUNIOR detective in this partnership and you do have the most experience doing paperwork."
"Yeah, well at least I get paid for doing it now. Let's get out of here." Blair gazed out the windshield at the slowly brightening sky. "Look, it's finally stopped raining."
Jim started the truck and headed for the loft. Both men were silent as they headed for home. Each man was caught up in his own thoughts. It had been a long week for both of them. They had three other active cases that they couldn't let slide, in addition to the Harrison case stakeout assignment. They both badly needed a few hours sleep.
Jim glanced over at his partner and recalled the half-spoken statement that had been interrupted by Simon's call. "Chief, do you want to finish what you were saying before Simon's call interrupted you? You were about to say something about MY behavior at the Mayor's reception, I believe."
"Well, Jim, how shall I put this politely, you were a little abrupt when the Mayor was introducing you to those reporters."
"I was supposed to be on duty. I was there to be his head of security, not his Majesty's toy soldier, his own private Cop of the Year doll to be put on display for the press whenever it's convenient for him and his campaign."
"Jim, I note a little hostility here. Didn't the Rangers or Covert Ops require you to take some kind of course in proper protocol when dealing with a superior officer? Brown-nosing a senior officer 101."
"Chief, I wouldn't go there if I were you. One of these days you'll give Simon a heart attack, when you actually remember that he should be called Sir or Captain Banks in the bullpen. The way I see it, we got stuck with this shift because of what you were doing at the reception."
"Who, me? What did I do?" Blair asked with a clearly feigned innocent expression plastered across his face.
"Do you have any idea who it was you were fl..." Jim's voice trailed off as his attention was drawn to a truck that had jumped the curb and was resting on the sidewalk. As Jim focused his senses on the suspicious vehicle, his foot automatically slipped from the accelerator.
"Hey, man, why are you slowing down?" Blair asked curiously. Just then he noticed that Jim's attention was focused on a white cargo truck parked on the side of the road along Chiang Kai Shek Park. Well, Blair thought, actually, most of the truck was parked on the sidewalk, not on the road. Even though he loved the great outdoors, Blair didn't like this particular park. He had enough bad memories from this park to last him a lifetime. Jim had been poisoned with the opium beads here, during the horrible case involving the assassin Lila Hobsen. Jim may have thought that Lila was the 'one', but his senses knew better.
"Come on, Jim, let the meter maids handle this. I really want to get home, you know, nice hot shower, nice soft bed and a few hours sleep before tackling the mountain of paperwork at the bullpen. Jim... JIM... JIM... Earth to Jim, Come in please!" Blair growled, frustrated at his partner, whose attention was now focused on the rear view mirror.
"Sandburg, I can see the driver. He's still in the truck. Something's wrong." Jim quickly pulled his truck over to the side of the street a few hundred feet in front of the cargo truck, and turned off the engine. Jim opened his door and walked to the back of his Ford pickup. Blair, slamming his door, exited the truck right behind him.
Blair turned his attention to the accident site. He noticed the driver was slumped over the steering wheel of the vehicle. "Yeah, I think you're right."
Jim was tuning his hearing to the still figure in the truck. "Damn, I can't hear a heartbeat. Driver must be dead."
Jim, with his long stride, started towards the white vehicle. Suddenly, he came to a dead stop, coughing and choking. Blair rushed to his side, putting his hands opposite Jim's shoulders to provide support. Jim continued to choke, his eyes starting to water.
"Chief, can you smell that?"
"Oh, yeah, man this stuff is awful. Jim, dial down your sense of smell. Put it down as far as it can go. This smells horrible to me. I can't imagine what it smells like to you. What is that stink?"
"I'm not sure. I can't quite place the odor. It's almost like sulfur." Jim slowly started towards the cargo truck again. As Blair started to follow, he noticed liquid dripping from underneath the truck and the morning fog seemed to be heavier around the truck. Slight tendrils of a memory from his undergraduate days at Rainier flashed across Blair's mind too quickly for him to grab hold of it.
"JIM, hold up a second!" Blair yelled, not noticing that Jim had already stopped again. His partner's hands were held out like he was trying to feel the air directly in front of him. Blair, with a puzzled expression, reached his hand out to Jim's back to provide an anchor so his friend could concentrate on his senses. "Jim, what's going on, what are you sensing?"
"Something really strange is going on here." Jim took a couple of steps forward, a few to the side, then two steps backward. He looked over at his partner, a confused look crossing his face. "I swear, the closer we get to that truck, the warmer the air is getting."
Rubbing his forehead with one hand, then brushing a loose piece of hair back behind his ear, Blair tried again to recall that elusive memory. Jim watched Blair's expressive face as myriad thoughts were examined and discarded.
Jim could tell immediately when Blair finally locked on to it though. He could have sworn he had actually seen the light bulb appear over Sandburg's head. Blair looked over at Jim and started to explain, as usual, more with his hands than his voice.
"Oh boy, during my undergrad days at Rainier, I was dating this chemistry major. Her name was Colleen. She was a redhead. You know Jim, you would have liked her. She had the most amazing..."
"One-track mind, Romeo, let's get back to the subject at hand, please," Jim interrupted.
"Anyway, I picked up a few things from her and get your mind out of the gutter. She got burned once during a lab experiment, she added water to acid instead of acid to water or vice versa, I don't remember for sure exactly, but I do remember the burn, really painful, and in a not so convenient place. I also remember her telling me when you mix a strong acid with water, well it generates a serious amount of heat. She called it an exothermic reaction. Look, there, under the truck, it looks like there is a leak, that trickle there is in the wrong place to be condensation. Last night's rain soaked this area really well. We could be in really deep here. If it is an acid, it could be reacting with the concrete in the sidewalk or with the water, in some kind of a neutralization reaction."
Jim rolled his eyes, wondering how long Blair could actually continue without pausing to fill his lungs with air. "Breathe, Blair. Take a nice deep breath." Blair paused and slowly inhaled and then loudly exhaled. "Good, Chief, now, tell me what else can you remember?"
"Some acids, like oleum, commonly known as pure sulfuric acid, well they don't really have a smell, not to a normal nose anyway. You might be able to smell it though. Anyway, pure acid fumes could have overcome the driver before he could realize there was a problem. Particularly, if he was very tired or he had frequently hauled chemicals, after a while you become used to the odors and don't really notice them. The strength of the odor we smelled only happened because there's some type of reaction occurring. I also remember that strong acids can eat through certain types of metal. Colleen showed me one night when we were in the lab alone together, dropped a nickel in a beaker of fuming sulfuric acid. It was really cool..."
Realizing it was impossible for Sandburg to stay on one topic during an explanation, Jim broke into his partner's lecture. "Chief, let's table this discussion and take it elsewhere, preferably, at a much safer distance from that." He pointed with his thumb back at the cargo van.
"Jim, what about the driver? Should we just leave him there?"
"For now, it's pretty dangerous to approach that truck without some protective equipment."
Jim and Blair both turned around and started jogging back to Jim's truck. With a sly grin on his face, Blair grabbed Jim by the arm to get his attention.
"Hey Jim, it could have been worse you know. With our luck, we could have approached from downwind instead of upwind of that mess."
Jim smiled faintly as he playfully whapped Blair on the back of the head. "Sandburg, go call it in! We don't have a lot of time here. In about thirty minutes this street is gonna be active with morning traffic headed for work and the park trails are open at 8:00."
Blair quickly headed for the front seat of Jim's truck. His backpack was in the front seat, a carryover from his academic days when stuck on boring stakeout. He always made sure he had several notebooks or research journals with him. No matter what his job title was, officially or unofficially, he would always be a student of anthropology. Right now, he needed one of the notebooks from his police academy days.
One of the lectures he had attended was a "First Responder Awareness Level" training course. The course was designed for persons likely to witness or discover a hazardous substance release to be able to notify the proper authorities with the information. Since the police department was often the first emergency response group to arrive at an accident scene, it was now standard operation procedure for all rookies to attend the training course. The notebook contained a summary of the information he needed to provide to the dispatcher.
In spite of the mayor's campaign rhetoric. The city of Cascade had a long history of strange and dangerous incidents, which had ranged from the threat of the Ebola virus being released to black market nuclear bomb material. Therefore, Cascade had a fully staffed and well-equipped Hazardous Material Emergency Response Team. He grabbed his cell phone and started to report to the station. "Dispatch, this is Detective Sandburg. We have a hazardous materials incident in progress at Washington and Fourth. It appears that the driver is dead, so consider this and IDLH incident. I repeat, this is an Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health incident. We need the hazmat team dispatched to this location. We also need roadblocks at..."
As his partner was calling in the incident, Jim scanned the area with his senses. The incident's location was both good and bad news. There weren't any houses on this street. This entire neighborhood had been reclaimed by the city and turned into a park. One of the mayor's city beautification projects. That was the good news. No residents to be evacuated. That made Cascade PD's job much easier. Jim remembered a similar incident a few years back that occurred in a residential area. It had been hell trying to convince people to leave their homes and belongings quickly and safely. This was also a fortunate location because there were only two intersections that had to be blocked off to prevent traffic flow into the area. It would be easy to contain the scene.
The bad news was that the truck was parked halfway up a large hill. Directly outside the passenger side door of the truck was a grassy slope that led downward into the park towards a small pond. Also, directly behind the truck, and unfortunately also on a downward slope, Jim could see a manhole cover.
The sky was much brighter now, and the leak under the truck was obviously getting much worse. The trickle was rapidly becoming a small stream of liquid pooling onto the sidewalk. The pool had now grown large enough to overflow onto the grass. Gravity was directing the runoff from the pool straight towards the manhole cover, and the city's sewer system.
Jim yelled back to his partner. "Hey, Chief, tell them to warn the water treatment plant that they have a serious contamination problem heading their way. They also might want to contact the utility departments, let them know what's going on so they can pull their people out of this area."
"Got it, Jim." Blair continued to update dispatch on the situation.
Jim refocused his hearing on the scene of the accident. He could hear sirens in the distance, but there was a much more ominous sound coming from the truck. He knew he had heard that noise some place before, but he couldn't quite place it. As he was trying to decipher what he was hearing, the sound of his partner's voice distracted him.
"Hey Jim, they've connected me with the hazmat team's incident commander. Its Deborah Reeves, remember her? She says that the team is already in route, but since we are already here, she has some questions for us. Hopefully, we can give them some idea of what they are going to be dealing with. I've already let them know that we think we are dealing with an acid spill. I mentioned the sulfur smell as well as the fume cloud."
Jim could hear her voice over the radio, he remembered her as the tough-nosed arson investigator on the warehouse fires a few years ago. Their investigation styles had definitely clashed, but they had found some common ground. She had liked surfing too. He hadn't realized she had come back to the city. He responded to his partner with a smirk, "Fire away, Chief."
"Very funny, tough guy. OK, first she wants to know if there are any DOT placards on the sides of the truck. Those are diamond shaped signs. They would be on all four sides of the truck with a four digit number printed on them."
Jim scanned the two sides of the truck that were visible from his vantage point. "Nothing, no signs, no numbers, just a plain white cargo truck. The trucking company's logo isn't even on the sides. There aren't any visible markings that would identify the truck from the outside."
He heard Blair relay that information over the radio. Jim could hear her next comment over the radio himself. "I assume you guys were smart enough to stay upwind, but keep in mind that you shouldn't be any closer than 600 feet to the spill area. We will be coordinating with your department to establish an isolation perimeter a half mile from the site. Can you see if..."
Just as Blair started to relay the next question, the sound that Jim had been trying to decipher became loud enough for even those without Sentinel level hearing. Jim and Blair both ducked for cover. Jim dived underneath the back of his truck and Blair flattened himself along the length of the seat inside the cab of the truck, as the sounds of several explosions roared over them. A large crash was heard along with the sound of rushing water. After several long moments, Blair finally raised his head and checked out the back window. He realized that he couldn't locate his partner.
Frantically, Blair called out, "Jim, answer me! Are you OK?" Hearing an answering groan from behind the truck, Blair exited the pickup and raced to his fallen friend. Jim was lying on his side on the pavement. One arm was moving weakly in the direction of his head and one leg was slowly being drawn towards his torso. He knelt down beside his friend and with shaking hands cautiously rolled his partner onto his back, being careful to support Jim's head and neck. Blair quickly removed his jacket, placing it gently under his partner's head. Blair was checking his partner's ribcage for injuries when Jim stirred again and made a weak attempt to rise.
"Whoa, take it easy, buddy. Don't try to move yet. Just lie still," Blair instructed with a concerned voice, putting one hand on Jim's chest to keep him from moving and his other hand under Jim's neck for support.
"I'm OK, Chief, I used my head to soften the landing," Jim quipped, wincing a little at the pain in his head. "Help me up."
Blair took a deep breath and slowly let it out, shaking his head at his partner. "Very funny, are you sure you're not hurt anyplace else?" Blair tried to look at Jim's eyes to make sure there was no evidence of a concussion.
"Yeah, I'm sure. I'm fine. My ears are ringing, but I'm OK." Jim, with a little help from Blair's arm across his back, managed to sit half way up this time. He sat on the asphalt, holding both hands up to his head while resting his forearms on his knees.
Blair lowered the tailgate of the truck, and then assisted his partner to his feet so that Jim could sit down a little more comfortably without having to move very far. As he reached down to pick up his jacket, Blair looked back at the accident site. It appeared that the bottom of the cargo truck had completely fallen to the pavement, and the passenger side panel now had a large jagged hole blown outwards from inside the truck.
Several broken open barrels were now lying in the street. A half dozen more were residing on the grass near the sidewalk and down the hillside towards the pond. Several of which also appeared to be leaking. The contents of the barrels were seeping into the wet ground. The bottoms of several other drums could be seen still residing in what was left of the truck. The small stream had become a torrent, cascading down the street, overwhelming the manhole and rushing down the street towards the intersection.
Blair was surveying the damage that was rapidly expanding across the park grounds. As Blair watched, he could see the ground literally start to boil and bubble. The chemicals were reacting with the wet ground. As the temperature increased, pressure was building up and forcing trapped air pockets to the surface. It looked like tiny little volcanoes of dirt erupting in the grassy area.
"Jim, we have a major problem here." The environmentalist in Blair was disgusted by the destruction of ecosystem and the cop in him was concerned by the potential exposure danger to the public.
However, Jim's attention was concentrated on the growing fume cloud that was slowly moving in the direction of the officers at the roadblock that had been established downwind of the accident.
"I know, Chief, and it's increasing by the minute. Let's allow the professionals to take over this situation, huh?" Jim could hear Deborah's voice over the radio, demanding to know what was going on. As Jim looked up the street, he could see that the hazmat team had arrived and had started to establish a command post at the top of the hill.
Jim gathered his strength to stand up and then realized he was going to need a little assistance. "Help me up, buddy, and let's get out of here."
Blair reached out his arm to his partner for some support. "Give me the keys to the truck Jim. You're in no shape to drive right now." Blair held out his hand and waved his finger palm up, pinning his partner with an intense glare.
"I'm fine, Chief," Jim answered, with a negative shake of his head as he stood up, leaning only slightly on his partner for balance.
"Jim, remember I'm armed now. Don't argue with me on this," Blair demanded in a firm tone and a slightly evil smirk.
Realizing he wasn't going to win this argument, Jim reluctantly dug into his pocket for the keys to the truck and held them out to his partner. Blair quickly grabbed them. Both men climbed into the truck. Blair started up the engine and headed for the command post that was being established upwind of the spill site at the top of the hill.
Activity was bustling at the command post. There was a light wind at the site, but no heavy gusts. The previous night's storms had moved completely out of the area, leaving behind a few scattered clouds.
Blair pushed the gearshift into park, turned off the engine and took the keys out of the ignition. Jim reached across the seat and grabbed the keys from his partner before he could pocket them. Gingerly, Jim exited the truck. Blair watched his partner's slow moving form and asked "Are you sure you're OK?"
"I'm sure. Let's go, Chief."
He and Blair looked around the command post for Commander Reeves. The decon area was already set up. A half dozen people already wore the Level-A containment suits, minus the hoods, and looked very much like giant blue Pillsbury doughboys.
Jim spotted Simon standing with Commander Reeves and what looked to be the entire hazmat team by the mobile command vehicle. It appeared that they were just getting ready to start the initial briefing. Jim tapped Blair on the shoulder and pointed over to Simon. "There they are."
The two men wove their way through the crowd over to their Captain.
"Hi Simon. What are you doing here?" Blair asked with a quiet but slightly flippant tone.
"Gee, Sandburg," answered Simon as he removed his cigar from his mouth, pointing it at the smaller man, "I hear a call over the radio about a hazardous spill, shouldn't I automatically assume that you two would be right in the middle of it? Where else should I be?" Simon replied in his usual gruff tone, with a steely-eyed glare at Sandburg. But Blair, used to Simon's posturing, smiled right back at him.
Simon paused as he fondly remembered the golden days when Sandburg had some minimum level of fear when he spoke. "Seriously, as senior officer on the scene for Cascade PD. I'm coordinating our services with the incident commander. So gentlemen, and I use that term loosely in your case, Sandburg, let's pay attention to Commander Reeves."
"...Davis, you're Safety Officer. Simpson, sorry about this but you're the designated Media Liaison this time. Please try to keep that pack of vultures out of our way. Walters, you're the Communications Officer. Fire Chief Branson, you're the Operations Coordinator." As Commander Reeves was speaking, she was handing out truly god-awful, hot pink vests with each person's designated title printed in large letters on the front and back. "Everyone, this is Captain Simon Banks of Cascade PD. He will be handling Security. Captain, there is no smoking in this area. The other two men with him are detectives on his staff, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg..."
As Simon reached out to take his vest, he spoke under his breath, in his best captain's voice, to his two detectives. "One word from either of you about this vest, and you will be doing the entire unit's paperwork for the next six months. Am I understood?"
Both Jim and Blair fought to contain their laughter at the image of their normally very conservatively dressed captain wearing that particular article of clothing. Simon extinguished his cigar and put on the vest. Staring at his men, he awaited their response.
Barely managing to keep a straight face, Jim and Blair replied simultaneously, with a sloppy salute to their fearsome leader in his new hot pink vest, "Yes, SIR!" As Simon refocused his attention on the meeting, Blair whispered to his partner, "I wish I had a camera. This is definitely a Kodak moment." Jim shook his head and bit his tongue to keep from laughing out loud.
When they finally succeeded in controlling their mirth, they were able to listen to the final instructions being given to the entry team. "Remember people, this is an initial recon only. Henderson, I want you to check out the driver. The manifest for the load should be on the driver's side door. Grab that on your way. Peters, you check those drums in the truck for labels or other identification. Let's move it!"
The entry team finished suiting up and headed for the cargo truck. The other team members quickly assumed their posts. Only Chief Branson remained. Commander Reeves turned around and faced the men standing behind her.
"What's the status of your teams?"
Simon started his portion of the briefing. "Cascade PD. has established an isolation zone a half mile in all directions around the spill site. Traffic is being routed away from this area at a distance of two miles as a safety zone."
The fire chief continued with his portion of the briefing. "We have two pumper trucks stationed one quarter mile downwind of the spill site. We are ready to create a water curtain to knock that fume cloud down as soon as it reaches us. My men are suited up and already in position. We have also laid out plastic sheets on the street in front of absorbent booms. That should prevent the contamination from spreading any further. We have a vacuum truck on standby to immediately clean up the runoff from the water curtain."
Blair interrupted the fire chief at that point. "The spill is not confined to the street. Several barrels were thrown into the park as a result of that explosion. Part of the grassy area on the far side of the truck has already been contaminated and the runoff may have already made it to the pond."
"Damn, there isn't much we can do about that right now. We have to get the initial spill zone and the fume cloud contained first, then we can worry about the cleanup of the park." Commander Reeves walked over to the mobile command unit to establish radio contact with her entry team.
"Henderson, what do you have for me?"
"Commander, the driver is definitely dead. It's really not a pretty sight. Whatever this stuff is, it's very corrosive to human tissue. It looks like the drums that were up against the back of the cab were the first to go. There is evidence that the chemical ate its way through the cab of the truck. It's probable that fumes overcame the driver, which resulted in the truck running off the road. There's no paperwork about the load anywhere in the cab of the truck. I don't see anything that could identify the trucking company, or where the material was picked up. The driver's logbook is pretty incomplete."
Commander Reeves shook her head in frustration. "How about you, Peters? What have you got?"
"Bad news: most of these drums have multiple labels on them, all indicating different chemicals in the same drum. No way to sort out which label is accurate. I've done a quick litmus paper check on several of the barrels lying on the street. So far, they have all indicated a pH less than 1. We are dealing with some type of acid..."
Jim noticed that Blair's attention was concentrated on the accident site rather than the radio conversation. He whispered to his partner, "Hey, Darwin, I can see the smoke coming out of your ears. Your brain is obviously about to overload. Want to let me in on what you're thinking?"
Blair responded with a thoughtful expression. "Why did that explosion occur? I understand that the barrels could have leaked. The metal on the truck's cab being eaten away and taking out the driver makes sense. The sulfur odor and the mist cloud, everything we've seen points to an acid like sulfuric being spilled. But, none of those facts explains that explosion. We are missing something here, something important. There is more going on inside that truck than a simple acid leak."
Commander Reeves overheard the two men's discussion, "I think you're right, Sandburg. We are missing something. Peters, I want you to check the drums on the park grounds, then check what you can inside the truck. Be careful, the explosion earlier was caused by something in that storage compartment. It was strong enough to launch those barrels through the side panel. Captain Banks, would you run the truck's plates through Motor Vehicles? Get me the name of the owner from the registration records."
Simon moved to the side of the command post to relay the license plate information to the dispatcher at police headquarters. As he waited for a response, he motioned to Blair for a pen and notepad. Blair reached into his jacket pocket and produced a pencil. Jim handed the Captain his notepad. Simon wrote down the name AAA Trucking Company with a phone number underneath. Simon then quickly dialed the trucking company, and explained the situation. The owner was extremely helpful. His regular driver had called in sick. He had recommended a friend, an independent driver, as a replacement driver. The schedule indicated only one pickup the previous night, a company called ChemCO, a large chemical factory in downtown Cascade.
Before Simon could dial ChemCO's number, Peters' voice crackled over the radio. Everyone at the command post fell completely silent as they listened to the report. "There are at least another twenty drums inside the truck, and none of them are in good shape. It's a mixed load. There are several different sized containers in the storage compartment; most of them are identified with lab pack labels. I also checked the drums on the park grounds. Three of those barrels are still completely intact. I think we had a BLEVE, Commander, though it appears that the temperature within the storage compartment has since stabilized."
The safety officer caught Reeves's attention and tapped on his watch.
"Peters, Henderson, come back right now, your time's up. There is just enough left in the air packs to get you through decon."
Reeves looked over at the three detectives. All wearing the same very confused expression, and translated what had been reported.
"The phrase 'mixed load' simply means we have a variety of different chemicals packed in the truck. Lab packs are bad news. Lab packs are a mixture of compatible chemicals that have been combined in the same container. Most lab packs are made up of waste material from a laboratory that couldn't be put down the drain. There isn't any way to identify the chemicals without an in- depth qualitative analysis. The word BLEVE is short for boiling liquid-expanding vapor explosion. When the temperature inside a drum or tank increases, the liquid inside can be converted to a gas, increasing the pressure faster than the safety valve can relieve it. It can reach the point where the drum can explode. Think of it as a large cannon. That's why several of the drums are still intact. They were literally launched from the truck like a cannonball, from the drums underneath exploding. Some of these explosions have been known to launch drums several hundred feet in the air. In this case, the majority of the force was dissipated by the energy required to penetrate the truck's side panel. Since the temperature has now stabilized, we can assume that the chemicals that have already spilled have completely reacted. Still it would be a good idea to contact ChemCO. See if they can identify the probable components of those lab packs."
The Commander, with a relieved smile, walked over to debrief the entry team as they left the decon zone. The worst of any potential problems with this type of incident had already occurred. As long as the remaining drums stayed intact, it was a relatively straightforward cleanup operation.
Simon was on hold. Again. He had explained the situation to three different bureaucrats at ChemCO already. Each person had been unwilling to give any details of the shipment and passed him up the executive food chain. He was currently speaking with the executive secretary of the President of ChemCO when he noticed two unidentified men wandering around the command post. Simon moved in their direction. Tapping the taller of the two men on the shoulder Simon asked, "Can I help you?"
The smaller of the two men reached for his identification. "I'm Inspector David Cole from the Department of Justice and this is Inspector Robert Williams from the Environmental Protection Agency. We were looking to report in to Commander Reeves. We have some information for her."
Just then, the secretary that had put Simon on hold returned to the line. Simon held up one finger to the men in front of him as he focused his attention on the voice coming from his cell phone. "I'm sorry, Sir, but the President is unavailable right now. Would you like to leave a message?"
"No, Ms. Witch, I don't want to leave a message. This is an emergency situation, I need to speak with someone who can give me some straight answers and I need those answers right NOW!"
Inspector Cole caught Simon's attention and mouthed the word ChemCO, pointing at the phone with one finger. Simon quickly nodded, and the inspector motioned for the phone. Simon, with a delighted smile, handed the phone over.
"Ms. Witch, this is Inspector Cole from the DOJ. Tell Mr. Edwards that I can be at his office in fifteen minutes with both a search and an arrest warrant, or he can speak with me right now."
"One moment please, Mr. Cole."
After he was put on hold, Inspector Cole with a smile explained, "It's not just her name, it's her personality too. My department has a long history with ChemCO. They have had numerous violations of both the air and water standards. Several audits of their records have been completed over the last six months revealing numerous problems with their shipping practices. Right now they are under several court orders to straighten out their... Hello Mr. Edwards. You seem to have a major problem..."
Inspector Williams continued the explanation. "The EPA just one month ago signed off on an agreement with ChemCO closing out one of those orders. One of the conditions was that all their people had to be trained on the handling of hazardous wastes. According to the documents they submitted to us, all their personnel had completed the training, so we agreed to discontinue the order. That's why the DOJ is involved in this particular incident. Up 'til now, all we have been able to do to ChemCO is issue civil penalties concerning violations. They have managed to avoid all criminal charges. This time, they can't claim ignorance, or that 'they are working on the problem'. This time the charges against them will be criminal. The law specifies that the company shipping the hazardous material is responsible for making sure that its wastes are disposed of in an appropriate manner, and that any truck leaving their facility is properly placarded and has the correct paperwork. This time there is no one else to blame. The law also states that any company shipping hazardous materials must maintain a twenty-four hour emergency contact number. In event of an accident like this one, information can be made available quickly to the Emergency Response Teams. If you send me a written summary of the run-around you've gotten, we can add another nail to ChemCO's coffin."
Jim and Blair stood silently together watching the cleanup activities taking place at the site. It was almost 10:00 AM. Crews were removing the remaining barrels from the truck, placing the entire barrel into slightly larger drums until they could be decontaminated. The fume cloud had already been controlled and dissipated by the fire department's water curtain. The vacuum truck was removing the runoff from behind the absorbent boom. The water would be taken to the water treatment plant to be purified.
The contamination in the park hadn't reached as far as the pond. But, the water would have to be tested repeatedly over the next few days due to the possibility of contaminated groundwater seepage. The soil in the vicinity of the accident site had been completely poisoned. The city was going to have to bring in heavy equipment to excavate the area that had been contaminated by the chemicals. All the soil would have to be hauled to a hazardous waste landfill. A two hundred square foot area of the park would have to be back filled, and replanted due to the damage from the chemicals. For now the hazmat team had simply taped off the area until the street spill area was cleared.
Blair finally broke the silence. "There isn't enough money in the world to get me to do that job. Think about it, Jim. These people intentionally walk into a situation from which any sane and rational person would be running away as fast as he could." Blair looked up at Jim and continued with a broad smile, "When you think about it, I guess this city has more than one 'Blessed Protector.' You know, warriors protecting the tribe from threat of invasion, even the chemical type. I feel, I don't know, kind of in awe of them and what they are willing to do."
"I know what you mean, Chief. This isn't a situation I'd want to be a part of on a regular basis either. It takes a very special type of person to take charge of this type of incident. Two of the three basic requirements for the job are knowledge and skill."
"What's the third requirement? "
"Will, Chief, the will to make a stand and protect those who don't have the ability to protect themselves. Knowledge and skill are easy to impart to anyone who is interested in learning. But 'will' can't be taught. It is inherent in the individual. And Blair, whether you believe it or not, you have the same will, or you wouldn't be standing here." Jim paused as he heard a phone ringing behind him. He turned to look, as Simon answered his cell phone.
"Banks... When... How long have they been out of contact... O.K. We're on it." Simon closed his cell phone and reported the bad news to the Commander. "The Cascade Power Company notified headquarters that they have lost contact with one of their maintenance crews. They were working over on Sixth Street. That's beyond the two-mile perimeter we established, so they didn't think there would be a problem sending the crew out there."
"I thought we had this situation contained. We are going to have to expand the isolation perimeter out past that point. The fumes will be more concentrated in a confined space like the sewer system and they would have traveled quicker."
"I'll have my people expand the isolation zone. Jim and Blair can check on the missing crew." Simon looked around the area for his two detectives. "SANDBURG! ELLISON! Front and center! Reeves has a little job for the two of you." Simon radioed to the officers manning the roadblocks to expand the safety zone out to a five-mile radius and requested more personnel from headquarters.
Reeves grabbed two bags of equipment from the command vehicle and handed them to the two detectives. "The missing crew may just be experiencing radio difficulties, or they simply didn't hear the call. Though truthfully I'm concerned. Crews are always supposed to leave one person at street level during any type of confined space entry as a safety measure. If you can't find that missing utility crew at their initial entry site, you can work your way down the street pulling manhole covers. We'd have to do that anyway to allow fresh air into the system. However, do not under any circumstances enter the sewer system to locate them. I know, this probably goes against every instinct you have as a cop to protect the public, but in the case of a potential chemical exposure, you have to be properly equipped and trained for entry. You would not believe how many 'rescuers' my team has had to retrieve. Unfortunately, in most cases, the victims that the rescuers were trying to save, were already dead."
Jim interrupted, "I know, Commander, during my time in the military, I received training equivalent to your Hazardous Materials Technicians. I'm more than capable of assessing the situation." Blair turned and stared at his partner with a surprised expression.
Reeves nodded her head and continued, "In each bag is a radio that is tuned to the hazmat team's frequency. Use these to report in. Also, in the bag are you personal protective equipment. This is a Tyvex suit, it will provide some basic protection to your clothes and skin, wear it. This is a chemical cartridge respirator. Before you go pulling any manhole covers, put these on. If the fumes have traveled that far, these will protect you. Jim, since you have had some previous training, I'll assume you know how to fit test these and can help Blair."
"OK, these are pocket masks for use with artificial respiration. You can't perform mouth to mouth resuscitation on a victim of chemical exposure. You will only put yourselves at risk. These masks have a one-way valve. Use them if anyone on that crew is in respiratory distress. That's everything, gentlemen. Please check in with Communications Officer Walters as soon as you arrive at the scene, and keep him informed of your activities."
Jim and Blair grabbed the bags, and headed for the truck.
As the truck pulled away from the command post, both men noticed the arrival of the circus, the typical media feeding frenzy that accompanied accidents such as this. Television news vans were blocking most of the street. Jim slowly attempted to steer the truck through the obstacle course of parked vehicles. Reporters and camera crews swarmed the truck, like piranha on fresh meat.
Blair glanced over at Jim's face, spotted his clenched jaw and warned, "Jim be a good cop and listen to your partner right now. I know what you're thinking, but remember, it's a felony. Don't do it. I don't want to have to arrest you. In your case, with your reputation and history with the press, they'll probably consider it premeditated."
Jim eyed his partner with a wry grin. "Don't worry, these guys have heads like bricks. I'd do more damage to my truck than to any of them. My insurance rates are high enough as it is."
Jim finally managed to get around all the parked vehicles and the tempting moving targets, and headed for Sixth Street. He glanced over at his partner and noticed a familiar gleam in his eyes. Blair got this same look, every time he was about to pry into Jim's personal life.
Resigned to the situation, Jim rolled his eyes and invited the inquisition to begin. "OK, Chief, go ahead, ask me whatever it is that you want to know. The suspense is killing me."
"Nah, it's not like that, Jim, you just surprised me. That's all. I thought I had already pried all your military history out of you. Everything you hadn't already repressed anyway. I didn't realize that you had received hazmat training during your tour of duty."
"Chief, in both the Army Rangers and Covert Ops, we had to deal with some pretty deadly biological and chemical agents. I don't like to remember that time. We saw first hand the deadly after-effects of their release into an unprotected population. They're not pretty memories. Those level-A suits were horrible to wear. They were extremely hot, very heavy and even I couldn't see much out of the plastic faceplates because they fog over so completely. It is not an experience I care to repeat and before you ask, no, I can't give you any details of specific incidents. So don't even bother. Besides, it really wasn't relevant. My certification expired a long time ago. Those guys have to have complete physicals, pass endurance tests and attend an eight hour refresher course every year in order to wear those suits."
"Wow, Jim, I think that's the longest explanation I've ever heard you give."
"What can I say, you're rubbing off on me. They also need to be able to stay very calm in these type situations. The medical history established a baseline blood pressure and pulse rate. If either of those indicators gets too high, the person is immediately pulled from the incident, no exceptions."
Blair eyed his partner carefully. He could tell that his friend was getting caught up in the memories of one of those past incidents. Jim's jaw was starting to clench and his knuckles were white because he was gripping the steering wheel so tightly. He couldn't let those old memories overwhelm his friend. Blair knew from his undergrad days, specifically his psychology classes, that one of the best ways to relieve stress was with humor.
"Just what did you mean before? I mean that comment about what I was doing at the Mayor's reception. I wasn't anywhere near the mayor. I couldn't possibly have ticked him off. I spent most of the evening dancing and chatting with a very nice young lady."
"Yeah, Chief, so I saw. Do you have any idea who that nice young lady was?"
"She said her name was Jennifer Watson. She's an art major at Rainier. She's going to graduate this spring. She was over 21. I'm over 21. So what's the big deal?"
"She also happens to be the Chief of Police's niece. He wasn't really pleased with your flirting with his favorite niece."
"Oops, she didn't mention that little detail."
"Good answer, Chief. You sure do know how to pick them."
"It's a gift."
"More likely a curse."
"Is not!" Blair denied.
"Is too!" Jim insisted. "OK, Blair, let's examine your dating history. Maya was such a wonderful choice. Wasn't she part of the plot to have you kidnapped with that boyfriend of hers? How about Sam from forensics who almost burned your hair off when she gave you that flask, and who could forget Iris? Just how many times did she have a gun pointed at you?"
"Hey, Jim. First of all, you were the one who set me up with Maya. Secondly, you remember that saying about people in glass houses not throwing stones. Don't talk to me about curses and women. Let's look at your track record with women. Let's start with Laura, remember her, the thief, or Lila, nice woman, great assassin, and let's not forget Veronica, first she sets you up to kill her husband, then she arranges for Aldo to kill you, not exactly marriage material."
"Laura was the result of pheromones. It wasn't exactly a voluntary choice. Anyway, I didn't have this problem with women before you moved in with me, Darwin. My money says that you brought the curse into the loft. Isn't there a ritual we could perform to get rid of it? Some rite, from some obscure tribe somewhere."
"I don't know. Maybe we should both just quit trying to date. You know, get a room together at St. Sebastian's. Contemplate the error of our ways. We'd save a lot of money that way. No rent to pay, no utilities and a really cheap wardrobe, robes and sandals provided for free."
After a moment of silence, both men stared at each other and in perfect unison answered "NAH!"
"No TV, no radio, and more importantly, no paycheck."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Besides, those robes are really drafty."
Jim slowed the truck down as he approached the perimeter roadblock a few blocks before Sixth Street. "Hey Chief, look who got stuck on traffic duty."
Blair looked out the windshield with a wide grin on his face. Standing in front of the roadblock were Rafe and Brown. Jim rolled down his window as he pulled up beside his friends. "Hey guys, did you complete the paperwork on the Harrison case yet?"
Henri leaned on the driver's side door and answered, "Yeah, it's sitting on Simon's desk. We had just finished up when Simon called in asking for all available officers. How about you guys? How did you get stuck out here?"
Blair leaned across the seat and answered, "We found the truck."
Henri yelled back to his partner, "That's twenty bucks you owe me. I told you only Ellison and Hairboy could cause this much trouble this early in the day."
"Hey Blair and I found the mess, we didn't cause it, and by the way, return my partner's hat." Jim answered indignantly as he rolled up his window.
Jim drove the truck around the roadblock and headed for the turn onto Sixth Street. It was easy to spot where the utility crew had been set up; the manhole was surrounded with orange cones. The vehicle was parked in a manner as to protect the people working the site.
Jim parked the truck in front of the work zone. As he headed for the open manhole surrounded by the orange barricade, his partner checked out the utility truck. "No one's here. What have you got?"
Jim scanned the area with his senses, attempting to focus his efforts on the tunnels located under the asphalt. "Nothing, I can't hear anyone. OK, Chief, suit up, and let's get moving."
Each man grabbed one of the bags provided by Commander Reeves. They quickly dressed in the Tyvex suits, and Jim gave Blair a run-down on how to properly wear the respirator, and tested to see if the seal was tight. Blair spotted the next manhole cover up the street, and headed in that direction. Jim grabbed a crowbar out of his truck to use to remove the cover.
"Jim, dial down your hearing." Blair instructed, entering guide mode. "Metal grating on metal can make a pretty nasty noise to normal hearing."
Jim focused on controlling his hearing as Blair removed the first manhole cover with the crowbar. Neither man could see anything under the first cover they removed. At the second manhole they found the missing crew. One man was slumped against the bottom of the ladder. It appeared he had attempted to climb up with his coworker in tow and had fallen back down into the sewer. Blair spotted the hand of the third member of the crew off to the right of the two men directly below them. He grabbed hold of the first ladder rung and started to climb down. Jim, somewhat forcefully, hauled him back to street level.
"What! Let go of me. They are right below us. We have to get to them."
Mournfully, Jim shook his head and refused to let go of his guide. "I can't hear them, Chief, no sound of any of their heartbeats. Sorry Chief, we're too late. We can't help them now."
"No!" Blair cried out, looking down at the men only fifteen feet below him. "No, we can't leave them like this. Maybe it hasn't been that long. We can try to get them out. Deborah said that the respirators would protect us from the acid fumes. We have to try."
"Chief, there were other chemicals involved besides the acid. We don't know for sure that the acid is what affected those men down there. Remember what Deborah said, about rescuing corpses. Chief, call Walters, tell them what we found and ask for instructions. They are the experts. It's not worth the risk going down there. There's probably nothing we can do to help them now. They have been missing for over an hour. It won't hurt to leave them there a little longer."
Blair nodded, with a resigned sigh, pulled the radio out of his pocket and called in to the command post. Jim replaced the manhole cover over the resting-place of the three utility workers.
Walters had agreed with Jim. It was too dangerous to enter the underground tunnels without a proper recon. The hazmat team was sending over people to investigate the site and remove the bodies. All Jim and Blair could do now was contain the scene and wait for them to arrive.
Jim looked over at his partner, who couldn't seem to take his eyes off the manhole where the three utility workers lay. Jim sighed. Blair's compassion for others was his strongest gift as Shaman of the Great City and was his greatest weakness on the job as an active detective.
Jim thought back on the running argument that had started early that morning and had continued through out this entire disaster. "Hey, Chief, did you ever consider that Simon assigns us the midnight shift on stake-outs, because he knows that my abilities as a Sentinel give me the edge on other detectives." Jim paused, took a deep breath and continued, "Because he knows that I can focus and use those abilities because I have you at my side to guide me and keep me out of trouble."
Blair looked thoughtful for a minute before replying with a grin. "Nah, that couldn't be the reason. Simon's not smart enough to figure that out."
"I'll tell him you said so."
Jim and Blair entered the bullpen early. None of the other detectives had arrived yet. Simon's office was obviously occupied. The lights were on, but the door was closed and the blinds were shut. Jim took Blair's jacket and hung it on the coat rack with his own. Blair headed straight for the break room to grab a couple of cups of coffee. Jim sat down at his desk and started to sort through several files that had appeared on his desk over night.
Blair left one of the coffee cups at his partner's elbow on the way to his own desk, noticing a shoebox on top of it. As he sat down, he realized that attached to the box was a cardboard tombstone. Written on the front were the words, 'Rest in Peace'. Blair carefully lifted the lid from the box and started to laugh.
Jim looked over at his partner wondering what had set off his partner. Blair lifted his missing hat out of the shoebox. "Well at least Brown hadn't really buried it"
Simon reached back for his now freshly brewed pot of coffee. Spending almost all of yesterday out in the field had put him way behind on his administrative work. He definitely needed a refill before continuing to review the paperwork on the Harrison case. He had just settled back in his chair with the file in hand when he heard a knock on his door. He looked up to see Jim and Blair standing in the doorway.
"Got a minute, Simon?" Jim asked tentatively. Simon nodded and waved them into his office.
"Come in, gentlemen, coffee?" Jim and Blair entered Simon's office. Blair took up his usual position, sitting on the table. Jim preferred to remain standing in front of Simon's desk.
Blair shook his head answering, "No thanks, Simon."
"Me neither. Here are the autopsy reports, Sir, on the three utility workers. They all died of asphyxiation. When the rescue team went into the sewer, they discovered the oxygen content in the tunnels had dropped below 13 percent. It wasn't directly a result of the spill. They figure some by-product reaction occurred and consumed the oxygen in the tunnels slowly enough that the men didn't notice what was going on. When he lost contact with the other members of his crew, the third man went down to find out what happened. He had enough time to find them, but not enough energy to carry them out. We'll probably never know exactly what happened down there but it is possible that if Blair and I had gone down there, we could have lost consciousness and been killed also."
Jim paused as Blair added; "Even Jim's senses could not have discovered the problem. It takes special monitoring equipment to detect the lack of oxygen."
Jim resumed his summary. "We also have some information about what happened at the ChemCO shipping dock that night. We know what caused the chemicals in the truck to react. You wouldn't believe what brought about this mess, Simon. The loading dock at the company ran out of both glass and ceramic lined barrels."
"Which is how strong acids are supposed to be stored for transport," Blair interrupted.
"Anyway," continued Jim, "rather than waiting for the proper containers, somebody out there approved putting the acid into plain steel drums. With that strong an acid, it didn't take long before the integrity of the drums was compromised. No one will admit to who exactly made that decision, and supposedly there will be a strict internal investigation."
"The EPA also plans on doing their own independent investigation. Agent Cole has already filed criminal charges against both ChemCO's Board of Director's and the Foreman in charge of the shipping area that night. He expects more charges to be filed as the investigation proceeds," added Blair.
Simon removed his glasses and tiredly rubbed his eyes. "So, four people were killed and the city has a million dollar cleanup all because some guy on a loading dock didn't follow procedure."
"That about covers it. The city can get its money back from the chemical company. They are legally responsible for the incident. Under federal law, they are responsible both for the cleanup costs and for the cost of restoring the area to its original state. I'm sure the families of the men killed will also have their day in court. The replacement driver for the trucking company had never hauled chemicals before. His cargo was usually livestock. He was not familiar with the rules about the truck needing to be properly placarded and having the proper paperwork available."
Blair added, "Also explains why he couldn't smell anything."
Simon replaced his glasses, and reached for a cigar. "I've heard enough for now. Is the paperwork finished?"
Jim passed over the completed case folder. Simon glanced at it briefly.
"Make sure a copy of this is forwarded to both Agent Cole and Agent Williams." Simon added the file to the pile in his in-box. "Since today is Thursday and the two of you were on for over twenty four hours as a result of this incident, why don't you guys get out of here. Take the rest of the week off." Simon frowned at his detectives, pushing his glasses up on his nose, then added with a pleading tone, "Just stay out of trouble. Will you, please?"
"Thanks, Simon. Let's get out of here before he changes his mind, Chief."
They grabbed their jackets and headed out of the bullpen for the elevator. Jim pushed the button for the parking garage level, as the doors closed. Jim looked over at his partner, who was standing quietly leaning against the back of the elevator staring at the floor. Ever since his experience at the Wilkenson Tower, Blair usually talked a mile a minute in elevators to distract himself from the unpleasant memories. "Blair, what's going through that head of yours?"
Blair looked over at his partner, responding to the question with a sad smile on his face. "I don't think I said thank you for not letting me climb down that manhole. Thanks, I mean that."
Jim saw his chance to lighten up his guide's mood a little and took it. "Part of the job, Chief. It's the Blessed Protector Union's prime directive." Jim held his right hand up, like he was taking an oath. "Let no harm come to the Blessed Protectee under threat of the ultimate torture, no Wonderburger EVER again. I had to take the oath in order to receive the cape and tights. I couldn't help myself," answered Jim, dropping his arm over his partner's shoulders. The elevator doors opened at the parking garage level.
Blair looked up at his Sentinel, big brother, best friend and partner. The bounce returned to his step as they headed for the truck, amazed at the silly mood his partner was displaying. "You really need some more sleep, man."
Jim simply tightened his arm around his friend's neck and gave his guide a noogie.
Blair struggled to break free from the Sentinel's hold on him, then with a silly grin crossing his face added, "You know what else, Jim? I'm never going near that park again! I swear that place is jinxed for us."
"I agree, I most definitely agree, partner. Since Simon has granted us a nice long weekend, let's go camping. Head for the mountains. Maybe go fishing. What could possibly go wrong?" Jim used his hand to cover up his partner's mouth and continued with, "Never mind, don't answer that!"
The two men climbed into the truck, exited the parking garage and headed for home.
Like this episode? Email the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to comment on production? Contact Black Panther Productions: email@example.com
The story you have just read is based loosely on three actual events. The first event was the initial 40-hour training that our hazmat team at work experienced. As a group, we died 4 times that week. The errors ranged from setting up the command post too close to the incident to taking the wrong action because of incorrect labels. The second event was my first major incident response, a sulfuric acid spill. The ground really does appear to boil, and I learned the hard way, how quickly upwind can switch to downwind as a result of building downwash.
The third incident occurred during a refresher course last fall. During class, in addition to reviewing truck and rail transportation laws and required paper work, we also studied several incidents that other teams across the country handled that went horribly wrong. The one that has affected me the most was where two workers were reported missing at the end of their shift. Three additional workers, who initially found them, also went down when they entered the tank. The rescue crew that went in first wore simple respirators. They also succumbed. The hazmat team was finally called and went in with Level A suits. All 7 people were dead. An autopsy revealed that the first 3 workers had died immediately at the beginning of the shift. The tank had held a chemical whose fumes were heavier than air so, at the bottom of the tank there was no air, just fumes.
I knew I had been watching too much of 'The Sentinel' because my first thought during class was; Jim would have known they were already dead, which immediately led to other thoughts of when heightened senses would be of great assistance during an incident. Thus 'Hazardous Duty' was conceived.
Early versions were encouraged and edited by Laurie and Kathy, without whom this story would have deeply buried on my hard disk. Thanks guys! Also I like to express my gratitude to Black Panther Productions for accepting the story. Particularly, to Shallan, who was kind enough to talk me through the second and third doubts I had about posting this. I realize that this wasn't a conventional Sentinel episode, I hope you enjoyed it anyway.