Book excerpt: 'Brotherhood by Fire'
A novel by Lindy Bell inspired by the true-life story of firefighter occupational cancer and the people it hurts
"Brotherhood by Fire" by Lindy Bell was inspired by a firefighter who died in the line of duty after exposure to cancer-causing agents. The following excerpt is from Chapter 59 after Andy's release from the hospital following injuries sustained at a large house fire. The rigors of Andy's cancer and subsequent treatments have made it impossible for him to continue working, and while grieving the thought of having to step away from active duty, Andy realizes it's best, not only for his sake, but for the safety of the crew he esteems so highly. Before leaving, Andy works to set right his relationship with his lieutenant in spite of their long-running feud.
By Lindy Bell
Andy took a deep breath before opening the back door to the station and hobbling inside. The crew — his crew — were at the dining table and looked up as he entered.
“Garrett, what are you doing here? When did you get out of the hospital?” Jernigan asked.
“Well . . . I got out yesterday.”
“How are you doing?” Hart asked.
“Actually, that’s what I came to talk to you guys about.”
Andy looked at them and cleared his throat. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you guys. Ironically, I was about to tell you when we got the call that caused this,” he said, pointing to his ankle.
With great effort he continued. “What I’ve been needing to tell you is that . . . well, you see . . . well . . . I’ve got cancer — pancreatic cancer to be exact. It’s serious.”
Andy paused for several difficult seconds, fighting to hide the sadness about to overwhelm him. Finally, he said what had to be said. “It’s time for me to step away from active duty and go on disability leave. I can’t handle the physical demands anymore, and I’d just be putting you guys and myself at risk.”
“Actually,” Andy swallowed several times before adding, “I’m not sure I’ll be coming back.”
Each shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“And guys,” Andy continued, “do me a favor . . . please.”
“Name it,” Jernigan said.
“Promise that if you feel different, see something different, anything different about how you’re acting or feeling, please go to the doctor and have it checked. I’ve found out, firefighters are especially susceptible to cancer these days because of what we breathe in when we’re in a fire or even after. I don’t mean to preach,” Andy said earnestly, “but it’s a matter of life and death. I waited too long. If I’d seen a doctor earlier, I would have a better chance but now . . . I just don’t know and the odds aren’t in my favor.”
“I wanted to tell you guys myself and thank you for all the help you’ve given me over the past months. Don’t think I haven’t noticed, because I have. And now, for the fun part. I get to tell Bentley.”
They looked at him in disbelief.
“Guys, guys,” Andy said. “You gotta give Bentley another chance. I think he feels really bad about what happened, and — ”
“Are you kidding me, Garrett! Jernigan shouted. “Did that concussion knock all the sense out of your thick head?”
“No — it didn’t,” Andy said. “but — ”
Silence fell heavy as Andy looked at the faces staring at him. He was beginning to wonder what he’d been thinking himself.
Suddenly, Bentley walked in but froze midstep when he saw Andy.
“Garrett, what are you doing here?”
“Actually,” Andy said, standing shakily, “I’ve come to see you.”
“We can talk in my office.”
Andy followed Bentley and gently shut the door.
“Garrett, I wanted — ”
“Mike, before you say anything, let me say this, and it doesn’t come easy. But I’ve decided to let all the animosity between us go and hope you’ll do the same. I just wanted to be a firefighter — plain and simple.”
Bentley’s shoulders sagged. “I’ve come to realize, Andy, that I’ve been jealous of you. I’ve worked hard trying to earn the respect and trust of the guys as well as the respect of the Chief, but I still don’t have what you have with them. You have no idea how frustrating it has been.”
Andy was caught off guard by Bentley’s candor. “Yeah, well, I think actually, I do have a general idea of how frustrated you’ve been. But let’s put everything in the past and leave it there.”
“As far as being jealous, don’t be. There is something else . . .” Andy relayed the same information he just told the crew, catching Bentley by surprise.
“You’ve been doing chemo and still came to work?”
“Yeah . . . and radiation and taking an experimental drug,” Andy said with a slight smile. “I’ve been busy.”
“I was going to tell you about it the day of the big fire but it’s best for me and ultimately you guys, for me to go on disability leave.”
“Even after everything between us, I can’t imagine being in the fire service without you. Things certainly won’t be the same around here without your juvenile antics.”
Andy cocked an eyebrow. “Juvenile, huh?”
They both laughed before Andy asked, “Mike, can I give you a word of advice?”
“Well, sure . . .”
“Get out there and be with the guys. You’ll be a better officer if you spend time with your crew and get them behind you.”
Andy struggled to his feet and stuck out his hand. “It’s been an honor, Mike.”
Shaking Andy’s hand Bentley said, “The honor has been mine.”
They made their way back down the hall to find the guys waiting expectantly.
Andy’s heart sped up. The time had come.
“Well, I guess this is it,” Andy said quietly. “It’s been an honor and pleasure.”
Andy looked each in the eye and shook their hands.
“And remember,” Andy said, nodding Bentley’s direction, “everyone deserves a second chance.”
Hesitating, but with a firm nod to the group, Andy took each painful step that carried him away from the career he loved. The guys behind him couldn’t see the battle raging inside. He fought the urge to look back, just one more time, not only at his compatriots, and friends, but at the brothers he’d served with. He wanted one last glimpse as a firefighter, and an insider of the brotherhood and the firefighter’s life he loved, but it would be too hard. Instead, he stiffened his back, opened the door, and hobbled out.
Before the door closed, Andy heard Bentley say, “Mind if I join you?” There was silence and then the sound of chairs scraping across the floor.
"Brotherhood by Fire"
Day Agency Publishing
© 2022 by Lindy Bell