“Your honour, before the plaintiff is excused, I’d like to re-direct.”
“Go ahead, Mr. Aldrich.”
“Thank you, sir. Now, Lex, it was your testimony that the detailed notes you took, the ones which contained the formula with which you created this artificial life-form, were also lost in the laboratory disaster. Is that correct?”
“So, however the protoplasm was destroyed, had your notes survived, you could have duplicated your experiment, re-created the artificial life-form?”
“Were your notes destroyed by the fire, Lex?”
“What happened to them?”
“They were destroyed by the corrosive cloud created by Superboy’s gust of super-breath!”
“You’re certain of that?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life!”
“Thank you, Lex. Nothing further.”
“Very well. You may step down, Luthor. Call your next witness, Mr. Aldrich.”
“Thank you, your honour. I call Edward J. Hogan to the stand.”
Testimony of Fire Chief Hogan:
“State your name and occupation for the court, please.”
“Edward J. Hogan, interim chief of the Smallville Fire Department.”
“A little over eighteen months, now.”
“Yet, you stated that you are the interim fire chief.”
“That’s correct. I’m on loan from the Metropolis Fire Department until the town finds someone to fill the position.”
“Isn’t a year and a half rather a long time to find a permanent replacement?”
“As I understand it, the town council is making an intensive examination of the applicants’ backgrounds and credentials. That takes time, and I guess it’s understandable, given the circumstances behind the previous fire chief.”
“Ah, yes. I understand.”
“We all understand, Mr. Aldrich, and we’d rather not be reminded. If there’s a point there, you’ve made it.”
“Yes, sir. I was simply trying to establish the fact that the town is satisfied with Chief Hogan’s performance of his duties. Now, chief, would you tell us your professional history and qualifications?”
“I graduated from the Metropolis fire college in 1924, and my last position before this assignment was captain of an engine company. I hold ‘master’ ratings in structural firefighting, high-rise firefighting, water-and-aerial rescue, collapsed-building rescue, and incidents involving dangerous goods.”
“The defence stipulates to Chief Hogan’s expertise.”
“Then the court so declares Chief Hogan to be an expert witness.”
“Thank you, your honour. Chief, I know this is a basic question, but when you and your men arrive at a burning building, are there things to consider first hand, or do you just hook up the hoses and blast away with water?”
“Immediate water immersion went out with bucket brigades. (Chuckle!) No, the first order of business is to determine the primary fire-source. In most cases, the primary fire-source is an ordinary combustable, such as wood, and in those cases, water is the most effective extinguishing agent. But if it’s an oil-based fire, water actually makes it worse because it causes the fuel to scatter, spreading the fire. And then you have electrical fires, caused by short-circuiting machinery, for example. In those kinds of fires, you never apply water until the power is shut down. Otherwise, it can conduct the electricity back along the stream and shock the firemen.”
“How do you fight oil-based and electrical fires?”
“You smother them with carbon dioxide. Certain foams have recently been developed that have proven effective as smothering agents.”
“No. It depends on the source of the fire.”
“Let’s go back to our burning building. Say you’ve determined the primary fire-source, then do you go in, or are there other considerations?”
“A big one---the presence of dangerous goods.”
“Explain to us what ‘dangerous goods’ are.”
“Dangerous goods are any materials or substances in or near the burning structure which might prove to be a significant hazard to public safety if not properly contained.”
“Such as explosives or gasoline or inflammable gases?”
“Those are the obvious ones. But even everyday substances found in the home can be dangerous under disastrous conditions. For example, if bleach and ammonia---two ordinary items found in every household---become mixed, it creates chlorine gas, which can be lethal in sufficient quantity.”
“So if Farmer Smith’s barn catches fire, before you do anything else, you’re going to try to determine what is inside the barn first.”
“Well, if ordinary homes present the possibility of hazardous materials, then certainly buildings of a specialised nature, such as hospitals or industrial plants present an even greater risk.”
“Of course. Any establishment which stores esoteric or uncommon materials pose a significant threat.”
“Can you give us an example.”
“Certainly. Back in ’29, in Cleveland, Ohio, the basement of a medical clinic caught fire when the film used for taking X-rays was stored too close to an exposed light bulb. X-ray film is made from nitrocellulose, which is highly inflammable. In less than a minute, the entire first floor of the clinic was engulfed in flames. One hundred-twenty-three lives were lost that day, but none of those people died from the smoke or flames.
“You see, when nitrocellulose burns, the act of combustion causes a chemical reaction, resulting in nitric acid, which is extremely toxic. All of the fatalities---doctors and nurses and patients---died from inhaling the poisonous gas. Most of the victims died within minutes. Others lived long enough to escape the building, only to die on the sidewalk.
“Fortunately, the first firemen to arrive on the scene stopped to check the victims outside---nitric acid poisoning turns the skin a yellowish-green. That tipped them off to the presence of the toxic fumes. Otherwise, they might have gone rushing into the clinic and died themselves.”
“So you take the time to determine the presence of dangerous goods for the safety of your own men.”
“That’s part of it. But we’re more worried about public safety. In the Cleveland Clinic case, once the firemen knew they were dealing with poisonous gas, they were able to fight the fire in a method designed to contain the toxic fumes. Otherwise, the disaster would have been much worse.”
“How so, chief?”
“If the nitric acid fumes hadn’t been contained, they would have spread to the surrounding buildings. Depending on the wind, perhaps an entire city block or more."
“So what you’re saying is---if the fire had been fought less competently, by persons untrained to be aware of the risk of poisonous gas caused by the flames, then the loss of life would have been much greater.”
“I don’t know about anyone else here, but I never gave any thought to such a thing. I imagine the average person, one who has not been professionally trained in fighting fires, would be unaware of this sort of hidden danger to the public.”
“So, Chief Hogan, in your professional opinion, fighting fires should be left to those who have been trained to do so.”
“Now, the plaintiff, Lex Luthor, has testified that the defendant, Superboy, constructed for him a modern laboratory and equipped it with a number of resources, including rare chemicals, the exact nature of which even Superboy himself was unaware. Would such a laboratory, if it caught fire, be a significant concern with regard to dangerous goods?”
“Definitely. I would place it on a par with a ticking bomb.”
“And if you and your men responded to such a fire, you would not take any action to extinguish the blaze until you knew, as best you could, just what was inside that might prove hazardous to the public?”
“Is there any immediate action you would take?”
“If there were any victims inside who could be extracted swiftly, I might---and, I stress, might---send in a couple of men in breathing gear to remove them.”
“But you wouldn’t immediately try to put out the fire.”
“Not until I knew what I was dealing with.”
“At pre-trial, we submitted documentation---to which the defence has stipulated---that, in his four years of operating publically, Superboy has responded to a number of fires in Smallville and the surrounding area. During the time you have been chief of the Smallville fire department, sir, has Superboy ever arrived at the scene of a fire when you and your men were present?”
“And what actions did he take, if any?”
“He flew into the burning structure and rescued victims in danger. Otherwise, I’d have to say, he pretty much let us handle the fire.”
“What about the fires at which your department wasn’t present? What did Superboy do then?”
“Objection! If the witness wasn’t present, he would have no direct knowledge.”
“Chief, have you trained the men in your department on dealing with the public risk associated with the presence, or potential presence, of dangerous goods in structural fires?”
“Have you ever trained Superboy on dealing with the public risk associated with the presence, or potential presence, of dangerous goods in structural fires?”
“I have not.”
“To my direct knowledge---no.”
“Hypothetically, if Superboy were to arrive at the scene of a burning hospital or chemical plant or laboratory, and then, without undertaking any effort to determine the nature of the fire or if any hazardous materials were present, use whatever means at the disposal of his various super-powers to immediately extinguish the blaze---if he were to precipitously, say, blow the flames out with his super-breath---would you consider that prudent?”
“No, I would not.”
“Even if lives were in jeopardy?”
“Well then---hypothetically---he could simply rescue the victims by removing them from the scene of the fire.”
“Thank you, Chief Hogan. Your witness, Mr. Barton.”
“I have no questions for this witness.”
“Your honour, that concludes the plaintiff’s case.”
“Thank you, Mr. Aldrich. Mr. Barton, when we return from recess, you may present your defence. Court is adjourned until the next session.”
Interesting stuff. I'd never heard of the Cleveland Clinic Fire.
It appears Superboy is invulnerable to everything except kryptonite, magic and lawyers.
I do hope we're going to get a breakdown of the backstory (like the previous fire chief) when this is done.
Fraser Sherman said:
I do hope we're going to get a breakdown of the backstory (like the previous fire chief) when this is done.
In preparing this whole concept, I knew I'd need a representative of a fire department. I found one Superboy story which mentioned a fire chief of the Smallville fire department by name. However, in reading that story, I discovered that the events therein made it impossible to use that particular fire chief as a character.
Fortunately, I found another character whom I could credibly turn into the Smallville fire chief, and the story-fate of my first-choice character provided the excuse to put my second option on the Smallville department.
(And if I know Philip Portelli, he figured this out and started looking for the two stories from which I got these characters as soon as he read the article.)
Well, not as soon as I read the article but....
Sadly I don't have that much reference material on Superboy but a great deal on Superman so I did learn who Chief Hogan is. It does show how much effort you've put into this.
Just make sure Jonathan Kent is NOT the jury foreman!
Looking forward to Part Four!
If Superboy had not been there Luthor would probably have died before the fire brigade arrived, which seems to me to undermine the interim fire chief's argument that firefighting should always be left to professionals. However, Luthor's lawyer could argue that Superboy would have done better to rescue Luthor without putting out the fire, as he had often done in the past (but in that case Luthor might still have lost his hair and his notes would likely have been lost unless Superboy had gone back for them).
I was reminded of this delightful series of columns when I was searching for something else. Links to the whole collection are below:
As noted over here, one thing we were lacking was the opportunity to read the story from which these events are drawn: "When Luthor Met Superboy!", in Adventure Comics #271 (April 1960), written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Al Plastino. I mentioned that I wanted to link to the story, which was posted on the wonderful Superman Through the Ages fansite -- but at the time, the site was down because it was festooned with viruses and the webmaster was in the painstaking process of rebuilding it from scratch.
I say this to say that the story is once again available, here: "How Luthor Met Superboy!" However, it should be said that a jury, in its deliberations, is supposed to consider only the testimony and evidence presented in court ... as we did when we read these columns.