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The three-story brick rowhouse on 55th and Jefferson streets reeked of human feces and urine. Its windows were covered with plastic bags, and from three yards away only blackness could be seen through the doorless entryway. "I'm not sure what we've got here," said paramedic Joe DiFacesco with a little more hesitation and a little more uncertainty than he probably wanted to reveal. Armed only with a flashlight in his right hand and an EKG machine in his left, DiFacesco put his head through the doorway and shined a beam of light across the entryway. It revealed rotting wood and a collapsed stairway, but no people. "Hello?" he asked with a look on his face that said he wasn't sure if he wanted to hear an answer. It was nothing new for DiFacesco. He and partner Art Alleyna face similar situations several times every night they staff Medic Nine, the advanced life-support vehicle based in the firehouse at 56th and Chestnut streets. The firehouse is one of the busiest in the city, but despite increased violent crime in West Philadelphia, the two say they see the same things today that they've always seen. "We see it all," said Alleyna with a knowing smile. He went on matter-of-factly about stabbings, shootings and assaults. But for a team that considers a 15-minute respite between calls a lucky break, this Friday night was slow. By 4:30 a.m., they got the chance to save only two, maybe three lives. They heard about a couple of trauma cases in the neighborhood, but didn't handle any. "Usually you get the knife and gun club out on Friday night," said a firefighter from Squirt 57 -- the fire engine that accompanies Medic Nine in the cavernous garage. Alleyna told of heroin addicts, saved from drug-induced seizures, who get violently angry after they regain consciousness. "You just blew his $50 high," he explained. "I know medics who've gotten guns in their faces, but I've been spared that so far," DiFacesco added. Fortunately, this stop on a rainy Friday night was not one of those times. On a couch in one of the rank, collapsing rooms, a homeless man was complaining of chest pains. After giving him the once-over and calming another homeless man, the paramedics got back into their "piece" and headed back to the station. "They do all kinds of weird stuff around here," said Alleyna with another knowing smile. DiFacesco, a short, stocky and energetic 23-year-old, gave a chuckle as he sat at the station's cluttered table. By 4:30 a.m., his eyes were glazed over and a little bloodshot and the smiles that came easily when he got on duty at 6 p.m. were a little harder to muster up. MTV on the firehouse's cable-equipted television was the only thing keeping Alleyna, a tall and stocky 28-year-old, on this side of dreamland. The two often shrugged off the burnout factor, saying the four days on, four days off work schedule keeps them fresh. But the looks on their faces showed fatigue even on this slow night. And they still had almost four hours to go. Both have been stationed at the West Philadelphia firehouse for about a year and call the job rewarding and thankless at the same time. DiFacesco said that sometimes people swear and throw things at them after the paramedics say they can't transport them to the hospital because their ailment isn't life-threatening. But there was nothing like that for Medic Nine Friday night, and Alleyna and DiFacesco almost apologized for the lack of action. They seemed to have forgotten about the 58-year-old woman they saved from heart failure two hours ago. And the stroke victim -- found over seven hours ago almost totally naked and staring into nothingness -- they diagnosed in a manner of seconds and rushed to Lanenau Hospital. And the 53-year-old woman they found face-down writhing on the ground in a pile of laundry and dirty plates around midnight. She was a diabetic whose blood-sugar level had dropped from a normal of 120 to a mere 20. Her stunned daughter stood staring as the paramedics wrestled the woman onto her back, diagnosed her, and inserted an I.V. into her left arm. "Believe it or not, we're trying to help you," DiFacesco told the squirming woman as he pulled a two-inch needle out of his bag. "Okay hon, its wake-up time." "This is going to be fun," Alleyna said as DiFacesco slowly injected the sugar water into her right arm. The woman struggled briefly. Ten seconds later she is sitting up, answering questions and looking for her shoes. "Who's the mayor of Philadelphia?" DiFacesco asks. "Goode," she answers. "Miracle workers," Alleyna says with his knowing smile.

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