Rescue Memories- You recognize the dead?

My early rescue calls happened on weekends during school and anytime during summer break.  Drinking was big in the 1970s and it was easy for kids in my high school to get it.  Extrication calls were common.  It’s how I was able to get extrication experience at that young age.  Hearing of a student killed in an accident wasn’t frequent, but it also wasn’t a surprise to hear.

Three accidents I can remember with people I recognized from my high school when they couldn’t find identification on the bodies.  Interestingly two of them involve trees and cars the other a trench collapse.

Cant remember which one was first, doesn’t matter anyway I guess.  It’s a call for a accident with injuries.  On scene the car is on the drivers side, partly bent around a very large diameter tree.  The roof crushed into the passenger compartment.

We were able to access the three girls inside from the rear window, they were clearly crushed and entrapped.  We would not be able to extricate them in time to be resuscitated.  One of the girls I couldn’t recognize due to her facial injuries.  To my surprise the other two didn’t have any injuries to the face and recognized them from school.  I didn’t socialize with them but did know their names.  Back then kids didn’t have identification from school or any kind as I remember.  Maybe a library card.

I told the rescue squad guys that I knew who the two girls were.  They were surprised.  “You recognize the dead?”  They had me report to the state trooper working the accident and relay the information.  Another car crash, another tree, this time head on.  The driver was another student I didn’t spent time with but recognized.  He was hanging out the front window on his side, looked like he was asleep.

Trench collapse, when we arrive people are digging franticly.  The trench walls keep falling in more.  There was a backhoe on scene.  The trench ran parallel to the roadway.  Our lead rescue guy owned the same backhoe.  He cleared everybody out and started working parallel to the trench pulling back all the loose soil that kept falling into the trench.

He dug for several minutes until it was cleared back enough to keep the side from collapsing in.  Then the hand digging began.  Maybe a few more minutes went by before the people in the trench pulled him out.  It was another student from my school.  This time I didn’t have to tell anyone who it was the family was already there.

The first time trench experience watching someone emerge from the earth is indelible.  -13

Rescue Memories- Racist in the car?

One my most interesting and powerful experiences in the rescue field happened when I was in high school.  11th grade shop class, teacher rushes out of his office, singles out two others and myself.  I’m thinking the way he yelled at us there was going to be trouble.  “Get in my office!”

We go into the office, he’s yelling about something we didn’t do.  That never happened.  As he is doing this my friends and I move into the middle part of the office as the teacher pulls chalkboards on wheels in front of the windows at each end of the office.  From outside you can’t see in.

The yelling stops and his whole disposition changes.  He tells us to have a seat, get comfortable, offers us a cigarette and starts talking.  The guy got to know us and shared what was going on with him and his wife dying of cancer.  These became regular meetings.  We’re in trouble in the classroom, in the office have a seat and a smoke.  That guy was really going through hell it’s interesting he confided in us.

We were told not to mention the office except to say how bad the experience was.  He also asked us to befriend a student who had lost his mother in a car crash during the summer break.  We already had, I recognized him from the accident.  I was on the extrication truck that responded that day.  This student I’ll call, Accuser.  We welcomed Accuser to hang out with us.  We didn’t fit in with the jocks, the preppies, druggies, none of them.

Some time passes.  Accuser starts hanging out with the druggies, skipping shop class.  It was sad to see that happen.  For several weeks I had a crush on a girl that I could see if I went the long way to my next class after shop.  From shop class it was about a 20 second walk to the exit.

I head out the door going on my way and from around the corner comes six guys after me.  One guy yelled at me to stop.  I could tell it was going to be trouble but I wasn’t going to run.  I stood and faced them.  It was one of those situations where there’s a bully guy and the followers.  One of them was Accuser.  The leader an older student I’ll call Bully was telling me how he was going to beat me up.

From the same corner of the building the guys came from out comes my shop teacher with a large piece of wood in his hand.  He rushed up to confront the other students.  It was like Buford Pusser I thought he was going to kick their asses.  Shop teacher asked me how I wanted to handle the situation.  I told him they’re dumb as shit send them back to class.  He did with a stern warning he’d come looking for them if they gave me any more trouble.

My shop teacher had been smoking outside that day and lucky for me he had overheard the plot to kick my ass.  He caught it as it was happening.  His delay in confronting them immediately was so he could get what was actually a staff from his office then see if they were really up to no good.  Once he saw they were confronting me is when he rushed in to help.

I had never interacted with Bully. Never not sure what his issue was.  Never found out.  Less than two weeks later I get called to the school principals office.  When I get there I’m asked to sit in the end seat of a ten seat boardroom table.  I do, sitting on my right are Accuser and Bully.  This is going to be interesting and fascinating as it gets.

The principal sits at the other end of the table.  He tells me the students sitting on my right are accusing me of racism.  Of being a racist.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was amazing.  I looked away from the principal, then directly at Accuser and said “Do you want to stick by that story?”  He says “Yes you’re a racist.”

Okay I said then explained how we arrived on the scene of a car crash.  How that car was wrapped around a tree with a little boy trapped inside.  The side of the car had been pushed around him, the roof inches away from his head.  His mother dead in the front seat.

How there was just enough room for me to squirrel my way in.  The other rescue workers were going to extricate while I would do what I could inside.  I applied a dressing on his forehead and covered as much of him as I could for protection with a blanket then held his hand.

I then asked Accuser if he remembered hearing any of these words the day of his accident.  I’m with the rescue squad, you’ve been involved in an accident.  Stay calm we are going to get you out of here.  I’m going to stay with you until we get you out of this, you’re safe now we won’t let any thing happen to you, we’re going to get you to a hospital.

Accuser sitting there, tears streaming down his cheeks.  That was you he asked?  I told him that it was me who had said that to you and held your hand. Still in disbelief someone would think that of me I asked him if he really believed I was a racist.  He said no he had made it up under pressure from the Bully.  I looked at the Bully, he had a look of shock on his face, the principal had tears in his eyes.

There was questioning by the principal.  That’s what you do he ask me about the rescue squad?  I told him yes, I didn’t care about doing anything else.  I was asked to leave the room but stay in the office area.  Shop teacher shows up at the main desk and ask what I’m doing sitting outside the principals office.  I tell him, he barges into the principals office.  About ten or fifteen minutes later I’m back in the office answering questions about the incident when they were going to beat me up.

I answered the questions and was told to return to class.  That was on a Friday, when we returned to school shop teacher said those two were in a lot more trouble than the things I knew of.  They must have been suspended because they never returned there.  The rumor was they had been sent to a boys home type place.

I’m glad I thought to write this one down.  I would have never have brought up that I was the one in the car that day with Accuser if he hadn’t said what he did.  It’s not important to me in any way that a person know I had anything to do with a treatment or rescue.  I don’t need recognition or thanks.  That kind of attention makes me uncomfortable.  My satisfaction and fulfillment comes from having participated and helped another person when they really need it.

It’s interesting how things in life happen like this experience.  I wonder how things would have tuned out if I hadn’t been at the rescue squad that day.  Racist in the car?  Not here.  -13

Rescue Memories- Report to the principals office immediately

High school.  One more year and it will be over.  We’ve just changed classes and are settling into the classroom.  Our high school had a communication system so that each classroom could be contacted individually.  The tone alerts the teacher, she picks up the handset starts speaking with someone and starts looking at me.  She hangs up the handset and instructs me to report to one of the assistant principals office immediately.

They knew at the time I had Red Cross Advanced First Aid and CPR training and was part of the rescue squad explorers.  A couple times I’d helped the school nurse when no one else could handle the blood and open wound.  Once there was a girl who brought a kitchen knife from home and cut her wrist in the bathroom and a boy lost half a finger on the band-saw.  I was amazed by the clean cut it made.  Those were the only two time until then.

I get to the principals office expecting something bloody or an impaled object, something.  The principal is in an emotional state, it was easy to see he was gravely concerned.  He ask me if I knew a particular student or the students whereabouts.  I knew her and didn’t know where she was.  We left the school building and went to his car.

He had not said anything about what was going on.  At the car he said that he wanted me to go with him to the students home address and a few other places to look for her.  I was very surprised that he would have me in the car looking for her.  I asked what was going on.  He talked around the topic and never answered.  He kept focusing on where she might be.

We went to some horse stables, a park.  I began to suspect she had threatened suicide and he didn’t want to say it to me.  We went to her home, she wasn’t there.  I told him how I would deal with it whatever was going on because I was getting the sense she was in danger.  We had been gone for three hours.  I missed a class, lunch and the after lunch class.  He realized he had to call the police and did.

Still don’t know what happened to her.  Not rumors, nothing.  She never came back to school.  What an experience to have the principal call me out of class then use his car to look for a student.  At the time it seemed odd and thought it had something to do with suicide.  Now that I’m older I think its possible he could have been a mentor or possibly a lover.  That’s the 1970s for you.  -13

 

 

Rescue Memories- Body pops up, hearse arrives on scene.

My hometown rescue squad had a mutual aid call for personnel and equipment to assist in a mass drag operation to locate a motorcyclist who had gone over the rail of a bridge crossing a large lake.  I spent my time helping load equipment onto boats, stocking a converted panel van used for onsite communication and serving hot meals for search/drag missions, packing POV’s.  Everything was ready we’d leave before sunrise so the boats could be launched as soon as there was enough light.

We arrived at the boat launch, things got under way, I did what I was told to do next thing I know is we’re in the boat.  There was 20 boats or so.  I was with two of my favorite mentors.  I’m thinking this is going to be great.  I’m going to get to hang out with these guys and learn how to drag for bodies.  We had some snacks and cola drinks in a small cooler.  We were ready to drag for a while.

This my favorite part of the experience.  We get to where our boat is going to start dragging.  My mentors are going over the drag and how to use it.  Most of the boats were typically as I remember them, a wider Jon boat so two could sit in the middle and lower the drag over the edge, not sure how long.  There I am with the drag in hand watching the guy sitting next to me put his drag into the water.  He starts to lower it, I think to myself I got it, no problem.

I start to move the drag, if you’ve never seen a drag it looks like a fence stretcher without the fence hooks.  In place of the fence hooks are four welded rings to tie on heavy cord attached to three prong hooks.  The hooks hang down about 12″ or so.  It’s cumbersome and hard to keep the lines separate.  I finally get the drag into the water.  I keep it at the top for a moment to get a feel for how it would handle in the water.

From behind me the other mentor operating the boat says look up.  I did, I looked up over at the other boats.  Not there he said, down there in front of you in the water about four or five feet away.  There he was.  Face down, blue jeans, leather jacket, long blond hair.  The boat operator told us to get our drags in the boat.  My drag hadn’t been more that a foot or so deep it was in the boat like I’d done it before.  Couldn’t believe it.

Mentor sitting next to me was pulling his drag in.  I was told to get ready to grab the body.  It was really exciting.  We’re inching our way over to the guy we came looking for as he floats next to our boat.  Wow I think as grab the waistline of his jeans.  “Don’t let go!” they remind me.  We wait for a larger boat to come over and help remove, then transport the body to shore.  All the preparation and the anticipation boiled down to our boat being on site for couldn’t have been more than ten minutes and me playing with a drag like a kid with a bobber.

There were more drag missions after that but not like that one.  What an experience, it was amazing.  I had some fantastic first time experiences in the rescue field.  Thinking of this story reminds me of another call I responded to a few years later.

At the time there were only 2 regular rescue squad members that were SCUBA certified, I had received my certification in 1979.  After having spent some time with me on emergency runs the other divers invited me to start spending time with them on projects away from the rescue squad.  Projects recovering lost objects, minor underwater repairs, boat cleaning, working in open water.

They had me doing surface task.  Simple things like cleaning, setting up equipment, basic stuff.  They were testing me to see if I would get sick on the water and if I actually had some aptitude when the pressure is on.  As time passed I was allowed to train with them in the local indoor pool.  I couldn’t believe I got my parents permission.  The guys came over to my home to talk with them about it.  They needed help.

They had a few things in mind for me at the time.  Be ready to dive if one diver was in trouble I was to dive and assist the other diver with rescue, the ability to remove a body from a car and how to hook a car for recovery by tow truck.  Dam that’s a long winded way to get to the point.  I have to include those details so others can see how things happen.

By now I have a station wagon and drivers license.  The station wagon was a hand me down and is cool as far as I’m concerned.  I’m wondering what I was going to do, it was a weekend and none of the rescue squad crews that let me respond to calls were working.  I was cleaning the car when my mom called out to me to answer the phone.  It didn’t sound good from the tone of her voice.

It was a rescue dispatcher asking me to report to a location in the deep boonies near the river.  I was to bring all dive equipment there had been a witnessed drowning.  When I arrived there were a few rescue trucks and a Jon boat pulling in ahead of me.  The area was a small pond size like area that lead out to the river.  I met with one of the divers and was informed the boat would be launched by hand and we’d dive for the body.

We! He said.  My heart started pounding I was thinking that I don’t know anything.  I’m dumb as a rock look at me get what I asked for.  The other diver was not coming and they  were seemed to be sure the body would be close by.  My mentor wouldn’t dive alone so we put on the gear were taken to where the victim was last seen by boat.

I had an underwater light that used a lantern battery it worked good.  Had a nice focused beam of light.  We’re in the water, going over the plan, safety, all the important stuff.  We go below the surface into black water.  Visibility 12″-14″ at most.  Had to be very close to see anything clearly.  Since it was black water we stayed in physical contact.

On the bottom we’re feeling around when the scene from Jaws ran though my mind where Hooper happens across the body in the boat.  I thought “how am I going to react when the guy with the eye popped out is going to come out of nowhere.”  We were down, 30-35′ for 24 minutes when I get a tug on my arm.  The other diver pulls my hand over to grab an ankle.  We try to swim to the surface and have a difficult time the guy weighs maybe 250 pounds.  We attach a marking line, go the surface for rope.

Once the rope is tied on the body we surface.  I’m facing the direction where we parked.  Perfectly framed in my dive mask are two guys, arms crossed leaning on a hearse backed up close to where they were going to load the body.  There was something about that moment.  When I went underwater I was looking in that direction it was all rescue equipment.  On the surface a hearse and two guys waiting to load another body.

Once the body was in the hearse we rolled up our equipment and left for the station for clean up and a post-mortem of the call.  The hearse guys had me going.  They had that, how much longer is this going to take look.  Another fun memory from way back. -13

Rescue Memories- The door opens.

Digging deep for this one.  How I found my way into emergency services.  Not sure when the desire hit me.  The first time I saw someone cut in half was when I was five.  My father confirmed this and all the details of that memory.  Could it be that was the influence?  Or maybe it had to do with the dogs stitches coming out, seeing her intestines on the floor, my mother in a panic?

Also remember at a young age playing with military medical equipment, OD green I.V. poles, tent smelling folding stretchers, instruments, respiratory.  Nothing sharp, things like towel clamps and scalpel blades were removed.  There were boxes of it around.

Wow! This is a big surprise.  As that last paragraph was written a memory came back.  Some friends from the neighborhood would come over to my house.  We would each pretend to be victims of car and helicopter crashes.  Fallen down cliffs, gun shot wounds and other craziness.  While the other ones in the group would be the medics.  We would practice bandaging and trying to carry the others.  That’s nuts.

My dad was infantry and not medical in any way.  There were retired and active duty family friends in the medical fields.  Boy Scout leaders were all former military guys.  I must have expressed interest, one day medical “toys” started showing up in boxes with an education on each item.  This would have been before I would have been allowed to explore the neighborhood on my own.

Those memories are from earlier times in my life.  Moving into the more recent memory and series of events that lead me directly into the door of a rescue squad building and a dream come true.  I must have been 13-14 years old.  Able to walk the neighborhood by myself on foot or bicycle.  Some cousins lived about 7 blocks away.  Not far.

The street that leads to my cousins house crosses another at their home.  When I get there I have to stop and check for traffic first, the house directly across the street.  No traffic I start to cross the street and hear screaming coming from the direction I’m walking.  I get scared as I get closer to the house because the screams are coming from there.

Hesitating at first I ran up the side of the house and listened.  The windows were open.  My cousins mom was yelling at my cousins about how bad they were.  My cousins crying in pain begging for mercy.  It was horrible.  I didn’t know what to do so I ran back home.

There was no one home, no one to talk to.  Wasn’t much into t.v., only made an effort to watch This Old House.  Out of the ordinary, turned on the television.  Wish I could remember what year it was and what episode was watched but I don’t.  The good part was I had tuned in as the opening of the show was on so the scenes and siren sounds made me stop on the channel.

The show was Emergency!  The t.v. show about the early days of paramedics in the U.S.A.  People in the station, getting emergency calls.  While watching that show something happened to me.  Something changed.  A sense of knowing of where you belong.

It felt like my brain was spinning inside my skull like symbols on a slot machine.  After the show was over I couldn’t wait to tell my mom about it, then dad.  It was a few weeks before I was able to get my dad to watch the show with me.  There wasn’t much feedback  from him on the topic.  I seemed to be the only one enthusiast about it.  I kept watching and talking about the show all the time.

Out of nowhere my dad picks me up and we head over to fire station 4 to meet a family friend.  Captain gives me a station and engine tour.  Not much time passes before I’m allowed to spend short periods of time at the station and sometimes ride to calls with the fire chief if he was over for dinner.

Not long after that I’m on base in station 2 with Engineer.  Learning what a shift is really like.  Due to the unique situation I was able to spend hours at this station.  Experienced some of the most impressionable moments in my life there.  Cannot believe how lucky I was then.

The guys liked to let me answer the phone when the dispatcher was calling so they could mess with them.  “Station 2”.  Silly fun.  This continued until I was maybe 15.  I had learned to read the old ticker-tape alarm system still connected to the station.  Then word came down.  World is changing.  Transfer out or retire station 2 will be closing.

That’s what happened.  The old wooden T-building hospital had been removed.  Station 2 was close by in case it went up.  The new hospital was a single structure of modern materials closer to station 1.  Only thing missing was an aerial.  That came after the new hospital opened.

Spending time around station 2 put me in contact with others in the department.  Having expressed an interest in becoming a paramedic firefighter like the guys I’d seen on television I was introduced to Rescue.  Rescue was a cool dude.  He had an earring, talked cool and owned a restaurant.  Was the only person I connected with after everyone else had left.

He like me because of my interested in the paramedic and rescue part of the fire department.  Most of the people he worked with were not interested in it.  I could not get enough.  Things had changed so that I was not able to get to station 1 as much as I wanted when Rescue was working.

Rescue was getting near retirement and wanted to run his restaurant.  I went to the station when he was on shift whenever I could until he retired.  Learned as much as I could about rescue.  It was a fantastic experience.  It was time to go to high school.

In our high school we had an official smoking area.  Students and teachers could go there and smoke cigarettes.  I wonder what all the uptight people would think of that now days?  Anyway, back to the memories.  I did not smoke but would go out there with friends that did during breaks.

Following my friend into the smoking area she leans against a post.  She’s smoking.  We’re not speaking, both of us listening to the sound multiple voices make when talking at the same time.  That restaurant chatter sound.

Behind me I hear a girl talking about something like a scene out of the Emergency T.V. show.  Hearing bits and details I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation.  The girl speaking was telling an exciting story about a car accident she had been too and what they had done.

I interrupted the conversation and told her I was eavesdropping and wondered if she would tell me more.  She did, introduced herself as president of the local rescue squad explorer scouts and invited me to a meeting.  Local explorer scouts president had opened the door and invited me in.  Turns out the rescue squad was as close as I could get to what I wanted at the time.

The rescue squad did everything but treat and transport patients.  Extrication, firefighting, searches, dragging for persons suspected of drowning. Any kind of rescue.  An amazing opportunity to experience first hand real emergencies.  That is how I came to respond to that first emergency call.  The door was opened and I kept showing up. -13

Rescue Memories- First Run

Rescue memories.  Something that happens sometimes when I handle medical or firefighting equipment.  Had some good ones today, then had the desire to write these memories down before I forget them.

This evening my thoughts drifted into the cab of the mini-pumper.  It was night, I was sitting between two rescue squad members, me an explorer scout.  It was my first time out on an emergency run.  This is fantastic I thought, we are racing to a call for a structure fire and they’re letting me operate the siren.  Never will forget the siren.  A Federal Intercepter.  It had a really low budget looking P.A. mic and a blazing red light on it a the top.  The bulb that lit the red lens also lit the face.  If the control was moved just right it would make some really unique sounds.

We’re off the main road and no signs of a structure fire.  By now if it was a working fire we would have seen the glow.  They thought on the way that it was a local arsonist that had started a fire.  Once we arrived at the address of the reported fire there was none.  Then they began to think that this was the false call just before the arson that would take place in a completely different direction of what was about to happen in another part of the county.

There is all this talk now days about situational awareness.  How is this for a 15 year old. Sitting in the driveway of the house that was reported on fire the crew chief was calling in the false call.  When dispatch answered back I could hear a voice in the background.  Focused on her voice instead of the dispatcher speaking to us and hear this “…10-46 Highway 48 & 13…”. She was dispatching the sheriff’s department.

Crew chief hung up the mic.  I turned to him and said we’d better get going, we were about to get a call for a 10-46(vehicle accident with injuries) on 48 & 13.  He gave me a look, then “dispatch – 27” Dispatch gave us the call to the accident.  We had passed there about 10 minutes ago.  The guys I was with couldn’t believe what happened.

We were on-scene in about 3 minutes.  Would have arrived sooner but fire equipment can not be driven very fast on winding country roads.  Some of them old wagon trails turned into roads.  Since we were in a pumper we did not have extrication equipment.  That was in a van dispatched from the station at the same time we were.

When we arrived we discovered a head on two vehicle accident.  A car with the front end crushed on the east side of the road facing north west.  A compact pickup truck in the south bound lane facing south. There was glass and car parts all over the highway.  The pumper driver gave an arrival report over the radio.  The crew chief got out of the cab, I followed.  We began to approach the car since it was closest.  What looked like a bystander turned out to be the driver.  Didn’t have a scratch.  Nothing.  Was wearing a seatbelt.

Seeing how calm crew chief was really helped me be that way.  Crew chief went to say something to the pump operator.  I could hear unbelievable screaming coming from the truck.  Said to him I was going to see what was going on and find out where those screams were coming from.  He gave me the okay and I was off.

For a moment I couldn’t believe it.  That I was actually on the scene of a real emergency.  Here I was in a bunker coat, pull up boots and a firefighting helmet.  The only official training I had then was the American Red Cross advanced first aid course and CPR.  Hanging out at the military and civilian fire stations, military family friends in the medical field and boy scout mentors who had been in Vietnam had spoiled me with some really cool surplus and knowledge as well.  It paid off.

Walking toward the truck the screaming is loud, it’s a woman.  My CPR training let me know she had a pulse and respirations.  My focus turned to the driver.  The front of the truck is flat up to the bottom of the windshield.  As I got closer to the truck the driver became visible through the drivers door window.  There was a man that appeared to be unconscious.

Soon as I saw him I quickly moved to the drivers side of the truck.  To my surprise the door opened.  Pushed the door out of the way, had a bystander hold it for me.  The screaming was something to experience to understand.  Blocking out the outer sounds trying to remember the training.  Quickly looking around there is a big lump of something in the truck cab blocking my view of the woman legs.  It is setting between them resting on the console.

Looking at the woman screaming from my position it’s clear to see why she is screaming like that.  The top portion of her skull is visible.  Her scalp has been partially avulsed.  My focus goes back to the driver.  The steering wheel outer ring had been pushed forward and was bent out of shape.  Then it was clear, the thing setting between them was the engine.  The whole thing.

Checking for a pulse and respirations, there are none.  Checked again, none.  Oh no, I thought what am I going to do now?  Self doubt flooded me.  The other rescue squad members were setting up to charge a line for safety.  I went to them to ask for assistance to verify that the man was in fact in cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Neither of the crew I was with had CPR training.  The self doubt that I had before I spoke with them became worse.  This was the 70’s not everyone was trained the same back then.  Explaining the situation to crew chief the self doubt went away when he instructed me to follow my training.

Along with some bystanders we pulled him out and I alone started CPR.  The first trouble I had was finding the landmarks used to place hands for compressions.  There were none.  Turns out the steering wheel deformity was caused by the drivers chest.  Providing respirations, mouth-to-mouth, no barrier was an experience I will never repeat again.  The drivers bloody vomit was a true test of my willpower.  Never vomited myself.  Never have on an emergency run.

CPR was continued until the driver was turned over to the ambulance crew.  They gave me a bottle of sterile water to rinse out my mouth.  29 the extrication van arrived then we removed the passenger and put her in the same ambulance.  As soon as they left we received a call for a car fire.

When we arrived it was fully involved.  Looked like a car blow torch.  The crew I was with were so impressed they let me work the nozzle and put out the fire.  It was better than any roller coaster ride I’ve ever been on.  What a memorable night that was so glad I remembered it.  -13