Thursday, May 23, 2002

Emergency Response Lifestyle

My volunteer work with [my company's] Emergency Response Team has evolved from a side activity to a full-blown lifestyle. The lessons I have learned with this team have enabled me to quickly and efficiently deal with medical situations and accidents, both on the job and off.

In February, I was proud to be appointed team leader for my site. Since then, I have participated as a lead in several medical and injury calls. Our job is to take down the patient information, take vital signs, make the patient comfortable, and treat them as best we can until the fire department and ambulance arrive. It can be downright scary, especially when the patient is someone I know. However, just knowing that I made a difference in someone's comfort level while in need is the greatest feeling in the world. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Since being appointed team leader, accidents seem to have found me. There is a saying in the firefighting world that a new person is either a white cloud (no fires follow them), or a black cloud (fires follow them like crazy). I believe I am a black cloud for road incidents. Since February, I have witnessed and assisted in three of them.

The first occurred when I was driving the 237 freeway on my way to meet my friend Meredith for dinner. We were going to eat Thai food, then proceed to the park for our softball game. As is typical during rush hour, the traffic on this freeway slowed significantly. In front of me, a chain reaction occurred in a blink of an eye. In total, four cars were involved.

The first two cars were damaged, but not overly so. The third and fourth cars in the chain were completely totaled. The laws of physics state that since the fourth car in the line was likely driving fastest, he would have the most damage. But in this case, the third car in the line was the one with the radiator sitting against the firewall.

It was a Toyota Echo. A tin can, as Scott calls it. The Civic that ran into the back of him was able to limp off the road, although it was obvious it could not be salvaged. The Echo was completely undrivable. The California Highway Patrol officer had to PUSH this piece of junk off to the side of the road using the ramrods on the front of his patrol car. If any of you are ever considering buying an Echo, please don't. One accident will be the death of it !

Luckily, nobody was hurt. As it was dark, I lit up my little 15-minute flares and placed them on the roadway. I directed everyone away from the traffic and ensured their engines were turned off. When CHP arrived, he told me he didn't need my statement, as it was pretty clear what had happened. I asked him if he had any flares to replace the little candles I had placed on the road. Sure, he said.

He reached into his trunk and pulled out these HUGE, nightstick-sized, 30-minute CHP-issue flares just for me. Five in total. These flares were just teeming with testosterone. They made my dinky little Wal-Mart flares look like birthday cake candles. I felt like such a tough guy walking to my car and placing these babies in my trunk. Aw yeah.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a second accident. A young woman in a Honda was sitting at a red light. I was getting ready to turn right onto Calaveras Blvd, when I saw a mid- to late 80s car just slam into the back of her at a relatively high rate of speed. He must not have noticed that the light was red. She went straight on Calaveras, and he turned right onto Milpitas Blvd. I followed her as she pulled over.

She was extremely shaken. She asked if I had hit her, which of course I hadn't. She didn't even see the guy that hit her. I told her to follow me, and we flipped a U-turn and returned to Milpitas Blvd.

The guy that hit her was gone.

The police were already looking for him by the time we arrived. I gave them my statement and my description of the vehicle and its damage. The motorcycle cops toured around the area, and found him in the parking lot of the plaza across the street. They asked me to identify the car, which I did. If I hadn't stuck around, they probably wouldn't have found him. She was very grateful for my assistance.

Not even a week later, a third incident occurred right in front of my eyes. I was driving along a farm road that morning, on my way out of [my city] and to the train station. It was dark, and I was still half-asleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something bright flashing along an adjacent road. It was a white pickup truck, with a bright light spewing from its underside.

The truck was on fire.

The driver saw the reflection of the flames in the grass and pulled over. Knowing I had a fire extinguisher beside my seat, I stopped my car and grabbed it. The fire was burning underneath the truck on the passenger side. I dove under the truck, positioned myself, and detonated the extinguisher. Within 4 or 5 seconds, the fire was out.

Scott believes that it was an oil fire. Sometimes, if a vehicle leaks oil on hot areas such as the exhaust, it causes fires. That is likely what happened here. The driver was very grateful that I had acted so quickly. Because it was windy and cold, and he was well over 3 miles from our town, I gave him a ride home. Just as we were getting in the car, he remembered that he owned a fire extinguisher. In all the excitement and stress, he had forgotten he had one! He very kindly gave me his to replace the one I had used on his truck.

After all of these incidents, I believe I should be given a new nickname. One of the ERT leads has named me s@!#% magnet. How very appropriate.

If any of you are considering taking a first aid and/or CPR course, I highly recommend it. One hopes that you never will have to use it, but if there comes a time that you do, will you be prepared ?

[see next post]


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