Car vs. Tree… vs. Rescue Squad

Whap!

“Keep your head down, dammit!”

Even with my head safely turtled into the collar of my turnout gear, I could still recognize the voice of Truck 15′s driver above me. He had given me a sharp smack on top of my helmet as a gentle reminder that there was a large hydraulic tool nestling its way into the space above my head.

As my legs started to cramp from my awkward placement between a tree and what used to be a car door, I wondered how I had arrived in this position.

“Units responding with the first battalion, respond on tac channel zero-alpha three.”

I stumbled out of the bunkroom and caught snippets of the radio transmission as I climbed into the wagon, trying to shake sleep from my brain the whole way there.

“…vehicle into a tree…”

“…report of persons trapped…”

I snapped up the last of my turnout coat and grabbed my helmet as the engine pulled up on scene. A four-door sedan had lost control on a turn and slammed broadside into a thick tree. The (now) horseshoe-shaped vehicle had only a single occupant, who was now pinned between the front edge of the passenger seat and the glove compartment.

“Hey, man! Get me the $@&* outta here! Pull me up, man!”

Okay, he’s breathing. That’s always good.

The layout man went over to put the car in park while I headed around to the passenger side. The vehicle had rebounded off of the tree, providing a two-foot space in which I could talk to the driver through the shattered side windows.

“Good thing the squad’s coming. They’re gonna have to cut this guy out.”

My officer’s voice spurred me into action. I saw an opportunity for something interesting, so I grabbed a c-collar and squeezed into the narrow space. I mean, if I’m going to be up at 3am, why not get my hands a little dirty?

With the collar firmly in place, I assumed my awkward half-crouch stance, arms extended to hold manual spine stabilization. I felt the rescue squad rumble up on the street behind me, and I could hear their voices discussing the best way to get the patient out. Suddenly, a sheet descended on the patient and I, whiting out our view of the surroundings but enabling me to clearly talk to him and determine the extent of his injuries.

Moments later, bits of windshield bounced off our makeshift tent as the glass saws went to work. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t banged up too bad; he was just pinned into the car. I tried to stretch my neck a bit to combat the strange angle I had it at in the window–which brings us back to the beginning.

I heard a hydraulic cutter hit the B-post of the car, inches above my head. It hissed to life as metal bit into metal, making the first of several cuts necessary to remove the roof.  Several minutes later, the top of the car and our covering were lifted, having completed the modification into a convertible.

This, of course, only served to give us a little more breathing room for the final steps: rolling the dash and extricating the patient. Using hydraulic rams, the squad guys actually pushed the dashboard further away from the seats, giving us enough space to wiggle the patient out. Now, it’s good-news/bad-news time.

Good news: while in the car, the patient had full functionality of his extremities, a normal blood pressure, and was answering all of my questions appropriately while denying any pain.

Bad news: having his torso/abdomen squeezed by the dash was apparently keeping his blood pressure at a decent level. When we stretched him out onto a backboard, we found his blood pressure had dropped to around 65-70 and he was acting a little woozy. Oh, and now everything hurts. While inside the medic unit, I helped package him up, started two IVs, and sent him on his way to the trauma center.

Back to sleep?

Well, it’s almost 4:30am.

Nah, might as well stay up and wait for the first relief to arrive.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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