Thursday, July 30, 2009

Story time - death

I'm not a fan of death.

It scares me (unless Death happens to be Brad Pitt). I'd be happy to go through life without having to ever think about it. In fact, I hate almost all movies in which one of the main character dies. Who wants to come out of a movie depressed? I am in awe of those who can deal with death on a regular basis.

As far as my firefighter's life is concerned, I'm not too worried about him. My gut tells me he'll be ok, and I like to listen to my gut. Especially when gut tells me what I want to hear. My firefighter's own view on death is pretty healthy, too. He doesn't often internalize his feelings to the point where it affects him when he gets home from work. He can handle walking into those situations where the emotions are raw as family and friends deal with the death--or near death--of their loved one.

Once he was called to the house of a woman who had difficulty breathing. Her daughter had overdosed and passed away a few days earlier, and she was having a hard time coping. My firefighter simply sat and talked with the family as they reminisced about the daughter that had passed away. By the time the ambulance showed up, her mother was feeling much better.

The following story is about a fatality car wreck involving someone that my husband knew from the community he worked in. This man would stop by the station and chat with the firefighters from time to time. When they were on scene, they realized who's car it was that was involved in the crash.

As told by my firefighter...


This post may contain graphic descriptions, photos and/or commentary that may be found offensive to some readers. In writing this post I tried to balance victim privacy and respect for the family with the desire to share exactly what I experienced. I have omitted some pictures and edited my comments because of this.

At a little before three in the afternoon we were toned out. We turned out of the station onto the highway and could see the header (a column of smoke from the fire). As we approached the scene we had traffic backing up. This almost always means that we have a bad wreck. We noticed that there was one patient with what looked like significant burns. We also noted that there was an older model suburban that was totally involved with fire and that the fire had already extended into the surrounding brush.

I quickly grabbed the bumper line and flaked out the hose while another firefighter grabbed the tools. Just as I was getting water, the medic ambulance pulled up. My engineer directed the paramedic to the patient sitting to the West of the accident. I started at the front right side of the suburban and worked my way around to the far side. Once there I knocked down the fire in the brush.

While I was working back around the front of the vehicle to finish knocking the fire down, I heard my engineer call my name and asked me to confirm that there was one fatality. It wasn't until this point, when some of the smoke cleared, that I could see that someone did not make it out of the vehicle.

Since the fire was knocked down my engineer asked me to go start helping out with patient care while he and the other firefighter finished extinguishing the fire. Just as I walked up the transporting ambulance showed up. I worked on one patient and the crew from the ambulance started working on the second one. My patient had been the passenger in the Suburban and had sustained second and third degree burns to about 60% of his body. We quickly stripped him of his clothes, did a quick head to toe exam, covered him in burn sheets (to try to stop infection), placed him on a backboard and started two large bore IV's.

As soon as he was packaged he was transported to the trauma center. From what I heard the other patient (the driver of the van) had sustained second and third degree burns to his left arm and chest. He also was severely hypotensive so he too was rushed to the trauma center.

From this angle it just looks like a bad wreck.

Here you can actually see the burns on the drivers side.

The driver had to climb out the back of his van.

I have no doubt that his seat belt and airbag saved his life.

This is the burnt out Suburban.

After rescue operations were completed we had to stay on scene and wait for the coroner (and the body recovery team). After they showed up the coroner took his photos for the investigation. We then had to disentangle the body from the vehicle. We popped the front passenger door off and grabbed the body bag. I then had to climb into the vehicle to guide the body out from the inside. To be respectful to the deceased I will not describe in detail the sights, sounds or smells that accompanied the task of body recovery. After the body was placed in the body bag we placed him in the coroners van.

A firefighter manning the power unit.

The coroner. He was actually the head Medical Examiner for the county. He happened to be the closest coroner to our call.

The Suburban was facing the other direction when struck. I'm not sure which lane he was in or if he was on the center divider. It took a lot of force to do this.

This is where the victim lay. That is the metal frame to the front bench seat there.

Mop up.

This is the where the brush was involved. Luckily it wasn't windy that day.

This boulder was under the Suburban. It was hit hard enough to crack it straight down the middle.

My engineer later did his Burn Center rotation for his paramedic class and was able to follow up on both patients. The driver of the Van had been discharged the day before my engineer was there. The other patient was still heavily sedated but was recovering well. He still has several surgeries to go through but he will live.


Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife said...

Wow, that is some wreck. How sad. My hubby deals with this stuff, too. I try to be his rock. I don't enjoy hearing the details, especially on SIDS babies, but he needs to get it out. That is what makes a good firefighter wife. We listen, we sympathize, we encourage and we love.

shelly said...

My husband is a FF in Virginia Beach, VA. He really doesn't tell me much of what he sees. He did tell me about one accident recently involving a single motorcycle. He hit a light pole at over 100mph. Needless to say it was a very disturbing scene for those that responded.

Morgan said...

There was a string of auto accidents that turned into fires last year. There has been more than one story that I've heard that has left me feeling a bit sick afterwards.

I can't imagine being the one to be on the scene of an accident like this. Awful.

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