Sunrise and CISD

The Martin boys were home from college, enjoying a night out on the town. Some time around midnight, the twin brothers decided they were too drunk to drive home. They did the right thing, like their parents taught them, and called their friend and neighbor ‘Joe’ for a ride. Unfortunately, Joe was also too drunk to drive and too drunk to know it.

The intersection had a stop sign. The street approaching it was a 25 MPH zone. The intersection sloped upward, creating a ski jump shape. Joe was a local boy and knew all of this. The accident investigation would reveal Joe’s car was going almost 60 MPH when it left the ground.

I had just returned home from a midnight shift and fallen into bed. Shortly before 1:00 AM, my VFD pager went off reporting a crash. The communications center was receiving multiple calls reporting a loud crashing noise in the area. Sometimes these calls are harmless, a loud truck or other benign cause. This one wasn’t.

The first police officer on scene found Joe’s Chevy coupe on its side, wedged between the pole and a guy wire. The car had struck the pole six feet in the air, traveling sideways, then flipped up striking the pole again with its roof, then spun around the pole and fell to the ground.

One of the brothers in the back seat was beyond our earthly help. The police officer felt a pulse in the other brother, and then lost it. He yanked him from the wreckage and was performing CPR in the street when we arrived on the engine. The boy would be pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Joe and his front-seat passenger, another friend, were conscious and trapped in the wreckage. We immediately went to work with the hydraulic rescue tools, treating both as high-priority patients. They would both be treated at the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Then we sat down to wait. Since the only boy remaining in the wreck was obviously dead, we couldn’t do anything more until the Medical Examiner had released the body.

The Critical Incident Stress experts will tell you that all kinds of feelings are normal at a time like that. They will also tell you that many types of reactions are normal over the coming days, weeks, and months; and that you should avoid making any major life-altering decisions during that period.

What I felt was nothing. I sat on the back step of the engine and waited for the Doc to arrive and do his thing. There was a dead kid over there, and I should feel something. We’d come when called; we’d done our job; we’d done it well. Two were dead, and it wasn’t our fault; two were alive, and perhaps we could claim some credit for that.

I had an incongruous thought: I was glad I’d just taken delivery of my new pickup truck. I wouldn’t have to explain to some psychologist that I’d been planning to trade cars before the crash. It’s odd the things you think about at times like that.

After the ME was done, we used the Jaws to extricate the body, and we helped the funeral home crew place him in a body bag. It was the last useful thing we could do for him.

I was left with one more incongruous thought: I hate watching the sunrise over an accident scene. It’s nothing profound, nothing about hope and despair or life going on; it just means I’ve been up all night again.

I’ve agonized over how to share this post, as I live in a small town, and no amount of obfuscation can completely mask the parties involved. In the end, I’ve chosen to change the names and leave out the medical details, sticking to published matters and my personal recollections. I hope I’ve made no offense to the memory of the ‘Martin’ boys.

There is another related post here.

6 comments

  1. Ckemtp

    I feel you, brother.As a fellow Vollie Paramedic and firefighter in a small town, I've been to that scene. No, I wasn't physically there with you.. but every volunteer firefighter and/or EMT shares that experience with you at least once in their career. We come to help and sometimes we cannot. Then we remember who these people are, or were… and think that we'll no longer be seeing them around town. Maybe we won't be able to look their parents in the eyes anymore. Maybe they won't be able to look at us.I came from a town of 400 people and cut out my first calls in a department that barely missed the 100 annual call mark. Dad was Chief. When he unexpectedly passed every volunteer at that scene went through the pain that only a small-town responder can know.Good post.

  2. Ckemtp

    I feel you, brother.

    As a fellow Vollie Paramedic and firefighter in a small town, I've been to that scene. No, I wasn't physically there with you.. but every volunteer firefighter and/or EMT shares that experience with you at least once in their career.

    We come to help and sometimes we cannot. Then we remember who these people are, or were… and think that we'll no longer be seeing them around town. Maybe we won't be able to look their parents in the eyes anymore. Maybe they won't be able to look at us.

    I came from a town of 400 people and cut out my first calls in a department that barely missed the 100 annual call mark. Dad was Chief. When he unexpectedly passed every volunteer at that scene went through the pain that only a small-town responder can know.

    Good post.

  3. The Grumpy Dispatcher

    Ahh… the incongruous thoughts. Yes, I guess I never really observed them for what they are. Enlightening to see them described from a perspective external to my own.When I have those thoughts, I can never tell if that means I need CISD, or that I don't. And at times like the one you described, I just want nothing more than to go back to bed. Working rotating shifts makes falling asleep at any time of day easy.Thanks for sharing this….

  4. The Grumpy Dispatcher

    Ahh… the incongruous thoughts. Yes, I guess I never really observed them for what they are. Enlightening to see them described from a perspective external to my own.

    When I have those thoughts, I can never tell if that means I need CISD, or that I don't. And at times like the one you described, I just want nothing more than to go back to bed. Working rotating shifts makes falling asleep at any time of day easy.

    Thanks for sharing this….

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