We’re All on the Same Team, Right?

Steve* and I were out of our district, covering another city. I’d known Steve since he was a wheelchair van driver and I was a new EMT. Now here we were, with over $100,00 worth of equipment, the last line of defense for thousands of people. We had just been discussing the absurdity of that fact when the fire radio squawked.

“Attention Ladder 3. . .”

For us, it’s either good or bad when they send just the ladder. On the good side, someone left dinner on the stove and is now locked out of their apartment. The ladder smashes the door, and everyone but the landlord goes home happy. On the bad side, it’s a medical emergency with someone trapped behind a locked door.

“Ladder 3, respond 7 Duke Avenue for the well being check.*” This would be the bad side. Someone apparently hadn’t seen their elderly neighbor in a day or two. Steve and I started sliding toward the address. ‘Sliding’ is a term of art in our business. It means we know we’ll be going somewhere, but we haven’t been dispatched yet. We’re not supposed to go until they send us, so we leave the red lights off and ‘slide.’

“Fire Alarm to Ladder 3”
“Ladder 3”
“Ladder 3, do you need EMS?”
“Ladder 3, that’s affirmative. We’re with the patient now. Have EMS continue.”

That was our cue. “Operations, Paramedic 8.”
“P8, go.”
“Mike*, do you have a call for 7 Duke Ave yet?”
“Nope, let me check with the other division.”

You’re kidding, right? We kept heading that way anyway. “P8, operations.”
“Go ahead.”
“The other division knows nothing about it either.”
“Mike, tell them Ladder 3 is looking for us, and we’re going. We’ll sort it out later.” Some of our Telecommunicators are good at anything but communicating.

Duke Avenue was a small, one way street on the extreme other end of the city. Upon our arrival, Ladder 3 was in the middle of the block taking up the whole street. We parked behind it, grabbed our gear and headed in. The captain met us on the front steps. We could see the broken doorjamb behind him. “She’s upstairs,” he said. “The visiting nurse called when she couldn’t get in. No one’s seen the patient since yesterday morning, and she’s down on the floor.”

Unfortunately, this is fairly common. Some of our most needy patients live alone with no one to look after them. We started upstairs. The apartment was as we’d expected; the trash hadn’t been tended in a while, and there were large stacks of newspapers, magazines and clothes everywhere. Some survivors of the Great Depression simply can’t throw things away; they’re afraid they may need them someday. We are left winding our way through the piles.

The firefighters were tending to Mrs. Smith*. She wasn’t badly hurt, but she needed to go get checked out. We loaded her into our folding stair chair for the climb back downstairs. It always seems that the sick people don’t live on the first floor, and in our old cities all of the staircases have at least a 90 degree turn in them. This one had a full 180 degree turn.

As we reached the bend, we stopped. Looking down, we found a police officer struggling to open the door from the inside. “Who shut that?” I yelled.

“I did,” responded Officer Dumbass, defensively.
“Why the HELL did you do that?” I yelled back.
“I had to see if we could secure it.”

OK, it’s always a bad idea to argue with the man with the gun. Add to that the fact that we work for a private service; we’re not supposed to antagonize the municipal employees. They tend to complain to our bosses. Still, here we were, two paramedics, a sick patient, and two firemen, all trapped in the stairwell with Officer Dumbass.

The firemen saved me. They could yell with impunity, and yell they did. Meanwhile, the poor captain was out on the front porch by himself, forcing the door open. AGAIN. Thanks, Cap.

We carried Mrs. Smith out to the street, only to find that our friend in blue had parked his car directly behind our ambulance. Ever notice where the stretcher goes?! Now that he was humiliated, Officer Dumbass decided to ignore us. He reasoned that he desperately needed to get some information from the visiting nurse. One of the firemen offered to move the car, but the captain wouldn’t let him. “Just climb on the hood; let him explain the dent to his Sergeant.” I think I like this captain.

Eventually Mrs. Smith got to the hospital in one piece. She got checked out, got social services, and came safely home again, no thanks to the local PD or our own dispatchers.

*Names and other identifiable details have been changed, of course.

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