Saturday, July 11, 2009

Paranoia (just a little)

As you walk out of my kitchen door and into the garage, you will face the side of a large cabinet. Affixed to the cabinet are numerous mementos of my career. They are little things mostly. A manufacturers plate from the engine I drove as a newly promoted engineer; the “Captains office sign from a fire station long since torn down; several apparatus emblems, such as Crown Coach and Ward la France. Those are from engines that are now molten into something else. Little items that mean nothing to anybody but me.

The largest item affixed to the wall of the cabinet is placed in a manner that requires me to look at it every time I walk into the garage. Considering that I park my daily driver in the garage, it means that I have to look at it every time I go to work.

This item is not directly related to the fire service. It is the only item on that cabinet wall that is not. It is a souvenir from New Year’s Eve about 5 years ago.

I was working on that New Years Eve. I didn’t mind really. The saint that I am married to and I are not real “party animals”, we usually celebrate with family and friends on another day.

On that particular New Years Eve, I was working at one of our busier stations. It had been an abnormally slow day call wise and we were all a little strung out by the holiday season. I had gone to bed early and was not particularly happy when the tones went off at about 0130 I waited in bed, hoping the call was for the squad or for the truck company. A few seconds later, the voice on the other end of the wire told me that it was time to go to work.

“Engine 201 and AMR, respond with Eastvale Engine 4 to a reported traffic collision on the highway, eastbound highway 394 and Rincon Rd. Car is reported to be off of the highway. Respond on blue 6. Contact Eastvale on their TAC2.”

We were running a person short that night, someone was off on vacation. The three of us remaining dragon slayers tried to get our heads clear as we walked down the hallway and entered the apparatus floor.

I pressed the magic button as I walk by it. The apparatus bay door opened and a blast of frigid air chilled us as we donned our safety gear. As we pulled out onto the front ramp, we were greeted by a wet street and a light rain.

I became a little apprehensive. Darkness, wet pavement, highway speeds and a high drunk to sober driver ratio combined to increase the chances of a routine call going bad.

We hung a left and a short while later we entered the highway. The Eastvale engine entered right behind us; they must have been clearing another call.

We work with Eastvale Fire Protection District a lot. We share district boundaries, including the highway. We have their radios in our rig, they have ours in theirs. Depending where this call was located, this call could have been theirs or ours. I made contact with them on their frequency and made sure that we were working with the same information.

We drove down the highway, looking for signs of an accident. Although the rain had stopped, the spray from passing cars speeding down the wet highway coated our windshield, causing us to use the wipers.

As it was dark, and the pavement wet, the spotting of fresh skid marks was impossible. We were driving at a slower speed, using a spotlight to scan the shoulder for a vehicle or a victim. This was a double edged sword. The slower speed enabled us to search more thoroughly, but it also increased the chances that some drunk would plow into the back of our engine.

I leaned forward and looked into the side rear view mirror. I could see the Eastvale engine behind us, doing the same thing as we were. I felt a little better, as they were acting as a shield for us. The drunk would likely hit them before us.

Both units drove down the highway for several miles past the reported location. We found nothing. I checked with our dispatch to see how many calls had been received on this. I could hear the Eastvale engine do the same with his. Only one call was received and that was to our dispatch. No additional information was available. The call back number was to a cell phone, and was going to voicemail.

We drove to an off-ramp five miles down the road and turned around. I had Eastvale Engine 4 drive a mile further east to the next off-ramp, then turn westbound. I told them if they didn’t find anything, they could return to service. Our westbound search revealed no sign of an accident either.

We proceeded westbound until we reached the off-ramp where we entered the highway to begin with. As we reached the top of the ramp, I evaluated our options. The highway had been searched twice, once by each unit. The state troopers had been in the area and had found nothing as had AMR, our ambulance provider at that time. This information was countered by the recent headlines of an incident that occurred in California where a woman drove off of the road and the responding agencies did not find her. She was found by family members a week later, unfortunately dead.

I would like to say that I have superior decision making capabilities or that a superior level of logic, intellect and good judgment has kept me mostly out of trouble over the years. But that would not be entirely true. On several occasions, I have just been lucky when presented with difficult choices and made the right one. Other times, as in this case, just wanting to cover myself, in case something went wrong, has caused me to make the right choice.

“Babs, take another lap” I told my engineer “I just want to make sure”.

We headed eastbound again, driving slow, using the spotlight. Except this time we didn’t have the shield of the Eastvale engine behind us.

A few miles pass. Still no sign of an accident. No debris, no broken fence, no damaged landscaping. As we approached our turn around point, I heard Cindi over the intercom. “Stop. Stop, I think I see something”.

Babinski pulled the unit over and stopped. Cindi and I grabbed hand lights and got off of the engine for a closer look. The reflection that Cindi saw was a CD, leaning up against a bush.

Finding a CD along side the highway is not unusual. We live in a county of slobs, littering the roadsides with anything that is no longer wanted. The bush is located well off of the highway. It is amazing that Cindi spotted it. As we looked at it, we raised our hand lights and saw additional debris plus a spot where there appears to be an impact point.

We start moving farther from the road, now dropping into a small gully. A voice called to us from across the gully “Help me I’m over here!”

We shined our lights toward the voice and saw a male, walking in the bushes toward us. He appeared to be moving fairly well, though covered in moist earth. I advised dispatch that we had found the accident and asked her to advise the troopers and AMR where we were.

We then saw the car, which was on its roof, lying along side some railroad tracks. The tracks are a spur line and run along the bottom of the gully. They were not much of an issue, as they are only used two or three times a week and have a slow speed restriction on them.

The male pt. told us that he was looking for his girlfriend, who was in the car with him when it crashed. We looked in the car, then under it. She was not there. We found her in a few minutes, lying in the weeds. She was semi-conscious, but was breathing well.

AMR arrived and we got both patients assessed, treated and loaded for transport. As it turned out, the male patient was basically uninjured. The female had a broken arm. Her altered level of consciousness was primarily due to excessive alcohol in her bloodstream.

We made the appropriate notifications and checked the area one more time. Just in case.

All involved were lucky that night. Our patients were lucky as in they were not injured worse; we were lucky that I was a little paranoid and decided to check one more time. All were lucky that Cindi saw the CD and spoke up about it.

How does this tie in to the side of my garage cabinet? The one non-fire service item attached to it is a roadside marker that the above mentioned car took out as it left the highway. We found it as we cleared the scene. It had been thrown a hundred feet or so from where it belonged. I told the trooper I was taking it; he laughed and said that he wouldn’t arrest me for stealing state property.

It is on the side of my cabinet to remind me to be thorough, vigilant and maybe just a little paranoid. I see it every time I go to work.

Thanks for reading,


Just another Schmoe, keeping the wolves from the door.

1 comment:

  1. Great story Capt., and a great reminder.

    And thanks for the comment "over there." I think you may be right about the what was I waiting for.