Sunday, November 22, 2009


A three letter word, beginning in F. As I write this, I can instantly think of three distinct meanings of the term. The first is a weather phenomenon, the second is an acronym for the term Effing Old Guy (I get called that a lot) and finally another acronym for the Field Operations Guide, which is a handy pocket manual designed to help us manage larger incidents.

This morning, the middle  term is writing about the former. It is 04:30 and I am at work. I should be in back in bed, but I am still a little juiced up from our last call. If I were to peer out of my dorm and look down the hall, I would see three closed doors, with no light escaping from underneath. I envy my three team mates. Not for their ability to get back to sleep, but for the optimism they display in trying. I am sure that in the morning, when I ask if anyone was able to go back to sleep, they will all answer no, not really.

An hour earlier, we had been dispatched to a traffic accident on the freeway. 03:30 is a bad time to crash your car. Little traffic usually means higher traffic speed. Elevated blood alcohol contents mean a higher chance of a secondary accident, as do sleepy drivers. This morning, the incident was affected by fog.

As the apparatus floor door rolled open, the cooler air entering the station caused me to look out. I realized that I couldn't see the buildings across the street and saw that the streetlight was basked in fog, its pinkish -yellow light clouded by dense mist.

Photo by unknown photograoher-Wickipic

We turned out of the station and rolled slowly down the road. The fog thickened as we turned onto Busy street, the tail lights of a pulled-over semi barely visible as drove by. My engineer slowed to a crawl when we approached where the intersection should be, the visual references that we depended upon not visible to us.

At last we saw the signal lights marking the intersection and we turned onto the highway. Visibility was now down to a hundred feet, not much when on a high speed thoroughfare. No cars were visible in front of us, none in the mirror. The fog reflected the rotating red lights back to us, our headlights failed to penetrate it. I commented to Cyndi how awkward it would be to run over a patient or another responder in this mess, she laughed nervously as she agreed with me.

My mind flashed back,  likely 28 years ago. I remembered standing in the number one lane of a highway in a similar fog. A brand new volunteer with the minimum training, I don't even remember how I got there. I will never forget the sensations of standing in the murk, with a charged hose line in my hands, protecting a person who was was trapped in their mangled car - then hearing the repeated sound of screeching tires and horrible impacts as car after car blindly drove into the morass, adding further to the carnage.

I remembered too, the relief I felt as additional units crept onto the scene, shielding me from what I felt was certain death. Relief for me and for the trapped patient, who was now going to receive the rescue and treatment he deserved.

I snapped back to the present as we made the transition to the six-lane, looking for the accident, unable to find it. The visibility began to minimally improve by now, a slightly warmer temperature or slightly less moisture in the air allowing us to see a quarter mile away. We drove through the area where the accident was reported to be and finally spot a deputy and a motor officer on a surface street, just off of the six-lane.

Photo courtesy NOAA

I told the other responding engine of our location as we pulled up. The motor officer did not appear to be from around here, I did not recognize his helmet or his duty rig as ones worn by our local officers. The motor told me that this was not what we were looking for, the accident was in fact back on the six lane, but farther south from where we entered it. He also told us that the accident involved his partner. As I reached for the transmit button, the other engine came on the air and told us that he had found the accident, back in the dense fog, back behind where we had come from.

We started toward the real accident location, the anxiety increasing as visibility begins to decrease. Dispatch came on the air and asked us to update them on the condition of the rider, the concern evident in her voice. Mercifully, the captain on the other engine radios that they have one moderate injury and that they can handle the call.

Honestly, I feel some relief as I get this information. I am relieved that the accident isn't bad enough to require our assistance and I am also relieved that we won't be out working on the six-lane at oh-drunk thirty, with the added risk of fog.

I am not sure that my level of anxiety is warranted when it comes to working on the six-lane, or that the increase in angst is justified by the presence of condensed moisture, suspended in air.

I can tell you however, although this F.O.G. may spend his days walking around in a fog, he does not like working in the fog.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    Somewhat off-topic, I remember driving on a state road that had deep water on each side but no rails during a heavy rainstorm (high winds, heavy downpour). People were both parked on the side or stopped in the road with their lights on, and you weren't sure which. If you got too far off the road, you'd just hit standing water. No place to go and no way to see. Scary!

    Elsewhere, on other days, fog along the lake, over the water, and it looked like you were staring at the edge of the earth. It's dangerous stuff, even us amateurs know that!

    Thanks for this.
    Ann T.

  2. I've run a few calls in the fog and its definately eerie. We have Alligator Alley over here in So Fla, and when I first became a paramedic it was two lanes (one each way!). Some of THE scariest calls I ever ran where on those two lanes in the middle of a foggy night.
    We've never had those massive pileups over here like you all have over there on a regular basis. I think the worst here was up in Tampa when a container ship ran into the Skyway bridge on a foggy night. Cars were driving off the end of the bridge. They had no idea what had happened and it was a mess.
    Heres the St. Pete Times story that ran...

    Stay safe Capt!