In my time there have been three distinct events that have effected me still to this day. I want to share with you one of these, what I call my worst call so far. It was in August, 2009 in Northwest Indiana. It had been a beautiful day, warm, bright, cloudy blue skies all around. I worked for a service that had 1 ALS and 1 BLS ambulance on duty 24/7. I was working the BLS truck with another EMT this particular day, a woman that I had worked with many time in the past.
We were sitting on the front porch of the station when we were dispatched to a SUV vs Semi accident on the interstate. I vividly remember the dispatcher sounding frantic on the initial dispatch and giving unusual detail about what had happened. Both ambulances went as the likely severity dictated we would need both. We were informed en route that the semi had caught fire and they were starting two different local volunteer departments. As I got on the interstate I could see the column of black smoke way off in the distance as a giant marker of how far I had to go.
When I approached the scene I had to drive by the burning hulk that was the semi to get to where our patients were. I could feel the radiant heat of the inferno all over the left side of my body. We were immediately met by one of the local doctors who informed us that a car had been hit by a semi (not an SUV as dispatched) and that the two adults in the car were dead and there were two girls severely injured. We started helicopters to the scene since we were a couple of hours of driving time from any trauma center.
We had these girls in the median, doing what we had been trained to do. One was 11, the other was 17. The 11 year old was the worse between the two and had several very severe injuries. I was attempting to place a neck collar on her when a volunteer firefighter on scene yelled, “Get the fuck out of there now!”. I looked up to see a wall of smoke and fire moving at us. The semi had caught the grass in the median and shoulder on fire and thanks to the wind direction change the fire was moving at us…quickly. We picked up that girl and ran out of the median faster than I can even remember.
In the minutes that followed the 11 year old was put with the paramedic and doctor in the ALS truck while the 17 year old ended up in my truck. When I got into the back of my ambulance I began talking to her. I found that she was awake and could remember details of everything. She was crying and scared but did her best to answer me. I told her my name and that if she needed me to just call for me. I began my assessment and found all of her injuries, including a painful, rigid abdomen. I know she was bleeding internally but there was nothing I could really do.
She called for me once when she became rather scared, and I did my best to calm her. Several minutes later an Advanced EMT from my agency showed up and took over for me. We flew her sister out first and then several minutes later she was gone. I was not able to follow up with what happened to either girl until several months later. Someone had found out that the 11 year old had severe head injuries and survived about a week and half before dying in surgery.
I still had no follow up to what the status of the 17 year old was. I ran into the doctor that was on scene a few weeks later and he told me. She had died that night in the hospital from a ruptured spleen and they could not get the bleeding to stop. I was devastated. The girl who was talking to us, telling us who was who, where they were from and where they were going. The girl who I had told my name and had called for me. I was shaken for a few days but life moved on as it does. It moved on until once day a few months later I was in a car with my then girlfriend (now wife) and her family.
I was in the backseat of their small SUV traveling down the interstate. My girlfriend was asleep on my shoulder and I was merely looking out the window down at the grass and the pavement. Then BAM, all of a sudden I’m back on that hot day with the smell of the burning truck in the air. I walk up to my ambulance when the side door opens on its own and there she is, laying on the cot, screaming my name. When it stopped I almost started crying. I held back everything until I got out of the car.
I was stoic the rest of the night but I was devastated internally. And sometimes when I see burning grass or melted pavement, I remember a little about that day.My life has carried on. I’ve seen many things in this profession in my relatively short time in it, but nothing has ever been as bad as that day. I have changed in many ways over the years. Now I don’t tell people my name.
– Story written by Randy, 28 year old paramedic. 8 years in EMS.