Story and photos by Adam Snyder
Fire & Rescue Chief, Atlantic Beach (NC) Fire Department
On April 24, 2010, after enjoying FDIC 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana, two other fire chiefs and I were traveling by car on Highway I-64 in Kentucky, heading home to North Carolina. It was 11:00 a.m. and we were talking about what we experienced at the conference when we came around a sloping bend and noticed a few vehicles’ brake lights on. We looked ahead and saw smoke and car parts flying through the air. We realized that we just witnessed a motor vehicle crash.
We approached the scene and saw two cars with major damage. Deputy Chief Jamie Fulk of the Morehead City (NC) Fire Department and I jumped out of our vehicle and ran toward the vehicles. I was met by a gentleman who was yelling, “Stay away from the car because there is fuel all over and the cars are going to catch fire.”
We ran past this man towards the vehicles. Chief Scott Alderman of the Lewisville (NC) Fire Department called 911 on his cell phone and was trying to describe our location and that we had a major vehicle accident on I-64. Deputy Chief (DC) Fulk ran to the first vehicle to check on the victims. I ran toward the second vehicle to check on the people in that car. As I approached, the vehicle fuel was all over the ground. The roadway for 100 feet was like an ice skating rink because of all the fuel and fluids. DC Fulk was wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers. I was wearing sweat pants, T-shirt and sneakers. We definitely considered that we did not have any protective gear on, though we were not going to just stand by and do nothing.
As I approached the vehicle I could not believe the amount of damage. The B-post on the passenger side was a foot away from the B-post on the driver’s side. I looked through a small area that looked like part of the front windshield and saw a woman’s hand and head. The woman was pinned from just below her neck and I was able to reach in to check a pulse on her neck. The woman had no pulse and I saw a significant amount of blood. I then proceeded to check the remaining interior part of the car through several small areas I did not recognize. I did not see the presence of anyone else in the car. I went back to the woman to confirm she did not have a pulse. I left that vehicle and proceeded to the other vehicle that DC Fulk was at. I told him that we had a fatality in the first vehicle.
All this happened in about one minute. DC Fulk told me that we had two victims in the second car and that one was unconscious with agonal respirations. Chief Scott Alderman at this time was talking with 911 and advising them to send two medical helicopters to our location. He told them we had one fatality and two critical patients.
As I walked around to the passenger side of the second vehicle I saw DC Fulk holding this woman and cutting off her seat belt. The woman was blue from her neck up and was breathing about once every 15 seconds. He held her head up trying to open her airway to assist in her breathing. I assisted him in cutting the waist strap from her seatbelt, which was compressing her pelvic region.
We forced the passenger door open with our hands to gain better access to the woman. I saw a Kentucky state trooper arrive and I ran to him to see if he had a bag valve mask in his car that we could use to ventilate the woman. He did not. I ran to the driver’s side to check on the driver and he was conscious but in severe pain. He stated that his stomach was hurting really bad. The driver’s door was crushed in and the front dash was lying on his legs and torso. The air bag deployed, but I noticed that the steering wheel was deformed because of the impact. I could only see the driver from mid-chest up. I told him who I was and that help is on its way.
A Bath County (KY) EMS unit showed up and assisted us in removing the woman from the car. It was obvious that the woman had open fractures to her lower legs. We loaded her into the ambulance so emergency medical care could be given.
Chief Scott Alderman pretty much took command of the scene initially while DC Fulk and I attended to the victims. A Bath County rescue pick-up truck arrived on scene. I identified myself as a fire chief from North Carolina and that I was also a paramedic.
I advised him that we had a fatality in the first vehicle and told him that we are here to help him. “We need to get these people out of the car,” he said.
I walked over to the driver of the second vehicle and told him we were going to get him out. The chief of the rescue squad that showed up in the pick-up was unloading a hydraulic pump, spreaders, cutter, and a ram. I grabbed the tools and hooked up the lines. DC Fulk and I decided that we would remove the roof first and then remove the driver’s door to gain access to the driver.
I grabbed the cutters and cut the A and B post. I handed the cutters to DC Fulk and he cut the A and B post on the passenger side. We creased the roof and folded it over. I then proceeded to spread the driver’s door from the hinges. I cut the hinges and we removed the driver’s door. We realized that we were going to have to use the ram to lift the front dash and steering wheel off of the victim so that we could free him. I made a relief cut in the bottom door frame. We cribbed under the rocker panel for support and crimped the cutters on the rocker panel. We placed the ram on the blades of the cutter and the other end on the metal support of the dash and proceeded to lift the front dash. Once we had disentangled the victim, the EMS crew brought over a stretcher and we removed the victim from the car. The second helicopter, which Chief Scott Alderman requested via cell phone, at this point was just landing. The first victim was in the helicopter and was being flown off to the hospital.
This was a true experience for all three of us. We never thought we would be doing vehicle extrication in Kentucky while wearing ordinary clothes in a hazardous environment. I believe the Lord works in mysterious ways and he put us in that place at that time for a reason. Our journey to the FDIC conference truly saved a life.
Adam Snyder is the fire and rescue chief for the Atlantic Beach (NC) Fire Department.