I’m sure someone told you early in your career not to bring the job home with you: “It’s better that they don’t know what you’re doing.” Sure, many of us have brought home tales from the streets, but I’m sure we sugarcoat the stories for our loved ones. Of course, we’ve also brought home stories to scare or educate our children about drug overdoses or auto wrecks with fatalities from not wearing seat belts.
Feeling a bit bad about my eating and drinking lifestyle on a summer beach vacation, I decided to include some regular exercise. A walk alone to sweat and just destress as the ocean’s waves hit my feet was my choice of strenuous activity for the day. I thought about firefighting at the beach and how firefighters would have to put up with the wind and elevated homes built on stilts-formulating a column for the summer. Little did I know as I walked back to the beach house that my world would change from vacationer to firefighter in an instant.
I turned the corner and saw a woman asking for help; two motionless individuals were lying on the ground nearby. My instinct took over, and I began a size-up: Two people were on the ground, an older male and a young female, with a bicycle in close proximity and a car farther up the road with a driver in shock. The woman asking for help informed me she was a nurse. She had been holding her towel on the male’s head; she removed it and showed me the wound. It was a life-threatening injury; I wasn’t sure if the patient would make it. A bystander yelled, “I’m calling 911,” and I yelled back, “Request two medic units for severe injuries.”
I moved over to help the young girl lying on the ground. Luckily, another nurse was in the vicinity and offered to help. As we began our patient assessment, we noticed a small amount of blood dripping out of her ears and that her pupils were pinpointed. She was in a bathing suit, and we could see all of her limbs were intact and there were no outward signs of trauma. We could feel a faint pulse, and her breathing was slow and labored. As a police unit arrived on the scene, we retrieved a bag valve mask from the first-aid kit and began assisting the little girl with her breathing. I could hear the sirens of approaching apparatus; never did the noise of air horns getting closer sound so promising, especially since now other family members started to arrive and saw what was unfolding. Onlookers stepped up and began comforting the victim’s family, which helped us in performing our duties.
The nurse holding the male patient began yelling, “Help; I’m losing him.” The male victim convulsed and threw up blood and then went limp. Within seconds, the members disembarked the fire apparatus and quickly began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). As the first medic unit arrived, the crew split in two, sizing up both victims and working on both until the second unit arrived.
Realizing the sun was taking a toll on me and after relaying the pertinent medical information to arriving firefighters, I let someone else take over respirations and helped retrieve boards and collars and get the stretcher ready. As the male victim was receiving CPR, he was loaded into the ambulance. A rescue helicopter arrived to transport the young female. When the patient was loaded and the helicopter took off, everyone on the ground kept their eyes upward until the helicopter was out of sight. There were handshakes and hugs for those who had never met but who assisted the best they could.
Walking away from the scene, my gut instinct was that we lost one (the male) and who knew what would happen to the little girl? I started to replay this incident in my mind: Did I do all I could have done? Why weren’t they wearing bike helmets? My mind raced back to some other incidents in which people on bicycles were struck-especially one in which a young boy was hit, driven across an intersection, and wedged almost entirely in a cast-iron storm sewer opening. We saved his life, but he sustained a compound fracture of the femur, an almost severed ankle, and severe lacerations.
Firefighters are going to vividly recall or relive traumatic scenes and have memories pop up that are triggered by similar incidents. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of this business. Usually when we’re around other firefighters, we share the fire stories and the funny ones, but it’s also okay to relive the other memories. Those people listening have encountered similar incidents. Most of us have been affected by a firefighter friend who has committed suicide and were dumbfounded as to why. We count on each other on every run, from crawling down a hallway in zero visibility to performing CPR on a victim. We’re here to help, listen, and support each other, so Please Tell Someone All the Details.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 29-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.