By Michael Morse
Lawyer: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
Retired Firefighter: “I do.”
Lawyer: “State your name for the record.”
I forget most of the rest. I forget a lot of things, apparently. A letter had arrived by carrier to my home one day, a subpoena, hand delivered by an officer of the court. A few weeks went by, the day of the deposition arrived, and I showed up as ordered.
Lawyer #2: “You were first on scene at a fatal motor vehicle accident on Route 95 North at exit 25 on December 9, 2012. Do you recall the event?”
Retired Firefighter: “Yes, I do.” I’ll never forget it.
Lawyer #2: “Can you tell the attorneys exactly what you saw when you arrived on scene at …” a shuffling of papers “… 1134 hours?”
Retired Firefighter: “A van was on its side, broken glass, major damage. We drove past the vehicle and stopped in front of it. When I got out of the ambulance, I saw a child’s safety seat 20 feet away from the vehicle. I saw an infant in the seat, and the infant appeared dead.”
Lawyer #3: “Captain Morse, you state that you drove past the damaged vehicle. Is that correct?”
Retired Firefighter: “Yes.” I remember it vividly.
Glances between the assembled lawyers and clerks; the stenographer stayed on task. Pens on paper, then silence.
Retired Firefighter: “I approached the seat and found an unresponsive infant. Another ambulance crew arrived on scene and I handed the infant off to them and continued to assess the accident scene.”
Lawyer #2: “Did you initiate any life-saving efforts?”
Retired Firefighter: “No.” Why, I hadn’t thought of that….
Lawyer #2: “Can you tell us why?”
Retired Firefighter: “The other crew arrived on scene within seconds, and I needed to do a proper scene assessment and begin triage.” Wow, that sounds a lot better than it feels.
Retired Firefighter: “I looked into the van and saw two more victims. One appeared dead, the other still breathing. By now, more help had arrived—a chief officer, an engine company, and a special hazards unit.”
… The deposition continued. I told the story exactly as I remembered it, each detail clear in my mind. The incident happened years ago, but the memories from that day are embedded in my subconscious and easily pulled to the front of my mind when called upon ….
Lawyer: “Any more questions?”
Lawyers #2 and #3: “No.”
Lawyer: “Thank you, Captain Morse. We have footage from the scene and would appreciate it if you could identify some personnel; we need to get more information before the case begins.”
Retired Firefighter: “I’d be glad to.” Not.
A TV monitor was turned on, and news footage from the incident began. My vehicle was there, right behind the wreckage. I never drove past it. I also learned that the child seat was never thrown from the vehicle, though I vividly recall seeing it 20 feet away from the wreckage. Nothing was as I “vividly” remembered it.
It was as if a reenactment team did a poor job of reconstructing the incident. Actually, it was my own mind that did a poor job of recreating the incident. I have no idea how many other things that I vividly remember are actually fabrications. The mind is a strange place; bearing witness to things better left unseen must scramble things up more than I thought.
Retired Firefighter: “I wish you had shown me the footage before the questions.”
Lawyer: “Thank you for your time, Captain.”
And that was the end of the deposition. I hope they never call me again.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.