Calls that Stick with You

By Diane Feldman

Tony Greco, Hackensack (NJ) Fire Department Dispatcher:

We had a fire alarm go off in a large hotel in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, years ago.  After checking the activation on an upper floor, we found an Asian man who read “Fire Alarm: ‘Pull Down’ for Activation” and mistakenly thought it was the elevator “Down” button.

Chief (Ret.) Rick Lasky, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department:

I was on my way into the office when I heard one of our ambulances and engines dispatched to an EMS run.  When the units were en route, the ambulance asked dispatch if it had any further information on the CAD notes that were given.  Dispatch replied, “Units, you’re responding to an adult female who was bitten by a snake.  Caller says she was attempting to show her son the difference between a Bull Snake and a Copperhead Snake and apparently got her pictures mixed up!” Units arrived to find a female patient with snake bite wounds apparently from the Copperhead, a venomous snake, and began patient care.  The crews quickly found the snake, killed it, and placed it in a bucket to bring to the ER so the hospital could verify the identity of the snake.  Note to self: If you’re going to attempt to show someone the difference between a nonvenomous snake and one that is venomous, make sure you have your pictures in the right order! 

Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder, Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department:

Listen to the old-Timers! In the very early 1970s, I was a member of a rescue squad in Trenton, New Jersey, and busy wasn’t the word for it. We essentially ran nonstop 24/7/365–and at that age, I was in paradise! From EMS runs to crashes to water rescues to fires, we ran to them all, and I loved it. It was also back when services were a bit rogue–in other words, training and enthusiasm were about equal, and sometimes training took a far back step, but that’s okay. We cared, REALLY cared!

One of the absolute greatest things about being a part of that squad, and something that has NOT changed today, was the opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade from those who know. In this specific case, I had been told one thing specifically by “old-timers” that directly apply to this story (and, again, still apply today): Always lift the patient using the sheet when moving from the stretcher to the hospital bed.

Naturally, we had a run on this particular day. It was an EMS call, and the patient was having some, err, uh, stomach issues. Of course, I assured the patient that she would be just fine. She was, but I didn’t end up being. Keep reading.

So we transported her and had a wonderful conversation while on the way to the hospital, lights and sirens wailing. Back then, EVERYTHING was an emergency. When we got her there, I ignored the “old timers” advice and reached directly under the patient’s “bottom” area (no gloves back then)–hand to buttock–to get her onto the hospital bed. Don’t do that. There are two reasons they told us to lift patients with the sheet–and both have to do with “movements”:

1. It allows for one solid and swift coordinated and comfortable “movement” of the patient.
2. It helps you avoid getting a handful of the “movement” when someone dies with full bowels.

Lessons learned that day? Sure, a few. But the biggest was to LISTEN and DO what the old-timers tell you. They have been there, done that, and have the dirty hands to prove it!

Assistant Chief (Ret.) John “Skip Coleman, Toledo (OH) Fire Department:

I was a Lieutenant on 1 Squad, the heavy rescue squad stationed out of Fire Headquarters.  Often, we would be minding our own business when the Chief of the Department would come down and introduce us to some dignitary (whichever dignitary would visit Toledo). These visits usually ended in us being “directed” to have the guest take a few runs with us.

On this occasion, we had the pleasure meeting the future (it was a mayoral election year) mayor’s wife.  She was an unusually attractive woman with a great sense of humor and personality, very lady-like and elegant for a bunch of firefighters.
We caught a few little fire runs of which we were cancelled en route or not assigned on arrival (prior to ICS and Staging days).

On the way back from the last fire run, we were sent to one of the cities flophouse hotels in the south part of downtown. It was called the Stanwalt Hotel and sounded lovely and quaint until you walked into the main entrance and tripped on empty 40 ouncers and the smell of urine wafted through the air.

We were directed to a room where a young man sat on the edge of the bed with a look of fear on his face.  I asked him what the problem was and he said he had worms coming out of his feet.

On a closer look while holding our breath, we saw dozens of maggots enveloping his toes. The odor was choking. He said he had a bad case of athlete’s foot and had not taken off his shoes and socks in weeks. Apparently while he was sleeping, flies entered the holes in his sneakers and laid their eggs.

We called an ambulance and shipped him to the hospital. Prior to the ambulance arriving, he asked us if we wanted him to take the other shoe and sock off. We told him a few more minutes wouldn’t matter and for him to wait till the doctors looked at it and were there to take it off.

When we got back in the squad, the mayor’s wife said, “I only have one thing to say: Your job stinks!” 

Photo found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Super Glue Corp.


The Yenta
Diane Feldman, a 22-year veteran of PennWell Corp., is executive editor of Fire Engineering and conference director of FDIC. She has a B.A. in English communications. She has been a yenta (look it up) for most of her life. If you have a story for the Yenta, e-mail

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