I almost died today. As we approached the intersection I looked up and I saw my death coming at me. It was a large box truck. I quickly calculated that at its rate of speed eastbound on Park and at our rate of speed southbound on Broad, there was going to be collision. The box truck was going to strike our ambulance on the front passenger door (where I sat). I was going to get pulverized — my bones smashed to dust. As we hurtled toward my death I saw my baby at home that morning in her swing looking up smiling at the little birdies chirping on the mobile that went round and round. I looked at that oncoming truck and saw that is was still coming and not slowing nearly enough. There was no chance that it would stop until after it had snowplowed us.
I started screaming. It began with “Lookout!” I have no idea what else it included (likely profanities mixed with just plain scared I don’t want to die guttural exclamations). My shouting did not stop until we stopped and the big truck roared on past. If the truck driver saw us or made an attempt to stop at all, I do not know. I have no idea who had the light. I really wasn’t paying attention to anything other than suddenly recognizing that we needed to decelerate. It wasn’t important in that moment that we stop before our nose crossed onto Park Street, because that clearly wasn’t going to happen. We just had to stop before reaching the lane the truck was in. I don’t think the truck driver even saw us coming. If he did, he must have known he wasn’t going to be able to stop.
This was a serious incident. This was no routine, boy, we almost had an accident. This was my death. I don’t know if my partner would have stopped on his own if I hadn’t shouted. Maybe. Maybe he had it all under control and was already getting ready to hit the brakes. I don’t know. Maybe I was hallucinating. Maybe I was like one of those old guys who shouts incoming! and tucks while everyone else at the nursing home is peacefully enjoying the snap crackle pop of their morning Rice Crispies. Maybe it was all a sort of daydream nightmare. But it was awful real. Someone blew the light. The truck or the ambulance? I don’t know. Who was wrong doesn’t matter to me right now.
My partner and I didn’t talk about it. One of us might have said “Where did he come from?” Or “That was close.” Or “I thought he was going to stop.” I don’t remember clearly. And we didn’t dwell on it. I did not feel like talking. And we were, after all, still on a call. I couldn’t get out and light a cigarette with shaking hands (I don’t smoke) or stagger into a Park Street bar and order six bourbons and six beers. We had a job to do. So we carried on like nothing had happened. Priority one. Difficulty breathing. We had blocks to go before we could stop. We were on a complete cross town response. We were going from the north end to the south end into the territory of another company whose cars were all tied up.
I don’t know who passed the call to us – the other company or the police. But when we got to the address the first thing I noticed was there was no fire engine out front. What that told me was the fire department wasn’t dispatched because it probably wasn’t a serious enough emergency for them to be bothered. They aren’t dispatched to all calls. They don’t go to routine sick calls. But they are dispatched to difficulty breathing calls. So why weren’t they there? Maybe it wasn’t really a priority one call? If they are not dispatched, and we are sent priority one, when we walk in, it is almost always bullshit. Somebody knew something about the call that we didn’t because the fire department wasn’t deemed necessary to respond. Someone wasn’t sharing information. They just said fuck it, coded it for us as difficulty breathing and put us in the line of fire — in the path of that oncoming truck.
When we walked into that building and down the hall into apartment number three, we found an old guy sitting by the window smoking a cigarette. The story was he had terminal cancer and the home aide who stopped by earlier discovered he was taking 3 morphine pills three times a day, instead of three morphine pills in a day(one morphine pill three times a day). He was taking nine pills instead of three, but he had no complaints and he wasn’t having a hard time breathing. He wasn’t even slightly altered. He was just an old guy with cancer sitting by the window having a smoke.
God bless him. They just wanted him checked to see if taking the extra medicine was harming him. We walked him out to the ambulance.
Afterwards, I wanted to pick up the phone at the hospital and call dispatch and say “Hey, who took that call? This is me calling from the grave. I died on Park Street today and I want to know WHY I was sent lights and sirens and the fire department was not dispatched. I want it known that I died for BS. I was killed for BS. I want it known! I want an investigation that will change the way ambulances are dispatched in this city, in this state and in this country. I want it known!”
Click on this web site: Ambulance Crash Log Every day EMS people die on our streets. How many of those people die for BS? I’m all for safe driving practices and I am not pointing my finger at my partner because I wasn’t paying attention and when I did, I was too scared to see anything or know anything other than the big box truck was coming too fast. It wasn’t going to be able to stop. And if a miracle didn’t stop us, I would be dead. He’s coming. We’re not stopped. He’s still coming. We’re still moving. He’s still coming. We’re still moving. We may be slowing, but we’re still moving and he may be slowing, but he isn’t going to be able to stop. We’re the only ones who can avoid this. Please Stop!!!! Not just slow, but STOP! Stop completely before we cross the center line and I am knocked into the great void.
Like I said, I am all for safe driving practices, including coming to a full and complete stop at all intersections whether the light is red or green. But having that policy doesn’t take away from the fact that driving lights and sirens is inherently dangerous and it is so soo unnecessary just about all of the time.
I was going to take another shift tomorrow. Frankly, with just one of us working right now with the baby still so new, we need the cash. But after that incident, I said forget it. I told myself tonight I’m going to go home, I’m going to walk right into the kitchen and open up the refrigerator door and take out the one cold bottle of Red Stripe I have in the house. I am going to pop the top and then down it – guzzle it empty in one long I am alive chug. And then I’ll go back to the bedroom, change out of my working clothes, take a shower, put on some jeans and a clean t-shirt, come back, fix everyone dinner, and then later I am going to sit on the couch and hold my little daughter in my arms, and talk to her in our own little father daughter language and never raise my voice above a whisper. Maybe tomorrow, we’ll go to the park. It’s supposed to be a nice day. Saturday I’ll be back at work.
The sad thing is that a week from now I am going to post that ambulance crash web site again and there will be at least one new story about an ambulance crashing and one of us dying or being badly hurt. One of us will sit there helpless as death hurtles toward us, only we won’t be able to stop, and we’ll know it, and then there will be the impact. A young life will come to an end. Be safe out there.