Submitted by: Murray Pound
I’m lying on my back, with the roof of a import sports car between me and the scorching hot asphalt on a beautiful Alberta summer day. That morning I got out of bed, and readied myself for my day. Today was to be a day of tests. I had recently taken over the family business and the first item on my daytimer for the day was a customer negotiation to attempt to resolve some concerns they had. My Father (who was now my business partner, a whole other challenge) and I began the meeting over a cup of coffee. After an hour or so, we had come to some loose agreements with our customer when my pager sounded. All eyes in the room were on me, they were all silently saying: go! Everyone in the room understood that my responsibility as a Firefighter superseded this meeting and I quickly excused myself. to be honest I was happy to be on my way to the fire hall, as a fire call would be more enjoyable than what I had been up to so far this day. I could not be more wrong.
Station 1 had been dispatched to a single car roll over on the southbound side of the Queen Elizabeth 2 highway south of Carstairs. In these days, this was a particularly dangerous stretch of road. Narrow shoulders and long straight stretches were a trap for tired and inexperienced drivers. Many times we found people in the ditch or involved in a ‘card29’ (Multiple Vehicle Collision) because they had been lulled to sleep due to the monotony of the drive. They would drift a little, catch a tire off the pavement into the soft gravel on the edge, and the next thing you know, they are upside down in the ditch.
We arrive on scene to find a single vehicle on its roof straddling the slow and fast lanes. It looks awkward, like a shiny silver turtle on its back waiting for someone to turn it over. A senior Paramedic explains to our OIC (officer in charge) that we have a single occupant trapped and has some traumatic injuries in the passenger seat. I know we will have to extricate to get him/her out. I am ‘volluntold’ to assist the medic with patient care while the rest of our crew sets up a ‘hot zone’ for extrication duties.
I thought I was prepared for anything…I was wrong. As I write this now, all the old feelings are unexpectedly visiting me like running into a acquaintance after years of separation. I had been on bad calls before, we all have. You always go through the motions with your response team after such call and have a critical incident stress debrief. Believe me, these are often helpful to deal with the immediate flood of emotions and adrenaline withdrawal your mind and body go through after a bad call.
Her name is ‘Sarah’. Even upside down, and through the blood on her face you can tell she is beautiful. Sarah is 16. Sarah is bleeding out. Sarah’s blood is soaking into the chest of my bunker jacket. The medic and I are trying to stabilize her from inside the car as the crew is frantically cutting the car away from the three of us. My job is to keep Sarah as still as possible while everyone works. I am face to face with a dying teenager, trying to reassure her-everything’s going to be okay. I can hear the STARS Air ambulance landing nearby to take Sarah to the Hospital. I tell Sarah one last time it’s going to be okay… Sarah’s dead.
My wife often asks how we deal with it. The honest answer is, you never really do. Each call is like a one of those charms that my mother used to collect and wear on a silver bracelet. Each one was different, beautiful and had separate meanings. I think of my bad calls as charms on a mental bracelet I wear. It is useful to add some good calls to that bracelet every one in a while. Most people in the Emergency services has a ‘Sarah’ story. The only thing that helps is talking about it. If you are dealing with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), do me a favour, talk to someone, because there’s more Sarah’s out there and they need each and every one of you.