Thursday, April 17, 2014

Above All Else, Do No Harm

I think before the Community Emergency Response Team takes their final exam, the entire class will also swear allegiance to the Hippocratic Oath.

On Wednesday night the CERT team learned basic firefighting skills, and by basic I mean little fires.  But, like the mighty oak, many monster fires start with a combustion point not much bigger than an acorn.

And if you can get to it before it has a chance to feed, the voracious dragon is more easily slayed.

As a lightly trained volunteer the first thing a CERT member does is to sizeup the situation and decide if there is anything they really can do, safely, to help the scenario.

 Hadley fire 10/27/13.  Not your basic fire

First rule, Rule #1, is protect yourself, second rule is protect your family and third rule is to then help those in need, until the professionals arrive.

But only if you can do it without violating rules #1 and #2.

 Streaming Cinda

To drive home the point, powerfully, the class watched a five-minute film with a somber final scene.  The instructor asked before hand if anyone wished to leave the room.  Nobody did.

A police officer on a rural dirt road arrives on an accident scene involving a car and a farm truck, each vehicle coming to rest on opposite sides of the road.   A large body is laying face down halfway between them, directly in the center of the road, but partially obscured by what appears to be smoke.

The truck on the right has a diamond shaped placard attached, although due to heavy fog-like conditions which are getting noticeably worse, it's not easily discernible.

The officer radios dispatch to report the scene, requesting fire and EMS response with a push, and before getting out of his vehicle requests their estimated time of arrival.

He's told, "5-7 minutes." 

His dashcam records the officer quickly move to the victim in the road.   By now both are almost obscured by the mist and you can hear the officer say loudly as he kneels by the victim, "Are you okay?" No answer. 

Then a series of loud hacking coughs.  The officer is no longer kneeling ...

For the next few moments his personal microphone kicks on and off rhythmically, as the officer draws his final breaths.

A firetruck appears from the opposite direction, pulls up close to the scene and firefighters can be seen gearing up for what seems like agonizing minutes, but in fact was probably less than a minute. 

A couple firefighters run a hose to the truck and start spraying it down with water while others scoop up the officer on a portable stretcher.  The film ends.  They both died.

In fact the initial victim the officer desperately tried to save, giving up his own life in the process, was already dead.  The white "smoke" was deadly chlorine gas.

When I took the APD citizens police academy 15 years ago they had a newfangled LaserDisc that stored a 1,000 or more interactive training scenarios projected on a large screen to practice "shoot or don't shoot" situations.  

In the last scenario of three, I died (but took the perp with me).  I was so distraught I asked the instructor the next day what had I done wrong?  "Nothing," he responded. "There are 3 or 4 scenarios on that disc designed to ensure you die."

Thus sending a humbling message any professional first responder knows all too well, as they don't always have the luxury of abiding by Rule #1:  You can do everything right, tapping decades of skills and experience, motivated by the best of intentions ... and death can still win.


Aidan 1 Fire 0

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Larry, based on what you describe, that officer didn't have a chance and would have died even if he hadn't gotten out of his cruiser.

A motor vehicle is not an airtight container (you'd quickly suffocate inside if it was), and I'd be surprised if he wasn't being exposed to a high level of Chlorine inside his cruiser before he even got out. I doubt that he would have remained functional long enough to (a) get his cruiser far enough away for the air to be breathable, (b) make the judgment call that he was far enough away and then (c) get himself out of the contaminated cruiser and into the outdoor air until help arrived.

You need to be worried about Hydrogen Sulfide when you can't smell it anymore, I think Chlorine is the same way, and to me the fact that the officer didn't have a visceral "I've got to get the f*** out of here" response the instant he opened his cruiser door speaks volumes to how badly exposed he already was.

Chlorine is scary.