Back to the brain

A Firefighter's Story

reproduced here by kind permission of Leek firefighter 'Billy' Walker

Photos Copyright Tony

M J Dempsey
Copyright (C)

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Awakened by my alerter at 0111hrs in the morning, I realise that a call has been made to summon the assistance of the Fire & Rescue Service.  Adrenaline forces me out of bed, to get dressed, to get on my bike and respond to the station, all the time trying to clear my mind of sleep and focus on what is to come.

Reaching the station, the atmosphere is charged with anticipation.  It soon becomes obvious that this incident is an RTC (road traffic collision) where someone is trapped.  The first appliance is already crewed up, and leaves as I arrive, lights flashing, with firefighters getting kitted up in blood gloves and protective clothing to deal with any casualties.  I am told to drive the second pump to the scene.

Climbing into the driving seat, my thoughts are of the route to take, the road conditions and what will be needed when we're there.  Knowing that someone is trapped makes the drive more urgent, but I know it is just as important to get there safely without endangering the crew or other road users.

Approaching the RTC, I slow the appliance to allow me to view the incident.  It becomes clear that this is an unusual call;  the vehicle is resting on top of steel railings, right side up, but with a trail of destruction leading up to it.   Damage to the car is severe;  the passenger side is mangled, the roof is collapsed.  As a firefighter, I know that any passenger is in trouble; the damage indicates serious if not fatal injuries.

I get out of my seat, intending to put on my firekit.  Glancing up, John tells me that there is "one in".  Time is now of the essence and rescue gear is being deployed, the car is being stabilised to prevent any further injury to the occupant, an equipment area is established, and decisions are now being made on an extrication plan which we hope will save the casualty's life.

The medical staff want him out of the wreckage fast because the injuries sustained are severe and life threatening.  Mark readies the cutters, working under the direction of the paramedics to extricate as quickly as we can.  When enough space has been made, the casualty is lifted onto the spine board to immobilise him, and transferred to a stretcher on the roadside.

Looking down at the young man lying before me, I can see that his left side is shattered, he has a serious head wound and is struggling to breathe.  The doctor tells me he has a tension pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity putting pressure on the heart and lungs) which needs to be relieved.  Having sedated the man, the doctor can now make an incision into the chest to relieve the pressure and allow him to breathe. 

It doesn't work.  The doctor forces his hand into the chest to displace a rib to let the lung re-inflate.  While this is happening, a tube is inserted into his throat so that we can maintain an airway for him, needles are positioned to get blood and fluids in, and the helicopter is prepared to evacuate him to hospital.

Leaving the scene after all our kit is checked and replaced for the next call, I can reflect on the previous hour.  I know we have done our best for the man; all we can do is hope that we did enough to improve his chances.  When I crawl back into bed, still thinking of this call, I wonder when the next RTC will be, and this time, will I know the victim??  The effect that the accident has had on him and his family, I cannot begin to imagine.  I know it will begin with a knock on the door from a policeman on a cold wet night, but as a firefighter, we can only hope that we did enough....