Monday, October 19, 2009


One of the most dreaded of emergency calls is “vehicle rollover”.

Years ago, when I joined the volunteer fire department, we were just that, a fire department. Nowadays, we are “Emergency first Responders”. We have mutual-aid agreements with all other emergency agencies and we are no longer called firemen or firefighters, but simply “First Responders.” We are expected to do it all. If it's an emergency we are most likely on it.

The “rollover” call is one of the most dreaded because of the technical aspects of rescuing the victims. If you are a First Responder, a lot of the rollover calls come in when you are sleeping the most soundly. Early morning calls, when people have been drinking too much, or have simply gotten too tired and fallen asleep, or rocks and debris in the road. Whatever the reason, frequently a vehicle will end up rolled upside down.

While you are sound asleep. Your pager will be sent a tone that turns in on, followed by a loud beeping sound that wakes you up. Then there will be a voice message something like; “Vehicle rollover, Briceland-Thorn Road, cross street Oakridge. Over the bank. Multiple trapped occupants. C.H.P. on scene, Garberville ambulance, Redway Fire, Technical rescue, and Cal-fire responding. Time out 0411.”

Your ears tell your brain, “wake-up, Emergency!”. Your brain kicks in. It screams to your Adrenal Glands, “Hey, wake-up down there! We need a shot of Adrenalin!” Immediately, before your feet can hit the floor, adrenalin is squeezing into your system. Your training kicks in, because you have placed this scenario in your brain at every drill that you have ever had before. Even though you are not awake yet, you realize that it is a real emergency. You know to put on your lighter “wildland firefighter gear”. Because, it is lighter-weight and easier to move around in. If it was a structure fire call, you would be putting on your “Bunker Gear,” which is very heavy fire protection gear, but difficult to move in well.

You are actually moving at a very fast pace, but it seems like you are just crawling. Your brain chews out your adrenal glands again; “Hey more adrenalin, we need to get moving, send me a double-shot-espresso adrenalin, I can't think, I'm still sleepy!” Hurry, hurry, hurry! Move, move move! Go, go go!

Finally, after you have your gear on, which seems like it takes you an eternity, but usually take about a minute, you get into your truck to drive to the fire department. The first thing that you tell your self is; “Slow down! Things are moving faster than you think!” “Drive like you have your baby daughter in the truck with you”. Your most important task, once you get behind the wheel, is to get to the victims safely. It may very well be somebody else's baby daughter that you will be saving. The last thing that you want to do is involve yourself in an accident. That will distract from the rescue at hand, and jeopardize not only yourself, but the victims that you are trying to rescue. Every responsible First Responder knows that.

Once you get to the fire department, you check your gear, get in an emergency vehicle, and respond “Code Three”. Which means full-on red flashing lights and siren. The flashing lights and siren are only asking for the right of way, it in-no-way gives it to you. If you run a red light and crash into someone, it is still your fault, and you will bear the responsibility of the crash. The only thing that the vehicle that failed to yield to you will be responsible for is; “Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle”. Which is still a violation, but not as serious as being responsible for a crash.

On the way there, some of the responders might say; “Whatta' we got”. Often the radio transmissions are weak, all we know is that we have a call. In our training we are drilled; Acknowledge all communications. So we are already in answer-all-questions mode. Somebody will say; Rollover, Oakridge”. Usually two or three words will give the outline of our call. Which will engage the thought process; “What will we do when we get there?” It's always a good idea to “chat it up” on our way. Somebody will say “ABC”. Which means, “Airway, Breathing, Circulation.” ABC is the first job of the First Responder.”

If the victim says; “Help”. You have just checked, they have an airway, and they are breathing. Sometimes it's simple. Then you move on to check all of the extremities for circulation. If circulation is cut off, the victim could lose an arm or leg. Sometimes all you have to do is remove the object that is laying on the victim, or reposition the limb. A real simple but important thing to do.

The reason that a rollover call is so scary is sometimes the victim will have a head injury and be bleeding. Hanging upside down is not the best position to be in with a bleeding head injury. To get the victim down is critical, but you will have to get him down without injuring his neck spine. Or, anything else. You have to rapidly put the victim in a C-Collar to stabilize their neck, gently lower them onto a back board, strap them on, and move them out.

Usually, the fewer words you can use the better, If the vehicle doors are jambed, you may hear the call; “Make a hole”. The person inside, with the victim, needs to know that you heard them. You always acknowledge. You say; “Make a hole”. That's much better than. “Okay”. "Okay" doesn't mean a darn thing. You could be replying to someone else. The other emergency people need to know, without any doubt, what you are doing, and if you heard them. Repeating their request is the best method to let them know that you heard them.

First responders are always trained to repeat the command. It's a very important habit to gain. We coach each other on that command often. I wish that I could teach my wife that little trick. I'm always saying as gently as I can; “Did you hear me???” Which always gets me chewed out at home. But, sometimes she doesn't hear me, and I get chewed out for not making myself clear. Sometimes a guy just can't win.

In the first responder business we keep things as simple as we can. “What” and “where” is all we need to know to mobilize. Usually two words get the job done. We leave “why, where, and when” to the news people. But, we need to know those two things.

When my Pager goes off, it gets my complete and undivided attention. Almost as much as my wife saying; “Honey we need to talk”.

This morning at at 4:10 AM my wife yells “Rollover”. My Brain says; “Quick, adrenalin!!!” annoyed that she didn't give me the second part: WHERE! I jump and hollar; “where???” She doesn't say anything. Annoyed that she isn't following protocol, I shout at her; “Where??? Brain to kidneys: “Quick, more adrenalin! I can't wake up!!!. Something is wrong, I didn't hear my pager, I was sleeping so soundly. Usually, I hear my pager, even as my wife sleeps through it, so it caused me to sightly panic. Nothing was happening according to plan... Brain to down there; “Help! I need adrenalin, now!” Finally adrenalin starts to kick in. My eyes are wide open, and I'm ready to dive into the “Hero business”, as we like to call it in the first responder business. No time to lose. Go, go. Go!

By then I'm getting very annoyed, and not really being careful to not step on my poor wifes delicate little toes, I shout again “Where??!!” not that I really need to know that. It's just part of protocol. Go, go, go...

My wife says... again!... “Rollover.. you are snoring.”

Whaaa.... I'm snoring??? Sometimes the hero business can be real simple, this time all I have to do is... “rollover”.

Now, with about four quarts of adrenalin in my veins, all I have to do is try to go back to sleep. I think that the confusion added more to my adrenalin than I normally would have summoned. So, I thought I might as well share some of my excitement with you. Anybody need some adrenalin??? I'll trade you a quart of adrenalin for a pound of sleep...


Bunny said...

Thank you Ernie, I'm leaving for work laughing. Good one!

Anonymous said...

I've heard of people sleeping in that late (5:21am) but didn't really believe it til now.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't she try non-verbal elbow commands before going all verbal on you?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Well, I'm a very light sleeper, and all she USUALLY does is simply say "snoring". Then, and I wake up and change my position. I know that I'm not snoring very loudly because it wakes me right up. The slightest murmur in my throat keeps me wide awake. When she accuses me of snoring, is often when she is wide awake and can't sleep. So she notices that I'm breathing, and it annoys her. She, however, snores quite loudly. That's how she sleeps through my middle-of-the-night fire calls. Unless I physically wake her up to tell her I'm leaving, she most often won't even know. Why she did not just say “snoring”, like she has in the three millennium, I’ll never know. But “rollover” puts me in “Emergency mode” instantly.

Having said that, I am particularly glad she doesn’t read my blog, or I would be sleeping on the couch, where snoring is not a problem. Why is it that whatever a husband does is so disinteresting to a wife???

Ernie Branscomb said...

Bunny, you and Kirby must remember the middle of the night calls, and the adrenalin.

spyrock said...

that was a great short story. my uncles actually ran an ambulance company for many years and now one of my cousins runs it. they are two of the nicest men i have ever known and they've seen it all. somehow, they maintained their sense of humor all those years and i have tremendous respect for both of them and for anyone who responds to these emergencies.
i actually went on an ambulance run when I was 18. It was a big dose of reality but it turned out to be a false alarm. I was the driver and I was hoping that the other guy would handle the details.
fortunately, one of my fellow employees set me up by driving 80 mph out to a school to pick up some special needs kids. he was driving one ambulance and i was in a really old one following him that he didn't tell me that you had to check the oil every time you used it. so on the way back from the school, The ambulance engine burnt up with a load of special needs kids in it and me trying to figure out how to use the radio to call for help. so a few days later they suggested i see if my job at the peach ranch had started yet. that was the end of my responder career. i never had the nerve to ask them for a job again because i felt bad about burning up their first ambulance. i wound up dating the guy who got me fired sister. and i fell in love with her and gave her all my avalon and fillmore posters. then i got sick with infectious mono around the time the men walked on the moon and never saw her again. posters either. so it was a double whammy.

Rose said...


Dave said...

Nice set-up for a comedic piece! I really enjoyed it. Never saw it coming...

There was a rollover on Harris yesterday (10 a.m.ish) in front of the hospital.
I couldn't figure out how the person managed to flip the car completely over. Whoever drove it was taken away in an ambulance (General hospital was right there after all). Kinda ironic.

Kym said...

I'm with Anon--the non-verbal elbow cue works well.

Anonymous said...

That was a good laugh Ernie, thanks!
The pooch doesn't sleep with you?