Friday, February 5, 2010

quick on the draw

Brian, over at Switch 2 Plan B just finished a seven part series on dumb 911 calls - people calling ambulances and fire trucks for runny noses, insomnia, headaches . . . serious stuff if you're a hypochondriac. If you haven't visited Switch 2 Plan B recently, it's worth having a look.

In Upsala, we have the opposite problem. People here are pretty self reliant, and usually don't call us unless all hell breaks loose. It's the passersby that are the problem, especially since the advent of cell service a few years ago.

Like the time we got called to a vehicle crash, reportedly two tractor trailers, head-on in a rock cut. Bad stuff. We boot down the highway, all psyched up for the crash of the century, and when we get to the spot, all we find are ruts in the soft shoulder. Turns out a trucker pulled over too far and got stuck, so another trucker nosed in close to pull him out. A passerby sees the two trucks nose to nose ("head-on"), pulls out his cell phone without slowing down, and dials 911. In his rearview mirror, he sees that the trucks are sitting next to a rock cut. And so, the false alarm of the century is born.

Click here for another one of my stories about a not-so-good Samaritan that was quick on the draw with his trusty cell phone.

Then there was the time that we were paged to a tractor trailor vs pick up, head-on, and vehicles on fire. We've done enough of these to know that's a bad combination. Our response area covers 100 km of highway, so we usually have plenty of time en route to imagine every possible scenario. Halfway there though, we got a cancellation page.

"How can you cancel a head-on with vehicles on fire," I ask the dispatcher.

"I don't know, but ambulance is on the scene and they said they don't need you," she replies.

I'm not hell-bent on going just for the fun of going, so we turned around. Later, we found out that the pick up had stopped too close to the edge of the highway, and a tractor trailor had clipped its front bumper (the head-on part of the page). A small smolder had started in the engine compartment (the fire part of the page), but was quickly put out with a fire extinguisher.

Another time it was the classic "vehicle in the ditch," which experience tells us can mean anything from the apocalypse, to someone pulled over having a nap. This time, the vehicle was sort of in the ditch . . . and the owner was spitting nails angry when we arrived. "I need a tow truck! Why did you bring a *%$#@ fire truck?! "Um . . . because I'm a firefighter," I say, "and my pager went off and it's 5:00 AM, and I would have been happy to stay in bed . . ."

Some folks seem to think we do this stuff for kicks.

Brian makes a good point in the last entry of his 'dumb 911 call' series. Firefighters and civilians die every year in collisions involving fire apparatus. A 54 year old man died in Vaughan, Ontario earlier this week in such a collision. It's dangerous enough just driving down the road. You add lights and sirens and adrenalin and vehicles that don't yield and cars that appear out of nowhere, and the game gets infinitely more dangerous. The moral of the story is, call if you need us - we're happy to come - but be a really good Samaritan and get the right information. If nothing else, you might help some poor firefighter get a good night's sleep.

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