Friday, April 2, 2010

Upsala in History

Now that I've made a lame attempt to April Fool you, here's a piece of Upsala history:

April 1, 1997
The March lion descended a day late, and it's blizzarding like it can only blizzard in the spring in Upsala. Ambulance is paged at 8:00 to a "vehicle in the ditch." Fire isn't paged, because in those days we were only paged when they knew they needed us. Nobody thought they needed us this time . . .

At 8:30, still no page. I guess they really didn't need us.

At 9:00 my pager goes off. Extrication needed in English River. I know that Upsala Ambulance made the request as soon as they arrived at the scene, so I know that the thirty minute drive took them an hour because of road and visibility conditions.

At 10:00 we arrive at the scene. It's more than just a vehicle in the ditch. Two tractor trailers head-on. A dislodged cab is laying in the middle of the highway. A pile of tortured metal, glass, and wheels is lying in the ditch. The dislodged cab guys are on the road with sheets over their faces . . . no need for extrication or ambulances there. Paramedics are clustered around the scrap heap in the ditch. There's a guy inside. Way down deep inside.

I climb on top of the wreck and peer into the abyss. I see a small corner of the guy's face.

"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, I just can't move."

This is my first extrication. We have a hand spreader, a come-along, a pry-axe, a couple hacksaws, and a few screwdrivers. I look at my crew. Most of them are new at this game too. The snow is falling hard.

"Bring a come-along," I say, trying to sound like I have a plan. I grasped a thin thread of hope that if I just did something, we'd figure out the rest along the way. I hooked the come-along to a twisted thing that used to be the steering wheel. Not a great place to start, but better than doing nothing.

At that precise moment, Ignace Fire Department arrived. I hadn't called them, but because the crash occurred on the border of our territory, they were paged as well.

They started unloading heavy hydraulic equipment. Cutters. Spreaders. Rams. A power unit. The famous Hurst Jaws of Life. I felt like a soldier in a foxhole, armed with a squirt gun, while the bad guys with AK 47's were closing in . . . and the tank brigade shows up for the rescue.

"What do you want us to do," asks the Ignace IC.
"Get him out and we'll cheer you on," I say.

Ignace moved into rescue mode like an efficient machine. Orders were barked. A small motor roared. Firefighters hustled. Metal protested.

I busied my guys with support functions . . . pull a hose line . . . shore up the trailer . . . ferry tools back and forth from the tarp.

One last tangle of sheet metal groaned out of the way, and the driver was slid onto a backboard and into the ambulance. I shook a bunch of hands, gave a round of thanks to everyone, then we packed up and went home.

Times change. We now have our own heavy hydraulics. We automatically go to every fender bender that the ambulance responds to. We're better trained. We have our own vehicle rescue stories chalked up as experience. And we call Ignace before the trucks roll if we think there's any chance we might need them.

I twisted this experience into a launching pad for a rant about politicians a while ago. If you haven't already, you can read it here.

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