Monday, January 25, 2010

A Sketch Of My Friends

This is something that happened a very long time ago – I think this call occurred in 1998 or 1999; I’m not certain which - and the reason I’m writing about it is not so much because of the call itself. Instead, I wanted to talk about the makeup of the crew. The guys I worked with on this call were a really good team. I was privileged to go with them most of the time as a third wheel.

Andy and Tommy were both considerably younger than me. Tommy lived just up the street from me – he was married to a very pretty young woman and had an 8 year-old daughter. Andy was even younger than Tommy, probably by 4 or 5 years, I’m guessing. I’d first encountered him when he was a fire explorer, and he had the job in his blood.

We had all gone through the EMT-Intermediate course at the same time, and Tommy and I had taken and passed the exam and became certified. Andy was not so lucky; while he passed the practical, he failed the written exam and had to re-take it. And while Tommy and I were not firefighters, Andy was; he still is, for that matter. But more on that later…

It is important to note that back then the Fire Department ran EMS service as a call function – much different than how it works these days. All of the members had pagers, and if a call was dispatched, the duty crew for the ambulance being dispatched would respond out from their homes. That meant members could have emergency lights in their personal vehicles, which was an indication of the level of whackery said members had. I was no different; I also had lights on my car. Thinking back, it must have looked pretty funny to see a box on roller skates with red lights and alternating flashers heading in the direction of the fire house.

But I’m digressing. Back to the story.

It was a rather cold evening in mid-January, and we were dispatched to a home on the town line of Goffstown and New Boston for a well-being check. The three of us were on the duty crew, so we showed up at the fire house within a couple of minutes of the dispatch and got under way. When we arrived at the address we were being sent to, there was nobody else around. The lights were off in the house, and police had been dispatched but not arrived yet. Also, because we were automatically dispatched into another town, the ambulance from New Boston had not arrived by this time, either.

Because we were the only ones there, and not knowing what we potentially could be dealing with, we had some decisions to make. While none of us were technically in command, someone had to take charge. For whatever reason, Andy stepped up and got us going pretty quickly, telling me to bring in what I thought we’d need for medical supplies. We got out of the ambulance and grabbed not only our first-in bag and an Oxygen bottle (I had those), but Andy and Tommy grabbed tools out of the extrication kit. Andy had a Halligan bar and Tommy had a mid-size sledge hammer.

As we approached the house a police cruiser from New Boston showed up. He got out of the vehicle and asked us what was going on. Andy said, “we don’t really know. We got sent here for a well-being check and this is what we found. We’re bringing the tools in case we have to force the door, and we’re glad you’re here now. Just in case, of course.”

At that point, Tommy asked him if there was any family available that might be holding keys. The officer said, “do you know the owner? Her son owns the garage right next door and we’re trying to get a hold of him now.” Turns out the auto shop next door was owned by a friend of mine named Rob. I should have realized this, but it didn’t occur to me until right then that I knew the owner of this house. An approximately 70 year-old female with a cardiac history that I not only knew personally but I’d also transported her to the hospital more than once. Each time I’d transported her was from her Rob’s, and I had no idea that she lived at this house.

It was really bizarre; the guys must have sensed my own feeling of urgency because all four of us starting moving very quickly towards the front door. When we got there, I tried it; no luck. It was locked. We looked around to see if there were any windows that were ajar, and the officer went to the side door and tried that. It was also locked. Andy looked at us and said, “we have to force the door.” Tom and I both agreed as it appeared that nobody was going to open that door any other way.

So we did. Andy braced the Halligan’s blade as much as possible up inside the door frame and Tommy hit the opposite end of the bar twice. Really hard.

On the second blow the door flew opened. Some chunks of the door frame went flying on the movement of the door, but we were inside. The first thing I noticed as we walked in was that it was really cold in the house. I took the lead as we fanned out through the house. When we found her, it was apparent she’d been dead for a while; rigor had already set in. She was fully clothed and lying on her bed. There was nothing we’d be able to do for her.

Maybe 5 minutes after we found her, both New Boston’s ambulance and her son Rob – my friend – arrived at the house. While New Boston’s crew (the EMT in charge was and is still a good friend of mine as we were in Paramedic school together) found me with the body doing the last of the checks that I needed to do to confirm death, Andy and Tommy spent time calming down my friend.

I was pretty impressed with the way they handled Rob; they were really good at both talking to him and listening to what he was saying. He said he knew that something was up because he’d spoken with her the day before. She told him she wasn’t feeling well and was going to rest. As for the temperature of the house, she ran a pellet stove and hadn’t refilled the hopper. That explained why it was so cold there…

We stayed with Rob for quite a while. Actually, Andy kept him company while Tommy and I brought the ambulance back to the firehouse then we drove back up in our own cars to stay. He didn’t ask us to but we felt like it was the right thing to do. And it was.

That simple act of wanting to stay and help has always stuck with me. Shamed me a bit at the time, too, mainly because I felt bad that I didn’t think of doing that first. But it really doesn’t matter; what was really important being there for my – our - friend. And we stayed until the funeral director took her out of the house.

Today, Andy, as I said, is working as a member of the Manchester Fire Department. Tommy is living down in Tennessee working as a Physician Assistant. His daughter is 19 and in her second year of college. And his lovely wife died of breast cancer two years ago.

Both Andy and I wished we could have been there for Tommy.