“I guess it actually is a car fire, there’s the smoke.”
Louis and I are out on the fringe of the county in the rural affluent suburbs. We’re responding to a car fire that came in as single car fully engulfed. To be honest, most car fires that I go to are smashed radiators with steam escaping from under the hood. Cars don’t usually just burst into flames as Hollywood would like us to believe. But as we’re driving through the quiet neighborhoods we can see the smoke cloud coming up next to the road. Looks like it’s a real car fire.
Everyone on scene seems pretty calm as we pull up – County Sheriff officers are standing around while the fire department gives the car a thorough dousing, and neighbors are watching the commotion from down the road. It seems as though the car hit a rock that’s about the size of a small dumpster, and the rock went straight into the engine compartment.
The rock is at the side of the road where the road just plain ends. As housing developments push into the rural areas they are built in different phases. They provide the infrastructure, in the form of access roads like this one, for future phases of development. But until they start the next phase this road stops abruptly at the end of the neighborhood.
By the looks of it, the driver didn’t know the road would stop so abruptly and veered off to the side, hitting the rock which is now sitting where the engine should be. The lack of skid marks speak to the level of damage that was transferred to the car.
I don’t see the fire department doing anything medical, just pulling hose and squirting water, so that means one of two possibilities: the driver is either uninjured, or crispy beyond recovery. Walking up to a Sheriff Officer I ask if there are any patients. He points to a boy standing on the other side of the road with another officer – the boy looks to be maybe sixteen. I’m surprised – he looks completely fine from where I’m standing.
Louis and I walk up as the officer is finishing his initial questioning. “Hey, were you the driver?” He nods his head up and down. He’s a bit flustered after watching his car burn up – that’s understandable. “Are you hurt?” He says no. “Okay, so tell me what happened.”
“I was driving about thirty-five miles an hour, talking to my friend, when I guess I was distracted, I missed my turn and didn’t see the road end until it was too late to stop.”
“Okay, so where’s your friend, is he hurt?” He’s thinking a little too hard right now. He’s carefully fabricating a story on the fly and he’s not really bright enough to pull it off with any credibility.
“Uh, I guess he ran off.” Seriously? He ran off? That’s lame.
“You sure you weren’t talking to him on your cell phone?”
“No, he just ran off.” Okay, have it your way.
I give him a full assessment and he checks out fine. Just a little bit of a rash on his face from the airbag deployment. It seems as though he hit the rock, got out of the car, and was clear before it started burning. He’s a minor so I can’t release him unless he has a parent sign a release form for me. Even still, it’s a good idea to get him checked out at the ED. I’m not buying the whole thirty-five miles an hour thing. His little compact car hit a two ton rock hard enough to push it two feet back in the grass and set his car on fire. He was probably doing fifty miles an hour while talking on the cell phone and went straight into the rock without slowing down.
Louis is taking some vitals for me as I go to the car to see if I can learn anything from it before we take him to the ED. The firefighters are rolling up their hoses and the car has stopped smoking. The engine compartment and passenger space are completely burned up – even the air bags and everything fabric or foam in the car has burned up. Otherwise there’s no passenger space intrusion, the seats are still bolted to the frame, the steering wheel is still in place, and the seat belt is locked in the extended position. So he was restrained, and the crumple zone of the engine compartment did its job of stopping the force of impact from extending to the rest of the car. Basically, he was lucky.
I talk to the Sheriff Officer about the “friend.” He tells me they don’t buy it either so I don’t need to stick around to see if another patient shows up. As I get back in the rig to transport the kid is all agitated.
“I have to go get something out of the car.”
“Dude, your car is toast, there’s nothing in there that didn’t get burned or soaked.”
“I don’t care, I still have to get something.”
“The firefighters aren’t going to let you near it – it’s too dangerous. Just tell me what you want and I’ll have a look.”
He doesn’t want to tell me what it is and I’m not letting him near a dangerous car so we call it an impasse and start driving to the ED. During the transport he clams up and I can see that’s he’s working on his story for his parents and the follow-up with the Sheriff at the ED. He probably wanted to try to recover his cell phone so no one could see that he was talking, or even worse that he was texting, at the time of impact. It’s a lost cause, the Sheriff will check the cell records as is routine in this situation. He’s just lucky he didn’t cause any damage to anyone else or himself. But he’s not smart enough or mature enough to understand that.