The call came in as “chest pain with shortness of breath.” It’s a typical EMS bread-and-butter call that we get a few times a day. Nothing out of the ordinary in this one or in the notes in the MDT. Having just left my sleeping 5150 patient in the county hospital I’m giving John a break on the driving as I know where this call is and I’m tired of giving turn-by turn directions to someone who’s not familiar with the county. It’s a pretty basic Code-3 run through the urban downtown until I run into the riot and have to re-route up a one way street to get away from the bottle throwing mob.
Finally I make the turn to my street and see the fire engine parked on the side. There’s another skirmish line of SWAT protecting this street from rioters and one of the officers heads in my direction immediately. “Turn off your goddamned lights! You’re going to incite these assholes!”
I flick the lights off and slide out of the rig to find my patient. He’s sitting in front of a homeless shelter and I recognize him as a frequent flier from many previous calls. The fire lieutenant makes a bee-line for me as I’m walking up.
“What the hell! I gave you routing directions to come up from the south. Don’t you know there’s a riot over there? You come in here with lights and siren and you’re going to work them up even more. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Yeah, I noticed the riot. My dispatcher didn’t give me anything. Just ‘chest pain’ and this address.” I’m not going to get into an argument with this guy in the midst of a riot. I’m going to grab my patient and get the hell out of here and let my supervisor sort it out later. I have the luxury of being able to ignore the rants of a fire lieutenant because I don’t fall into his chain of command. Yet it’s that same separation that seems to have led to the breakdown in communication that led me to unintentionally endanger everyone on scene. I walk past him to check out the patient.
John’s eyes are the size of saucers as he’s pushing the gurney up to the patient and we load him into the rig. “Code-2 to county, let’s just get out of here!”
As John is getting egress directions from a SWAT officer I’m doing an initial work up on Charles, my new patient. I cut the hospital band off of his wrist – he was in another hospital this morning – and go down the typical chest pain protocols. John’s pretty worked up and I’m getting bounced around the back of the rig quite a bit but I don’t care at this point.
Charles gets the normal chest pain meds: aspirin, nitroglycerin, etc. In less than ten minutes we are rolling him into the county hospital triage room. I ask John to get a follow-up set of vitals as I pull my cell phone to contact my supervisor.
“Hey Rich, it’s KC on Medic-40.”
“Yeah, what’s going on?”
“Did you know there’s a riot down town because dispatch sure as hell doesn’t! They just sent me Code-3 to a chest pain call in the middle of it. I ran into a skirmish line of SWAT and maybe 400 protesters while running hot. I pissed off PD and fire because I came in with lights and siren. Dispatch never gave me routing or a heads up on the riot. The fire LT was pissed because he gave routing to his dispatch but it never made it to us. I walked into this thing blind and put everyone at risk for escalation!”
“OK, hold on a minute.”
I hear Rich come up on my radio addressing dispatch. “You need to put out an all-page. No one is to run Code-3 in downtown. We have SWAT activity and protesters near Medic-40’s last call location. Get on the phone with PD and find out what the perimeter is and make sure our units have intel to get around this.”
Addressing me on the cell phone again. “Okay, I’ll be up there in a few minutes. Are you guys okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine.”
My pager starts vibrating on my belt: AVOID CODE-3 IN DOWNTOWN. PROTESTERS AND SWAT ACTIVITY NEAR MAIN ST. PER PD: PROTESTERS ARE ON THE MOVE, NO SET PERMITTER, NO LIGHTS AND SIREN IN DOWNTOWN.
Back at my deployment center after an exhausting day I clock out and head to my car. I put my gear bag in the trunk and pull out a trash bag with all of my uniforms in it and head back inside. Handing my bag of uniforms to the deployment coordinator I pull my ID badge and pager and hand them in as this is my last shift. With the top down and cool wind in my hair I accelerate on the freeway onramp to get up to speed and head for home on my last day with the company. But not my last day in the county…
Photo credit: AP Photo/Noah Berger