Tag Archives: Fire Stand By

Strike Out 2/2

We’re driving in the middle of the city after having just stopped at Starbucks to grab some caffeinated motivation for the day ahead of us. It was a long night yesterday as I was on the SWAT standby for an hour past my regular off-duty time. After the anti-climactic end to the situation I was able to go home and almost got enough sleep to make it through the next day. The hot coffee in my hand is helping to fortify my resolve as the morning commuters are exiting the freeway and the busy urban downtown area starts to come to life.

My coffee-inspired day dreams are interrupted by the computer on the console as it gets toned out and a call location drops almost on top of the icon representing our ambulance. The dispatcher comes up and tells us we have a patient with a laceration at the city police department on the second floor in the interrogation rooms. I’m actually looking right at the city police department building as the disembodied voice of the dispatcher is giving me the call information.

We pull up to the front doors as I load the gurney with all of my equipment and bid farewell to my warm coffee. I know we’ll be up on the second floor and the interrogation rooms are quite a ways on the other side of the building. Coming back to the rig for a Band-Aid could take a long time so it’s best to just take everything with us on the first trip.

A detective is waiting for us and proves to be a decent escort through the maze of the police intake and booking area as we make our way back to the interrogation rooms. The detectives aren’t really saying much but I can read their body language enough to know that something bad happened.

The detective opens the door to the little room and I’m faced with a complete blood bath. The tiny room looks like a set piece for the TV show Dexter with blood spatter covering the walls, desk, and floor. There’s a man sitting at the table with his hands cuffed to a metal ring on the desktop. Under his hands there is a fresh pool of blood.

I turn to the detective. “What the hell happened?” This is obviously the kind of high profile situation where Internal Affairs will get involved because someone messed up really badly. That explains why the officers were being so quiet and not telling me anything. The less I know about the facts the better it is for everyone when the investigation finally gets going.

The detective has a quiet voice as he fills me in. “So, did you hear about the hostage situation last night? Well, this is the perp from that scene. We had him in the room all night waiting for the morning shift detectives to come on duty. He asked for a soda. Someone gave him a can of Coke. He drank it, tore it in half, and cut his wrists with the sharp edges. We found him like this an hour later.”

“Wow!” That’s all I can say. I mean really, this is such a jacked up situation on so many levels I just don’t know where to start. The officers know how bad this is and they really don’t need the Paramedic to point out the sequence of stupidity that led to this bloody outcome. Whatever, I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to clean up the mess, as usual. But seriously, paper cups might be a good idea.

The man at the table hasn’t moved since I entered the bloody room but I can tell it’s the same man I talked to last night through the bars of the police cruiser. “Hey, are you okay?” Fine, it’s a stupid question but I have to start somewhere.

“Fuck you!” Seriously, are we going to play this game again?

Last night I could walk away from this guy based on the fact that he wasn’t visibly injured and refused all assessment. Today I can’t do it. I’ve got to check his wounds, bandage up what I find, and get him over to the hospital for medical clearance. He will eventually return here and be put on suicide watch.

I’m in the interrogation room and my partner, Anna, is handing me supplies to clean him up a little so I can see how bad the cuts are. As it turns out he missed the artery and all of the blood is just slow trickle stuff from the veins. He’s going to need some sutures and he’ll have some very impressive scars in a month or so when it all heals. Regardless of his medical outcome he just accomplished his third strike last night. He’ll be seeing the inside of a prison for the rest of his life, whether or not he manages to end his life a little early.

Three Strikes Laws are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which mandates state courts to impose life sentences on persons convicted of three or more serious criminal offenses. In most jurisdictions, only crimes at the felony level qualify as serious offenses and typically the defendant is given the possibility of parole with their life sentence. These statutes became very popular in the 1990s. Twenty-four states have some form of habitual offender laws.

The name comes from baseball, where a batter is permitted two strikes before striking out on the third.

The three strikes law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of a felony who have been previously convicted of two or more violent crimes or serious felonies, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a life sentence. Violent and serious felonies are specifically listed in state laws. Violent offenses include murder, robbery of a residence in which a deadly or dangerous weapon is used, rape and other sex offenses; serious offenses include the same offenses defined as violent offenses, but also include other crimes such as burglary of a residence and assault with intent to commit a robbery or murder.


Paralanguage 3/3

Six hours later.

“Medic-40, respond code-3 for the unknown, you’ll need to stage out for this.”

“Medic-40 copies we’re en-route and we’ll stage.”

Scottie had the last tech so this is my call. Scottie is driving us through the suburban neighborhood as I navigate using my iPad. Looking down at the map; “Hey, this is the same section-8 complex we went to three weeks ago for the 18 year old who was hyperventilating. Remember – it was your tech and we found her collapsed in the stairway?” Scottie had that call so fortunately I just drove that day. It was a ridiculous situation for a girl that had nothing wrong with her yet felt she needed to take an ambulance to the ED. It’s unfortunate but that’s what we deal with some days and we just strike it up to an easy call as we escort the patient to the lobby of the receiving ED. I really wish there was more I could do to help alleviate the system from abusive calls.

Scottie pulls over maybe three blocks shy of the complex as I’m pulling up the satellite view on google maps to refresh my memory on the apartment complex layout. Trying to get my bearings I’m looking in the direction of the complex. Three police cars pass us on the main arterial with their lights on and running fast. Then, with the windows cracked, I hear multiple fire engines and trucks approaching the same block. We can see the apartment complex roof from our staging post and I can see flames coming off the roof. A few seconds later I pick up the mic; “Medic-40, it looks like this is a structure fire, PD and FD are on scene; we’re going in.” The dispatcher acknowledges and tells us to advise on conditions.

As we pull up to the complex we have to park on the street as the fire engines/trucks/police cruisers are taking up the whole parking lot. We walk up to see what’s going on and to check in with the BC to tell him where we are and help out if there are injuries. I can see the building where the fire fighters are attempting to put out a third story apartment that seems fully engulfed in flames. There’s a woman standing on a balcony right next to the fire engulfed corner apartment. A fire crew is tilting up a very tall ladder to attempt a rescue.

Just then a woman runs out of the building next to us and literally throws her three year old son into Scottie’s arms. “He was is the fire, it started in the living room, please help him!” Then she runs back inside the building. The only problem is that it’s not the same building that’s on fire. This is a confusing fire scene with all of the people standing around, presumably evacuated from the burning building. The police are holding a perimeter to limit access to the area and and fire crews are clearing apartments, fighting a fire, and attempting to do a rescue. I’ve got to get to the BC; he’s the one calling the shots here and he needs to know where we are.

I turn to Scottie, “Take him back to the rig and check him out, I’ll check in with the BC.” As Scottie is carrying the kid back to the rig I keep going to look for the white hat that signifies the BC.

I finally find the BC and his two helpers on this scene; three white hats standing at the epicenter of all of the commotion. As I’m approaching them I see that one is a captain and two are lieutenants – one of which is LT from earlier in the day. So this is a three alarm fire and they brought out the more experienced captain to run the fire scene.

I acknowledge the two lieutenants and address the captain. “Captain, I’ve got one unit doing stand by on…” He cuts me off by holding up his hand as he heard something on his radio.

Speaking into his microphone. “Truck 5, cut a vent above unit 306, and one above the hallway. Engine 12, clear the first floor starting from the west. Engine 18 clear the second floor starting from the west.” Looking back at me. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

He’s a busy man, I need to keep it short. “I’ve got Medic-40 doing a stand by on Halcyon with two medics on board. So far we have one possible patient but he came out of an adjacent building; not sure what’s going on with that, my parter is checking him out.” Looking over at the ladder against the building I see that they are half way down with the victim. “I’ll take her back to the rig and check her out. If we have any transports I’ll handle calling in other units. I’ll be on-scene until you tell me different.”

“Perfect, thank you.” He’s a man of few words. Then back to his mic, “Engine 8, lay supply lines from Halcyon to the number two exposure. Truck 3 – you’re clear to cut power.” As I’m walking closer to the ladder a fire fighter is escorting the rescued woman towards me. I’m thinking about the job that the captain is doing; coordinating six teams involved in – fighting the fire, rescuing people, searching for victims, overhauling burned out buildings. It’s overwhelming to me – I’ll stick with medicine.

The firefighter hands off the woman to me and goes back to the fire. As I’m walking her towards the rig I’m having a hard time communicating with her; she has a thick Indian accent and shakes her head when I ask some questions. She seems to have very limited understanding of English. Another woman from the crowd runs up to us as I get closer to the ambulance and starts talking with her in Hindi.

“Hey, do you know her?” I ask the young woman.

“Yes, she’s my neighbor, I was just asking if she’s ok.”

“Can you walk with us and translate for a little while?” She agrees and I hand the old lady off to Scottie in the rig along with a translator.

Looking up at Scottie, “Hey, where’s the kid?”

“His family came by and took him. He was totally fine, no soot in the nares or mouth, no burns. He wasn’t any where near the fire. Either his mother was just flipping out or she was setting up a law suite. Whatever…”

“Weird. So, this lady was just taken off of the balcony adjacent to the fire. Maybe 15 minutes of smoke exposure. She doesn’t speak English but I brought you a translator. If you can check her out I’ll see if there are any more victims.”

I walk back through the police perimeter to check in with the BC. Looking up at the building I see there are no more flames and just a few apartments seem to be burned with black soot ringing the windows like mascara. The rolling black smoke from before has turned to lighter wispy smoke coming from smoldering burnt wood that’s saturated with water.

Standing near the three BCs I quietly take in the sights; firefighters walking around with tanks on their back and carrying tools, ladders being taken down, hoses being drained and stowed on trucks. The captain is still coordinating things on his radio. “Truck 5 your clear to begin overhaul in unit 306. Engine 8 and Truck 3 are clear for station.” It’s looking like they’re just about finished.

The Captain turns to me. “We just had the one rescue from the balcony; no other vics. What do you have?”

“The kid wasn’t involved and checked out fine. His family took him. My partner is working up the woman from the balcony; minor smoke inhalation. We’ll get her transported but it’s just precautionary; she looks good. I can continue to stand by during overhaul if want us here.”

“No, that’s ok; you’re clear to transport.” He comes up to shake my hand. “I just want to say that I appreciate you’re professionalism, you guys did a good job, and that helped us do our job. Thank you.”

“Thank you sir, that means a lot to me.” I’m at a loss for any more words. That was high praise from a very competent man.

He turns to LT. “Can you go out to the rig and get information on the woman?” LT nods and we start walking back to the rig. They need patient info for their paperwork.

We talk about the fire and the crowd and the fire that we both went to this morning. It’s a good conversation and it seems that we’re past the point of having any bad feelings between us. I’m sure the high praise from his Captain reminded him that even good people make mistakes and our world is too small to let bad feelings continue. We’re two colleagues having a water-cooler conversation in the aftermath of a fire – quietly walking through the crowds of people, police officers, firefighters in smoky turn out gear, and the ever present street vendor selling popsicles and churros.


Paralanguage 2/3

Six weeks later.

“Dispatch, Medic-40, do you have anything working on Halcyon and Winston? We just got passed by two engines and a truck running code-3?”

Sitting at the red light the fire department just flew past us and I figure it’s possible they could use some EMS on scene wherever they are headed. Besides, dispatch was about to move us up to the Big City and anything to keep us here in the quiet suburbs is a good thing. So I’m basically fishing for a call.

“Medic-40, stand by, I’m checking.” Fifteen seconds later. “Medic-40, yeah, respond code-3 to the fire stand by at 104 Garden St.”

“Medic-40 copies, we’re en-rout.”

Fire stand by calls are some of my favorite calls. Basically we sit in the ambulance and watch the firefighters put out a fire and if anyone gets hurt we take care of them. Most times no one gets hurt so it’s basically dinner theater EMS style as we get a chance to eat lunch and watch something interesting.

I’m driving as this is Scottie’s tech. We’re both Paramedics so when one person is in the back taking care of a patient they are said to be “teching” the call. We switch up on every call so I’m the driver/helper on this call. I catch up to the fire truck and pull in behind them at the apartment building. I didn’t see any significant smoke as we pulled up so I suspect it’s not that big of a blaze.

The EMS personnel in this county are usually well outside of the fire department command structure, yet when we enter into a situation like this we become the medical branch connected to the battalion commander (BC); the BC calls the shots on a fire scene. Scottie and I walk up to make contact with the BC and let him know we are here and where to direct patients if any should turn up.

It’s LT from six weeks ago working as acting BC. Crap!  Scottie and I have run into him maybe five times in the last six weeks since my indiscretion and every time he’s been cold to us; me in particular. It’s not like we have a few minutes at the water-cooler to work things out between us; every time we see each other we have a job to do and we’re in public scrutiny and the patient takes priority. It makes it hard to work out things like this.

Scottie tells him where we are and that we’ll stand by if he needs anything. LT ignores me and tells Scottie that it’s probably nothing but wants us to hang out until he can confirm the extent of the damage. Looks like it was a small kitchen fire to an apartment on the top floor; minimal damage to adjacent units.

The parking lot is full of families that were told to leave the building until things are under control. There are street vendors selling popsicles and churrros in the parking lot as LT comes back to tell us we are clear from the scene. No injuries and no need for EMS. I happily drive off to the next call.