“Did she just say ‘car vs train’?” I’m asking Louis as the radio was a little scratchy while the dispatcher gave us the call information.
“Sounded like it. I’ve got my money on the train.” Louis pulls his gloves on and flicks on the lights and siren to get through the traffic, and heads in the direction of our call.
It’s dark and the strobes illuminate the fields and scrub brush of the landscape in this rural corner of my mostly urban county. We’re heading down a well-traveled arterial yet we’ve taken it to the point that it’s turned into a dirt road. I’ve actually never been this far down this road so I check my iPad to make sure the railroad crossing is still in front of us.
Eventually we see the flashing red lights of the fire engine and the heavy rescue rig. They send out the heavy rescue crew when there is a possibility of extrication. It’s like a giant drivable toy box. Every external cabinet holds all kinds of great toys for guys that never grew up: jaws of life, pneumatic spreaders, inflatable bags, etc. Both rigs are parked next to the railroad crossing where a huge train blocks the road. The lights are on in the train and I can see it’s a passenger train by the many heads that are silhouetted in the windows. It’s not one of our light rail commuter trains. This is a heavy rail interstate train with maybe thirty cars.
We park next the the other rigs and start walking down the tracks towards the flashlights that are visible one hundred yards in the distance. As we’re walking I’m using my flashlight to illuminate the uneven gravel that is littered with car parts and huge gouges in the direction of travel.
Once we get to the front of the train we finally see the car – or what’s left of the car. It looks like a hungry train decided to eat the car for dinner and got interrupted half way through. The car appears to have been “T-boned” by the train and it’s looking like a tin can that was stepped on so the middle is flat and the ends are just twisted heaps of metal that were dragged for the last hundred yards until the train stopped.
I catch the eye of the LT as I recognize him from other calls that we’ve been to in the past. “Please tell me no one is in there.”
“As far as we can tell it’s empty but they’re getting the thermal imager to confirm.”
We have city PD Officers and County Sheriff Officers on scene now and I see that the conductor has made it down from the driver’s seat to see the damage. I confirm with the conductor that there are no injuries to the passengers in the train. They had people walk the length of the train in the passenger space and basically no one even knew what happened. The inertia of the train was such that a little car didn’t even interrupt people’s dinner or spill their drinks. That’s great because I had a brief moment of panic thinking that I was going to have to take 100 sets of vitals and have everyone on the train sign out with a release form.
Not only does the thermal imager show that there is no trapped warm body it the car it shows that the engine was cold when the train hit it, so it was parked on the tracks! We have to do our due diligence to make sure we didn’t miss a patient that may have been thrown from the wreckage. Using flashlights and the thermal imager we cover a hundred yards in either direction of the point of impact with no visible hot spots.
As we’re getting ready to clear the scene I ask one of the County Sheriffs why a car would be parked on the tracks at this time of night.
“Yeah, well, it happens a few times a year. Gang bangers from the city will steal or car-jack a car, joy ride all day, then park it here to destroy any evidence and maybe just watch from a distance to see if it explodes. We didn’t find the license plate so we’ll have to run the VIN to confirm – if we can find it.”
Taking the long walk back to the flashing rigs I’m thinking about the utter disregard for human life that someone would have to park a car on a train track. I don’t know what the chances of derailing a heavy train are but had it happened we would have had a serious MCI (Multi-Casualty Incident) on our hands. Even still, the conductor spent a few minutes wondering if he just took a life while driving his train. As a matter of procedure he’ll end up peeing in a cup and handing over his cell phone to make sure he wasn’t at fault for the incident.
I often joke with my wife that I’m in the business of thwarting Darwinism. We save the stupid and negligent people of the world so that they can go on to propagate their genetics and make Mini-Me’s just like them. A thousand years ago they would have been run over by a water buffalo while crossing the trail. Today we patch them up and send them on their way to make more kids. One of these kids has just endangered over a hundred people with a senseless act. I wonder if the genetic pool of humanity is forever degraded as our modern medicine does its magic.
I guess that’s a question for future sociologists to ponder. Meanwhile, we in EMS continue to do our job and hope that in some small way we have the chance to make a difference for the better.