This is an excerpt from my ebook The Pride of the Hills: A Vollie’s Memoir available for $.99 on Amazon until 11/22/13
The Green Bag
Joining the Forest Hills VAC was a simple enough process. I showed up one Friday night, filled out an application, and began my dispatch training under a more experienced volunteer, Bob Sipel. Bob’s entire family was involved in Volunteer EMS in the city, most notable his mother had been one of the founders of the Glendale VAC.
Dispatcher training took a whopping two nights. Because I had already been using a citizen band radio, I understood the basic concepts of radio speak and the power of 10 codes. The time I spent working in the Rectory of St. Margarets had prepared me to answer the phone, and as long as I followed the call sheet for an emergency I’d be fine. Memorizing the Forest Hills 10 codes was simple enough, and quickly I was dispatching on my own.
While dispatching is considered the most important function at the base, being the vital link between the crew and the rest of the world, it’s really not that exciting. Bob recommended that I enroll in EMT class. Once I was enrolled, I could ride on the ambulance and it may even at some point lead to a paying job.
Adventure. Excitement. While I knew a Jedi should not seek these things, well, what’s wrong with just a little bit of it? So I signed up for the class.
My decision to become an EMT was met with joy by my family. They applauded my efforts and wished me success in my new endeavor. My mother was especially happy I was not going to just be another college dropout. What my new career choice entailed, they had no idea. The sad part was that neither did I.
I started under the recommendation of Bob to go to Jo Paul’s uniform store on Jamaica Avenue and 106th Street to buy a tool holster. I filled it with everything I thought a good EMT would need. Trauma shears, a window punch, a penlight, bandage scissors, a seatbelt cutter, clamps, an oxygen key, and a locking blade knife all ended up at my side.
Once I had the tools, it was time to learn the trade. So Bob asked me to pull with him and another member one Saturday night. I was eager to learn and, even though I didn’t know the crew chief, somebody named Bryce, I felt that with Bob there I would definitely learn something useful.
Volunteering at a city agency is, I would imagine, slightly different than elsewhere. City agencies traditionally do not have volunteers “on call.” As a tertiary tier to the primary citywide agency most volunteer agencies schedule their crews to come in and “pull a shift.” Shift lengths can vary from six to twelve hours, with crews occasionally doing twenty-fours and the extremely rare forty-eight.
The other aspect of volunteer scheduling that may be foreign is that you have the ability to pick who you work with or who you don’t work with. Most volunteers when they first start will work with anyone who is willing to work with them. As the years go by people tend to be more selective, working with people they get along with and work well with while avoiding those who they don’t.
There are a few problems with this type of scheduling model. Since EMS is a team activity it requires a minimum of three people to put an ambulance in service. You need a dispatcher, a driver, and a crew chief. If you do not have three people with the right credentials and the same willingness to be available for a tour, the ambulance doesn’t go in service.
The greatest asset any volunteer agency has is in fact its volunteers. One of the biggest benefits of volunteering is the ability to gain experience. If there is a void in the schedule by not having three people with the correct credentials and availability, not only does the ambulance not go in service, but new members cannot gain the experience that they desire and the agency desperately needs them to have in order to put the ambulance in service. It can become a viscous downward cycle.
As I sat in the back of the ambulance, I went over the checkout sheet and where everything was located. The different bandages and special dressings lined the cabinet shelves in a foreign composition of order. I was slowly learning my way around the cabinets and was almost done when the back door suddenly slammed shut.
Startled, I looked out the back window to see the brown garage door closing. The sound of a police radio signaled the arrival of Bob and Bryce in the front of the bus. Before I knew what was happening, we had rocketed out of the driveway and were driving at full speed down Metropolitan Avenue with the sirens blaring. The sudden departure had caused me to lose my balance and I slid on the bench toward the rear doors.
Once I had regained my bearings and was sitting back up, Bob was slamming on the brakes, sliding me toward the front of the ambulance. Once again, he accelerated and I slid in the opposite direction. I was being bounced around like a yo-yo but I didn’t care. I was excited about going to a call.
“Where are we going?” I called up to the front.
“Union Turnpike and Queens Boulevard for the fifty-three,” replied Bryce as we made a veering left onto Union Turnpike. A ten fifty-three is the New York City Police Department code for a motor vehicle accident. “When we get there just grab the bags. I’ll tell you what else we need once we size up the scene.”
I leaned over toward the shelves and grabbed hold of the blue trauma bag and the green bag that read OXYGEN on the side of it. I brought them off the shelf and placed them at the foot of the stretcher. I slid myself down on the bench so I was directly opposite the bags and right next to the back doors.
I felt the ambulance make another sharp right turn and slow down. I glanced out the back window and recognized the tall Con Ed building on Queens Boulevard and Seventy-Eighth Crescent. The ambulance slowed and then came to a complete stop. Upon hearing Bob and Bryce open their doors, I grabbed both bags with my right hand and swung the back door open with my left.
As I stepped out of the ambulance onto the back step, sirens were wailing in the distance. I leapt to the ground and walked around the driver’s side of the ambulance. Sitting in the intersection before me was a white Cadillac.
An unforeseen force had crushed the rear of the car in. The ground glittered with metal and glass debris. The air was filled with the smell of gasoline and anti-freeze. As I glanced around, I didn’t see any other car around except for an orange and white Suburban with a light bar. The Suburban didn’t appear to have been involved in the accident.
Bob and Bryce were both standing at the driver’s door. As I walked over, I realized that we weren’t the only ones on scene. There was someone kneeling in the doorway doing something to an occupant who I assumed was the driver of the car. I placed the bags on the hood of the car and leaned over to look to see what was going on.
The cracked windshield, in the form of a spider web, blocked me from seeing any detail. As I leaned back behind Bob, the person who had been kneeling stood up. It was a frumpy looking woman dressed in a New York City Emergency Medical Services (NYC EMS) uniform. Her stethoscope was still in her ears and she was holding an orange blood pressure cuff. The single bars on her epaulets revealed to me that she was a lieutenant.
“Let’s KED him,” she said to Bryce.
Bob turned to me and waved for me to follow him back to the ambulance. As I jogged behind him, I could feel the adrenaline rush. I was energized because in that car was someone seriously hurt. They were so seriously hurt they needed a KED, even though I had no clue what a KED was.
“We need to pull the stretcher, long board, and the KED,” he explained as we reached the back of the vehicle. Together we reached in and pulled the stretcher out. The wheels dropped to the ground and locked with a clank. He then reached into a side compartment, pulled out a long wooden board with orange and red straps, and placed it on the stretcher. “Get the KED. It’s under the bench.”
I climbed into the back of the ambulance while Bob wheeled the stretcher and board back to the car alone. I lifted the bench seat up. Sitting on the top of the compartment was a long, blue bag. I grabbed it and jumped out of the back of the ambulance, allowing the bench seat to slam down.
I jogged back to the car. With every step I took toward the car, my boots crunched on the debris. Bob was positioning the stretcher at the driver’s side door. Bryce was standing next to him adjusting the long board while the EMS lieutenant was in the back seat holding head stabilization.
“Here,” I said, holding the blue bag out for Bryce. He turned his head and looked at me. His eyes darted from me to the bag and then back to me. I could instantly tell that something was terribly wrong. At first, I thought the patient had taken a turn for the worse.
“Not that bag! That’s a traction splint!” he cried in disbelief.
The realization that I had brought the wrong piece of equipment fell upon me like a house. Suddenly it felt like everything was going in slow motion. I turned around and saw the ambulance fifty feet away. It might as well have been five miles because I realized I had wasted valuable time.
“The green bag, get the green bag under the bench!” yelled Bob. As I ran back to the ambulance, I couldn’t believe my stupid mistake. I could feel my cheeks blushing with embarrassment.
Once inside, I tossed the blue bag into the walkway between the cab and the patient compartment. I lifted the bench once again. Directly inside was a large green case. It had originally been underneath the blue bag I had grabbed at first. On the front of it in big black letters was Kendrick Extrication Device. I grabbed the case by the black handle sewn into the top of it and exited the vehicle quickly as a police car pulled up alongside the ambulance.
I ran back to Bryce who was now leaning in from the passenger side of the vehicle. The patient was a Hispanic male about thirty years old. Blood was covering his face right below a white dressing that had been wrapped around his head. His eyes were closed.
“Here’s the KED,” I said timidly.
Bryce turned around and saw me holding the case. “Take it out of the case and undo the straps.”
I opened the top of the bag and reached inside. My hand drew out an odd-looking device. It was the same green color as the case. It appeared to be a vesting device. There were five straps and buckles on it. The three chest straps were red, yellow, and green. Two other black straps hung from the bottom. I unsnapped the straps from their corresponding buckles and handed the KED to Bryce.
He grabbed it from me and began working feverishly inside the car. Bob was on the other side, and the two of them seemed to be working in tandem. I stood outside of the car waiting for further instructions. Finally, Bryce backed out of the car and walked around to where Bob was. Instinctively, I followed him to the other side ready to assist with whatever it was we were going to be doing.
Bryce slid the long board slightly off the stretcher and let it rest on the edge of the car seat. Bob was holding the patient’s head steady while the EMS lieutenant was reaching for the patient’s right side.
“Hold the board and stretcher. Don’t let them move,” Bryce instructed me.
I did what I was told as the three of them slowly slid the patient out of the car and onto the long board. Once the patient was lying flat on the board, the EMS lieutenant and Bryce slid him further up the board while Bob held his head.
Bryce and the Lieutenant strapped the patient onto the long board and then slid it up to the top of the stretcher. Once the patient was fully on the stretcher, Bryce grabbed the blanket roll from the hood of the car and placed it in a horseshoe shape around the patient’s head. Bob took a roll of tape and secured the blanket roll to the long board with two long strips of tape that crossed the patient’s chin and forehead. They strapped him onto the stretcher.
“Let’s go,” said Bryce as we began walking like ducks, pulling the stretcher toward the vehicle. We had to go around the police car whose occupants were setting flares up to close down the eastbound lanes of Queens Boulevard. Once we got to the back of the ambulance, Bob and Bryce lowered the stretcher and then lifted it up into the back of the ambulance. Bryce ascended the step into the back and slid onto the bench. The lieutenant appeared with our green oxygen bag and blue trauma bag. She tossed them onto the bench.
I began to climb into the back when Bob grabbed me by the arm and stopped me. “Ride up front with me,” he said calmly. I knew not to protest, so I simply stepped back and walked to the passenger side of the ambulance.
After about a minute Bob climbed into his side. He looked through the space between the cab and the patient compartment awaiting Bryce’s signal.
“Ready to go Bryce?” he asked. Bryce must have nodded or gestured because then Bob put the ambulance in gear and we drove around the wrecked car that was still in the middle of Queens Boulevard.
“Where are we going?” I asked as I looked out the side window.
Bob turned the wheel, putting us on the Van Wyck service road. “Jamaica Hospital is the closest trauma center. We’ll be there in two minutes,” he said while switching the siren on and off to clear traffic.
Once at Jamaica Hospital I helped Bryce pull the stretcher out and we rolled the patient into the emergency room. Bryce took the lead directly through a door marked Trauma Room. Inside were about six doctors milling about.
“Thirty-four year old male was the driver in a motor vehicle accident,” reported Bryce as we lined the stretcher up with a hospital bed. “He was rear ended, not wearing a seatbelt, webbed windshield, and he projectile vomited inside the car. The chief complaint is head, neck, and back pain. He has a laceration on his forehead which we bandaged, and he’s also complaining of a tingling feeling in both legs.”
We unbuckled the straps from our stretcher and lifted him on the board to the hospital bed. Immediately the doctors began their work by poking, prodding, and asking the patient questions.
I wheeled the stretcher out into the hallway. Bob walked out with a clean sheet. We folded it over once and then covered the mattress with it. I grabbed the handle at the foot of the stretcher and we pulled it out to the back of the ambulance. “I’m sorry I grabbed the wrong bag,” I said to Bob as he opened the back doors.
“Hey, you’re learning. There is no better way to learn than by experience. Tonight you learned something new by experiencing it.” He climbed into the back of the ambulance.
“I should have known where it was. Bryce looked a little pissed off.”
“Well, that’s because the lieutenant was there. He knows you’re not an EMT yet. The KED is a tricky thing to use. You really need to practice it to be able to use it right.”
“I’m starting to wonder if this is the right thing for me.”
“Look,” he started turning around. “Everyone has to start somewhere. There is no better place for you to start than here. Take the opportunity and learn from it. Don’t just stand there. If you want to learn, be aggressive about it. You will learn. You will become an EMT. Maybe one day you’ll be a paramedic and we can sit and look back at this and laugh about it.”
“I hope you’re right.”
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