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It was a dark and stormy night, really it was. The heavens had opened up in Colorado once again; the streets were running with hot stinky water, funky water that smelled of petroleum and death. I was on duty at firehouse number four when the alarm hit. Rollover T/A at Lake Avenue and highway 115 with people trapped.
We hit the road in seconds as the address was only a few blocks away. A blue Jeep with a ragtop lay mangled in the downpour. Then we saw him, a man at the side of the road buried deep in water and mud. We ran to him and rolled him over, the pounding rain rinsed his face and we could see that his mouth and jaw had been destroyed by the impact as he was thrown from his Jeep and landed mouth open face down into the shit.
He couldn’t breathe on his own as the mud and debris had packed his mouth fuller than a hotdog eating contest. I dug into his mouth like I was working a gold mine, all I could I think is if this guy can’t breathe he is gonna die, I gotta get the mud out of him.
The ambulance arrived as I tried desperately to find a way to get air in this guy. The paramedic on the ambulance was a great medic and he came to help, he asked what I had, I said this guy is packed full of mud he can’t breathe. The medic looked at me with the rain pouring off us like a rain gutter.
He said “I am gonna have to cric him.” A cricothyrotomy is a way to get air into the lungs of a patient that can’t breathe on their own. It involves a scalpel and a lot of blood. The medic has to cut a hole in the neck of the person that can’t breathe.
After cutting the hole in their neck, a tube has to be inserted into the airway of the patient to help them breathe. Okay not a big deal in a hospital, but on the side of the road in a typhoon, it’s hard.
Randy the paramedic looked at me he said “Tim you are going to have to hold him down while I cut his neck.” Now remember the guy is conscious the whole time, he just heard us say we were gonna cut his neck open.
I grabbed hold of his arms and pinned his legs with mine. Randy went to work. It is never like they say in the text books, Randy went at this guy’s neck like it was a thanksgiving turkey, he was hacking away at his neck and I was holding him down like a spring cafe getting a brand. This guy was bucking and throwing us around like ragdolls and then he went out.
We got him to the hospital and that was the end of that. We never get follow-up, we never know what happened to the people we save.
Years later a group of firefighters, the Christian firefighters were gathered in Christ and in fellowship for a morning breakfast before going to work. As one of the guys approached to pay our tab the cashier said not to bother our tab had been covered by another patron.
We asked who had done this for us, we don’t take charity for what we do too well. The cashier indicated a man off to the side. We approached him and thanked him and we wanted to give his money back, he didn’t need to treat us we explained.
Then he related a tale to us. He said years ago, just up the street he had rolled his Jeep and almost died and he never got to thank the firefighters that saved his life that rainy night.
We asked was it a blue Jeep, was it raining hard? He said yes. We all looked at his neck, it was scared up like bad plastic surgery. We asked “Did you get that scar on your neck that night?”
He said yeah, he didn’t remember much he just remembered us telling him was going to be okay. Randy the paramedic that night was now a gold badge on the FD and he said to the man “I cut that hole in your neck while this guy held you down.”
And then the tears came. We all just stood there holding each other like a class reunion. My favorite poem is from Ralph Waldo Emerson and it goes like this.
To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
I felt that on this day and will always cherish that memory.