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Monday, October 31, 2011

Fooled by the weather and by the people

by Steven P. Velasquez
October 31, 2011

As last week's weather forecasts began to mention the "S" word for North and West Jersey, I and I assume a great many others, believed it was another bogus forecast designed to stir public interest and increase their viewer base.  As the weekend rolled up, it became more plausible that this was in fact a storm with real consequences and it's no B.S., it's coming!

Who in the northeast ever remembers snow before Halloween?  Yes, possible but definitely not probable.  Well it arrived and packed quite the punch too.  Some of the complicating factors were that the trees still held their leaves compounded by a heavy, wet snow-fall and high winds.  This tri-fecta of seasonal circumstances created a Nor'easter we won't soon forget, particularly those of us in Emergency Services.

The snow began to fall mid-afternoon on Saturday.  When I awoke to go to work the night shift in Newark, my truck had a tree down in front of it and large limbs scattered behind it. The truck however was spared.  Heading into work was a wintry mix of snow, rain and high winds.  I guzzled my extra-large D&D coffee and wondered what the night had planned for us.

I was detailed to the unit covering Newark Liberty International Airport (MIC-5) and was unsure if our volume would be less or greater than usual as there were significant flight delays / cancellations and the Governor had called for a "State of Emergency" where vehicular travel was  supposed to stop -- supposed to.

Temperature Drops

As the night progressed, we had our normal mix of people with boo-boos, nausea, an occasional seizure etc...What began to happen around 2 a.m. was horrific.  We were monitoring the radio traffic of our co-workers in the field, a mix of Basic and Advanced Life Support units, a Heavy Rescue and supervisory personnel scrambling to a series of collisions mixed in with the already heavy call volume of New Jersey's busiest city (from an EMS perspective).  One after the other, they chimed in; an accident here, two vehicles there, four or five cars here.  "We're on the scene checking for injuries."  Then their voices escalated as more cars came slipping, sliding and crashing into the original cars they were out investigating.  "Call radio to this location and tell them to put a push on it, someone is going to get killed!"  Those words escaped the mouth of one of our veteran rescue technicians, not some newbie wetting his/her pants on their first "hot job."  Anyone within an earshot of that message knew these people were in danger.  With the already scarce city resources stretched beyond their capacity, there really wasn't any help available.

The viaduct where Rte. 21 joins Rte. 22, Rte. 78 and Route's 1&9 was a sheet of ice.  These units were out there operating with no protection between them and the two-ton, 70+ mph projectiles (vehicles) that were now careening at them out of control.  Some of our units witnessed a collision, checked the driver out and found them to be uninjured however, they couldn't leave their side as that victim was right in the line of fire of other traffic headed their way.  Again, the calls for police units to manage these scenes went unanswered as there was just no one to send.

Protecting and Serving

Protecting and serving people during their time of need is what a public servant does.  The circumstances illustrated above briefly describes a moment in time where the emergency services are exposed to grave danger and possibly loss of their own lives.  It doesn't always have to be a bullet, a fire or war to claim the lives of my brother's and sister's.  Danger comes in all forms and we who answer this call to action face it regularly and without hesitation.

Sounds noble right?  You should picture an American flag waving behind my shaved head as I read that last paragraph.

Then comes some of the shit-bags that we have to protect and serve; too often from their own stupidity!  What the hell are you doing on the road during a "State of Emergency" in the first place?  Ignorance? Stupidity? Over confidence (I have 4WD)?  Whatever the case, there are people out there that create their own circumstances, jeopardize themselves and us as a result of their stupidity!  Without betraying the confidentiality of anyone I may or may not have treated during said storm, suffice it to say we met more than a few people who were obviously hunting for law suits!  They all think they're slick but a few simple questions and we can peer right through their ostensibly injured veneer and see that they're speed-dialing their law-firm "Dewey Cheetahm and Howe."

The nerve, the absolutely sickening nerve some of these people have with their lame attempts to feign injury, "Oh, my neck, my back, ouch it hurts."  And a moment later, "Can I get a copy of your run report?  --  You know, just in case?"

Just in case my ass!  We willingly face this danger to ourselves that can change or end our lives, in the service of others, and this -- this is what we wind up having to deal with?  Yes I know and am very familiar with the fact that I cannot pick and chose my patients, but this bullshit I can deal without.  I see these people wincing, grimacing when I look at them.  A brief turn of my head and I see their eye opening to see if I'm looking back at them.  We have people question us more than we question them.  They want to know everything they're writing, why we're asking questions about their personal information and often begin counseling with each other, often in foreign tongues, scheming how they're going to get paid out for this.

Tonight people put on their masks and costumes and go visit people portraying themselves as others.  I pray the people my co-workers and I see will be genuine and worthy of our sacrifice.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Practical Birthday

by Steven P. Velasquez
Oct. 7, 2011

Few people in my life know that I’ve made some changes over the recent past and fewer still know why.  Suffice it to say the reasons are personal and it matters not who’s at fault.  When it comes to human relationships and parenting, the only people that truly matter are the children and immediate family members. 

A little over a week ago while my Facebook account was blowing up with literally hundreds of birthday wishes (which I truly appreciate and admit they helped me greatly while dealing with said issue), my life at home had finally burst at the seams and required drastic change.  It was time to leave.  That realization was made years ago, but for reasons economic had not yet manifested.  Now, ready or not, it had just become too much and required immediate action.  Fortunately, thank God, my parents were kind enough to open their arms and say “Come home son.”

Pay no attention to the man 
behind the curtain
After working a night shift, I had spent the entire day (my birthday) loading a trailer with my immediate needs, my laptop, camera equipment, toiletries, lots of uniforms and a few civilian clothes.  Like a refugee fleeing a hostile government, I packed what I could fit and travelled north.  I couldn’t care less about moving away from the person I was living with but was absolutely devastated over the idea of leaving my four year-old daughter as this seemingly repeating pattern had happened once before when her older sister was five.  The tearing at my heart was unbearable and balanced only by the occasional glances at my phone and the constant deluge of kind words and birthday wishes.  I didn’t want to ruin it by posting something like “please stop wishing me a happy birthday, I’m moving out and leaving my daughter today,” so I just kept replying with the thank you’s and expressions appreciative.  Like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain, I hid behind the veneer of my beaming smile on my Facebook profile pic, all the while huddled in a corner, saddened and unsure of how I was going to handle this.  I missed my baby already.

I got home and my parents and sister greeted me with open arms and heavy hearts themselves as they wondered; “What about the baby? When will we see her?”  I reassured them, all would be fine.  My phone kept vibrating and chiming; “Have a great birthday, hope you’re spending the day smiling with family and friends!”  “Happy birthday big guy, hope you’re not working like always!”  Yes I am.  I worked the night before, am moving all day today, and will return to work tonight again.

Photo: The Trundle Bed Store
My parents tried to make me comfortable and cleaned out my childhood bedroom that was now their office and place for all things preparatory (ironing, makeup, hair etc…).  We went to the basement and retrieved one of the trundle beds I had purchased for my older daughters and assembled it hastily.  My mother purchased new bedding material for my birthday in an effort to give me a “practical” gift.  Funny thing about getting older, you go from getting awesome gifts like toys, and things you can play with to toiletries, clothing and – bedding materials.  Practical.

The tree comes to life and plucks
the little boy from his bedroom
window in the 1982 movie "Poltergiest"

The following day, I returned to Rutherford with another truck load of stuff and was ready to get some shut-eye & test my new “practical” sheets.  The bed was positioned beneath the window I used to look out at in terror during hurricanes and storms as the tree-branches seemed to come to life and want to reach in and grab me (too much watching “Poltergeist” I suppose).  The window I used to dream beneath on a winter’s night when, if you listened closely enough, the Christmas arrangement of illuminated bells would issue a soft ding dong sound as their filaments waxed and waned with transient bursts of energy.  The window where I made a heinous discovery one Christmas Eve!  Riddled with anxiousness, I couldn’t sleep and eagerly awaited the sound of hoof-prints on my rooftop.  Instead, I heard the opening and closing trunk of the 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlas Supreme (gold with a black vinyl rooftop), not a single tiny reindeer to be found.  When what to my wondering eyes did appear? The stark realization that I had been betrayed all these years! Santa Claus, Saint Nick, the jolly old elf that was supposed to drop down my chimney was dressed as a Peruvian factory worker!  Eh, that’s ok, he still brought me cool, exciting, non-practical gifts.

It's good to be home.