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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!

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