“Squawk,” the alarm rang out.
“Responding Crew. Man down at the corner of Market and Main. Man down at the corner of Market and Main. Bystanders state that they are unable to wake the victim and are keeping him warm.”
This was it! My stress level shot through the roof as we ran to our squad, and I, as a new Emergency Medical Technician, was anxious to get my first run under my belt. I heard all the advise.
“Stay calm. If you run you are done. A bad responder is a hurt responder.”
All of those rules ran through my pounding head as my stomach churned, and my heart raced. As I jumped into the passenger side I pushed the bay door button, and my Paramedic Training Officer started the engine while pushing all emergency light buttons at the same time. I noticed the sweat that he left on the control panel. I looked over at him and his hair was already becoming soaked with sweat as he continued to wipe his brow and flick it out the window.
He turned the siren switch, and Wooh wooh wooh! Boy was it loud. The siren was placed in the center of the light bar on top of the driving cab. When it blared it was right over your head and echoed in the cab where the crew sat. “Your job is to yell CLEAR RIGHT!” he screamed at me. He had to scream to communicate. Then he pushed the “Q” button. The best way to describe this sound is that it is like an air raid siren. It started low and then went to a high pitch and went on as long as the siren turned. It was also over our heads, and was 4 times as loud as the regular siren. The Paramedic loved the “Q” and used it the most. As I watched him drive, he twitched and sweated. Sweating I could almost handle, but the twitching was unsettling. I was going to die.
As we approached our first intersection, he blared the “Q” again and I looked to the right. “GO!” I yelled.
“NOT GO! CLEAR RIGHT! CLEAR RIGHT ONLY! IF YOU SAY GO, I COULD MISUNDERSTAND YOU AND THINK YOU SAID “NO” NOT “GO”. CLEAR RIGHT!”
I looked at the sweating, twitching man as we sat in the middle of the intersection and lost all nervousness. I just hoped we were going to get to the scene. My Paramedic was in need of a Paramedic and some Valium.
“CLEAR RIGHT!” I screamed at him.
We were off again with loud sirens, and lights, and sweating, and twitching. We arrived safely, and the Paramedic started barking orders at me to assist the victim. I had good basic training so I was on top of every order he gave. As we loaded the victim into the ambulance, he threw me the keys and stated that I was to get them to the hospital fast. My first time driving. I closed the back doors and I ran at first, then slowed to a fast paced walk to the front of the ambulance. We aren’t supposed to run. I hopped into the driver seat and put my seat belt on. I turned the key, and nothing. I turned the key again and nothing. I looked in the back of the ambulance and looked at my Paramedic Supervisor.
“What?” he asked.
“It is dead.”
“Try the battery switch.”
“It is on.”
“Turn it off and turn it on again.”
You could see his whole body slump and he stopped twitching. “Are the control panel switches on?”
“Every one of them,” I replied. We weren’t going anywhere fast.
He had turned the ambulance off and left the emergency lights on. That mistake will kill an ambulance faster than anything. The ambulance engine running supported the power drain from the emergency lights. Not running, no support. Dead ambulance. I had to call for back-up and they came to assist in the transport pretty quickly. My trainer pointed this out later as a lesson to concentrate, and “never leave the emergency lights on and turn off the ambulance”. We also talked about how loud the sirens were and how to communicate. Screaming at each other. Later, in newer designs, they moved the sirens to the front grill of ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars. Most everyone was suffering from tinnitus and hearing loss. Ear protection became the standard and you could communicate without yelling once the sirens were moved.
My trainer eventually moved on to become a successful nurse, but my hearing loss and tinnitus didn’t. Thankfully, being apart of Family Hearing and Balance Center, and Cardinal Hearing Centers, I have access to help. I have slept with a fan, or a television on for years. Sometimes my tinnitus would wake me up. During tinnitus therapy, I noticed the tone softened, and eventually, I don’t even notice it at all. Right now, as I am writing this, I can hear the tone, but it is the first time in a long time. There is help. Those sirens were loud, but thankfully, today, there is understanding and technology to help protect the hearing health for those who protect us.