Thursday, March 29, 2007
Standbys at Airports for crash alerts were fairly common and usually involved several ambulances and fire trucks racing out to the relevant airport and standing by while a plane, typically with some faulty warning light, circled and then landed safely.
Actual Aircraft accidents, on the other hand, were few and far between so when a vehicle was dispatched to an aircraft crash over the radio, everybody wanted to know the details in case they were also called. During my ten years in the service I attended two real aircraft crashes.
One of the incidents involved a shiny new black Squirrel helicopter at a CBD landing pad. The privately possessed helicopter was being piloted by its proud new owner and
was coming in for a landing next to the perimeter fence on the helipad, near the fuel pump so they could re-fuel. Unfortunately he must have mis-judged the distance and he was a little too close to the fence, his main rotor striking the tall petrol tank breather pipe as he landed.
With the powerful and fast moving rotors suddenly coming to an abrupt halt as they collided with the tall metal pipes, the rotational force was transferred to the rest of the machine and it spun violently around throwing off parts across the landing pad as it did so. It was a total wreck when we arrived.
Fortunately the passenger compartment remained fairly intact and the pilot and his passenger were just shaken (but not stirred) and otherwise uninjured. A rather embarrassed pilot declined out offer to take him to hospital for a medical check-up and instead he preferred to stay inside the administration building than face the barrage of fire appliances and media that had also responded to the incident.
The second aircraft accident involved a twin- engine, light, fixed wing aircraft that crashed at a local aerodrome. The young pilot and his mates were off to one of the Gulf Islands for the long weekend.
An apparent engine failure on take off ruined that plan and instead the aircraft nose-dived and cart wheeled along the runway shortly after leaving the ground. The plane was a right-off with bent wings and damaged propellers but the main fuselage remained relatively intact.
Once again the passengers escaped relatively unharmed. Unfotunately the only passenger that was injured was a female who also happened to be the only one of the group that was scared of flying. With a dislocated shoulder, I’m sure the crash only served to reinforce this poor girls fears.
Back on terra firma, many of our medical callouts were to elderly patients in rest homes. The patients typically suffered from shortness of breath, chest pain, fractured hips or even cardiac arrest. One time I was called to an elderly patient who was suffering from shortness of breath.
We responded urgently to the private rest home and were taken into the residents room. The rest home aide had the patient lying down in bed which would have made her breathing harder however she did have an oxygen mask on the patient. The patients’ daughter was also present, giving lots of reassurance to her mum. As we arrived and started getting our gear sorted, the patient suddenly stopped breathing.
I quickly got out the oxygen bag mask from our resus kit to ventilae her and plugged it into the rest homes large oxygen cylinder that was in the room. I was immediately aware that there was no gas coming out so I automatically checked to see if it was turned on and sure enough it had been turned off all this time!
This poor lady was not only short of breath but whatever oxygen she could breath was being denied as the mask restricted air entry. This is what most likely contributed to the respiratory arrest as the patient started breathing spontaneously when the oxygen started flowing. I politely mentioned aloud that the cylinder works better when it is switched on.
The majority of rest homes I visited were notorious places and typically smelt of stale urine. The residents often looked depersonalised, vegetating in reclining chairs and bunched together, vacantly staring into space or disinterestedly staring at some irrelevant Television channel.
The medical care, I found, was also fairly average. On at least two occasions I transported residents with fractured hips, which hadn’t been detected for days meaning the elederly residents had been in unecessary pain and discomfort.
Elderly people, particularly females, in my experience however are the bravest people in the world. it never ceased to amaze me that they were able to tolerate the most amazing amounts of pain as long as they could squeeze your hand. They very rarely complained and were always grateful for our help.
One elderly female patient I attended spent an entire sleepless night in agony with chest pain but didn’t alert the ambulance till the morning because she didn’t want to wake us up! Another tripped over while going to the toilet in the night and fractured her hip. She too spent a long and cold night on the floor before a relative found her. This was a surprisingly common experience before the personal pendant alarms were introduced.
Construction and industrial accidents were another fairly uncommon but usually quite serious type of incident. I went to a few of these including a fatal accident at a bakery, a patient that fell into some machinery and broke his leg, an accidental finger amputation at a factory, and an electrician that fell off his ladder and broke both wrists.
One of the more interesting industrial jobs involved extracting a worker out of a newly constructed storm water drain. The cylindrical concrete drain was large enough to almost stand up in and was about 10m under a central city street.
There was about 20m of the drain that had been laid and two workers were at the end, excavating the rocky earth so more could be laid. One was using a jackhammer to loosen the schist rock and earth and the other was shovelling it into a wheel- barrow. Apparently the man shovelling was bent over picking up a load of rubble when a large piece of rock fell from the roof of the excavation and landed on his back.
I was single crewed in one of our ambulance jeeps at the time and responded to the scene where an ambulance had just pulled up. We were lowered by crane into the large pit in a basket and crawled our way inside the drain.
When we reached our patient we found that he had a painful back but no apparent neurological deficit, which was a good sign and meant that there was probably no nerve damage. We loaded him into a stretcher and proceeded to carry him out.
The other ambo wanted to place him on top of the basket on the portable, foldout, Mk II stretcher and lift him out to the ambulance but I disagreed thinking it wasn’t the safest option. I called up for Fire service assistance and they loaded him into their stokes basket which was a more secure option. He was soon off to hospital and I was off to another job.