Essays: Weekend Duty

Written February 1993

by Kenneth Lea Barbalace

Sunday

"...suicide, there's a gun in her hand," are the only words that register from that oddly familiar voice at the other end of the 9-1-1 line. Grabbing my fire coat and helmet from the back hall I put them on. I then get in Medic One and belt myself into its jump seat. Howie, this afternoon's engineer, pages out the rest of the duty squad and then gets in to drive us to the call. Our screaming sirens clear snow and ice covered roads of cars.

"Medic One, Fire Hall, they are past the horse corrals and up a hundred steps," crackles the radio.

Horses, steps, that voice on 9-1-1....Explosively my mind screams, "OH MY GOD--NO!!"

"HOWIE, I KNOW THESE PEOPLE! They're almost family."

"Yogi, you know them?" Scott, the other engineer, replies.

"One of the daughters lived with my mom. We go to the same church."

"Then stay with the ambulance. Don't go up."

Barely I acknowledge Howie's order. Confusion is flooding me. Who is it? Why? This can't be happening. I need to do something. I train to save lives, what good is my training if I can't use it to save the life of a friend?

Howie stops Medic One at the end of the driveway. Handing him the cardiac monitor I climb out the back doors into the freezing rain. After assembling, I watch the duty squad head up the drive into the darkness escorted by police. Air, I need air. Maybe it will clear my head.

Norman my pastor arrives. When I ask him which family member it is, he informs me its the youngest daughter, then requests to go up. Gaining clearance over the radio, I allow him to head up the drive.

"Fire Hall, this is R-50, cancel any other responding personnel, We've got a squad five." "Squad five," those words that I hear from the radio wrench my gut, throwing my heart into my throat. She's dead. I want to cry but can't, the tears won't come.

"N-Norman, it's..it's n-not good," I stutter.

"I know," he responds continuing on his way.

Monday

Sirens scream, lights flash, as we roar out onto the streets demanding the right of way. We can't wait. We won't wait. Time is our enemy.

Lemmings, DAMN LEMMINGS! ISN'T ONE DEATH ENOUGH?! What is making them so desperate?

"Ken, you going to be okay?"

"I'll be just fine, Howie."

"Do you know this kid?"

"I don't think so," I reply not quite over the shock of last night. A line of cars ahead require a little extra encouragement to get out of our way.

"Medic One, this is the Police Department. What's your location?" the radio bellows.

"This is Medic One, we are passing Cascade Liquor."

"Medic one, please hold at the Channel Club until we secure the scene."

"Ten-Four," Cars ahead clear the road with little hesitation.

"Howie, you need a pair of gloves?" I inquire as I get a pair for myself.

"No, I got some."

"Medic One, what's your location?"

"This is Medic One, we're at Sandy Beach."

"Medic one, please hurry."

"Medic one, this is the Police Department, We need you there NOW, code three, repeat code three."

"Ten-Four, we're almost there." As we pass the Channel Club, we kill the siren so as not to aggravate the situation. Rounding the curve, flashing lights of patrol cars become visible, leaving little doubt as to where, to go.

Jumping out of Medic One, I land in six or eight inches of slushy ice water, filling my tennis shoes instantly. While Howie checks the patient and administers Oxygen, I trudge though the calf high slush with the stretcher.

Within moments, the rest of the duty squad arrives. Quickly the young patient is scooped out of the deep slush and placed on the stretcher. After our patient is loaded in Medic One, he is hooked up to the cardiac monitor and IV's are placed in both arms.

With police blocking traffic, we back out onto the highway headed for the hospital. "Community Hospital, Medic One."

"Go ahead Medic one."

"We are transporting a sixteen year old male with a self inflicted gun shot wound to the abdomen. ETA ten minutes. Vitals to follow."

After spending nearly an hour assisting the hospital staff in the emergency room stabilize the boy, taking X-rays, and CT scans, we can head home knowing we got a keeper. Exhausted both mentally and physically, I want nothing more than to go to bed and sleep a long nights sleep. This has been a weekend that I, will not soon forget.

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