Paramedic’s Corner: Bystanders in danger at car crashes
By: Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009 4:05 pm
Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
A lot of well-meaning people stop at motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) to help, frequently putting themselves in serious danger. EMTs and paramedics work in continuous danger from sources such as blood-borne pathogens (HIV virus, hepatitis, meningitis), domestic violence, and violent drunks. However of all of these risks, the greatest risk of all to the EMTs/paramedics, as far as a tragic and sudden death, is being struck by a vehicle while working a crash along the highways.
Therefore, if you come upon a motor vehicle crash and decide to stop, please keep the danger in mind.
People frequently ask: “What should I do if I come upon an accident?” My most salient point to make is this: “stay safe.”
That means those who want to help need to pull over in a safe location and immediately call for help. Call 911 or *55 if on the interstate and get the police, fire, and ambulance coming. This is the single most important thing that can be done to help the injured victim. If a MVC victim is severely injured, every minute counts. There is nothing more important than getting trained people enroute!
The next course of action is up to the individual. In my opinion, those who are not trained should call and then wait for trained people to arrive. An untrained person could easily become a victim. Additionally, the bystander might do more harm than good to the injured person. It is unfortunate to have to say that, but nevertheless it is true. If a person with a spinal injury is moved, even a small amount, they can be paralyzed for life or killed. The spinal cord is very delicate and if the spinal bones are fractured or displaced and the victim is moved, the bones might shift and cut or put pressure on the spinal cord.
If someone does decide to stop, the absolute first priority is personal safety. There is an old firefighter adage that goes like this: “If you get hurt, you are no longer a part of the solution, you become part of the problem.” Police, firefighters, and paramedics are all taught safety first, to “size-up” the scene. Look for things that can kill, such as downed power lines, gasoline leaking, hazardous materials (HazMat), fire, blood or other body fluids. Without the proper training and protection, any of these can kill.
Beware of being struck by another vehicle. Many people simply fly by or will ram into you. The paramedics are required to wear bright-reflective safety vests. We try to use big fire engines for blockers, but we still remain at risk. Those who arrive before emergency responders will not have these protections!
Those who see downed power lines need to stay in their vehicle. People who step out and get on a hidden line could find that is the last thing they ever do! If a victim is trying to get out of their vehicle, tell them to stay in the vehicle until trained help arrives. To get out and step on a hot line is a death sentence.
If the crash involves a truck with HazMat placards or you see some type of chemicals leaking or you see strange-looking vapors, don’t be there. Get away from the scene and call 911. There are numerous hazardous materials being transported on the highways that can kill in seconds.
I am reluctant to offer emergency treatment advice to people not trained in emergency medical care. Remember, call for help, think safety, and do not move the victim. Tell the victim that help is on the way and try to convince the victim to remain as still as possible until the firefighters or paramedics arrive. Those who do these things will have done a great job in helping those who are hurt.