Paramedic’s Corner: Bystander safety is crucial at motor vehicle crashes
By: Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
Ambulance Director Gary Carmack
A lot of well-meaning people stop at motor vehicle crashes (MVCs), but frequently they do so at grave risk to themselves!
Once at a safety audit risk analysis, I was asked what is considered the greatest safety risk for EMTs and paramedics. I told the man conducting the risk assessment that back and shoulder injuries from the constant heavy lifting cause most of the debilitating trauma that results in EMTs and paramedics no longer being able to work, and blood-borne pathogens (HIV virus, hepatitis) are a great risk, but the greatest danger of all to the paramedics — as far as a tragic and sudden death is concerned — 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 they should do if they come upon an accident. My most salient point to make is to stay safe. Park in a safe location and immediately call for help. Call 911 or *55 if on the interstate so you can get help coming. This is the single most important thing you can do to help the injured victim. If a crash victim is severely injured, every minute is precious. There is nothing more important than getting trained people enroute!
The next course of action is up to the individual. In my opinion, people who do not have training 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. I’m sorry to have to say that, but it is true. If a person with a spinal injury is moved even a small amount, they can be paralyzed for life ... or even 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 passerby do 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. People trying to help need to look for things that can kill them — 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 a person trying to help a victim.
Beware of being struck by another vehicle. Paramedics are required to wear bright, reflective safety vests. We try to use big-ole fire engines for blockers, but we still remain at risk — and a passing motorist trying to help will not have these protections!
If downed power lines are present, stay in the vehicle. Stepping out and standing on a hidden line could be fatal. If a victim is trying to get out of the 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 if some type of chemicals are leaking or there are strange-looking vapors, don’t stay there. Get away from the scene and call 911. There are numerous hazardous materials being transported on the highways that can kill people in seconds.
I am reluctant to offer emergency treatment advice to people not trained in emergency medical care. Remember these tips: 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 helping their friends.