I recently witnessed an accident that gave me great insight into what it means to be prepared for an emergency situation and what it will mean post-TEOTWAWKI, when you cannot dial 9-1-1. It was important for me to evaluate the situation afterwards and to share the lessons I learned with others. I have numbered the main lessons that can be learned from my situation and I hope you will find a thing or two that might be helpful to you in the future.
I was driving from Denver to Vail after work on a Friday this past May. Less than 10 miles from my destination, in Vail Pass, the weather quickly turned to a damp snow which collected on the highway. As you drive through Vail Pass you gain thousands of feet in elevation over only several miles and the difference in climate can be drastic.
I slowed my front-wheel drive 2009 Honda Civic to around 45 mph since I had already put on my summer tires (Lesson #1- Have adequate tires for the terrain or be prepared to drive SLOWLY) . A white Jeep Grand Cherokee passed me and lost control as we crested a hill which was nearly glare ice. The driver managed to slow it down a bit so I anticipated they would go into the ditch in the median and come to a stop. But as the vehicle went into the ditch the car did a quick, full roll and I saw a body fly out of the driver’s door (Lesson#2- Always wear a seatbelt and drive with your doors locked! If a vehicle rolls over, the doors can easily open). I brought my vehicle to a stop, put on my hazard lights, dialed 9-1-1 and safely crossed the highway. As I was approaching the Jeep, while giving the 9-1-1 Dispatcher the information, I could see the driver (heavy-set woman, early to mid 30’s) crawling on the ground about 20 feet from where her vehicle landed. I told her “Ma’am you’re okay, help is coming, please sit down right there.” She was sobbing, shocked, and hurt but she did as I asked.
I then looked up to see the back driver’s side door open and a young boy (who I later learned was 8) stepped out. There were two gashes on his face that were a least 5” long; one laterally across his forehead and another vertically down his left cheek. You could see pretty far inside the one on the cheek and blood was dripping from both wounds pretty badly. I have minimal emergency training but a good amount of time spent with young ones so I knew I didn’t want to freak him out any more than he already was. I bent my knees and got to eye level with him, gave him a smile and a thumbs up and said “Buddy, you’re gonna be ok, everything is going to be fine. Can you go sit beside your mom there? I’m gonna get help, everything is okay.” He immediately stopped crying, stared directly into my eyes like he was hypnotized, and sat down by his mom. I could tell he wanted her to go back to the vehicle. She stayed there, in hysterics. (Lesson #3- Don’t freak out the kids. They’re already scared to death and you might be too, but your face can’t show it. That kid probably thought I was some kind of idiot, grinning and giving him a thumbs up, but it worked.)
I walked past the two of them to look in the vehicle and could see through the open door that there were two very small children in the backseat. Having seen the injuries to the older boy, I had a natural aversion to walking up and looking at the two tiny children still in the vehicle but the Dispatcher asked me to describe the condition of all parties involved in the accident. (Lesson #4-You might have to see some stuff that you aren’t prepared for.
Some people with military or emergency response backgrounds will already have experience with these types of situation. I don’t really have much advice to give other than be ready for it and don’t freak out. )
As I looked inside the vehicle I saw two little girls under the age of 4, one still in her car seat, one on a booster seat, both still buckled in. They were crying but physically unharmed. At that point I felt truly blessed. Seeing those two babies moving around, trying to get out of their seatbelts was the best possible scenario, and I had been mentally preparing myself to see the worst. The injuries to the boy seemed most serious, but not life threatening. At this point I had given 9-1-1 all the info she needed and she said help was on the way. I also reached in and shut off the vehicle, which was now lightly smoking/steaming from under the hood.
My priority was to tend to the boy’s wounds and stop that bleeding. I had a small First Aid kit in my car that I knew contained some latex gloves and gauze. I ran back across the highway to retrieve the kit from my trunk. (Lesson #5 – I probably should have brought that kit from my car in the first place, huh? I had never trained for this situation and had to learn this lesson the hard way. Unless you are in a profession where you do it on a regular basis, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about having to run into an emergency situation and care for others. Any one of us might have to be a First Responder in a given situation, so be prepared for it.)
As I returned to the accident with my First Aid kit, other people had started to gather. One couple had pulled over just as I did but didn’t have much means to help. At this point, we received some more good fortune. As I went to unzip my First Aid kit and apply gauze and pressure to the young boy’s wounds, I hear a man behind me say “I’m an EMT, is anyone hurt?” I was really grateful for this because my training is limited to a First Aid course I took back in college that has since expired. I then gave him my first aid kit and told him that the boy was the most seriously injured.
Myself and another young lady at that point told the mother that all of her kids were going to be fine. I now understand why she had not run back to the vehicle while she was still moving around as I first got there. You could tell that she had it in her mind that her kids were seriously injured or worse. (Lesson # 6 – Don’t assume the worst. I understand this woman was traumatized and injured from being tossed from her vehicle, but her kids were okay. Despite how awful the situation was, it was a wonderful thing to be able to give her that news.)
Another man arrived on the scene who clearly had some training and he began to take care of the boy with a medical kit he brought with him. The EMT, myself, and a few others took the two girls from the backseat, wrapped them in whatever clothes we could take off our backs, and moved them into another car to keep them warm.
As the first ambulance pulled up, I breathed a sigh of relief until it did a U-turn at the median and drove the other direction down the highway. It stopped less than 300 yards up the road where another accident had occurred. Apparently someone else had called 9-1-1 before I did. Several more minutes passed until the Vail Fire Department showed up with all of their medical supplies. I wanted to wait there until help arrived but at this point I was ready to get out of there. I had done all I could for them and they were now in much more capable hands. Only after all the action had taken place and I was returning to my vehicle did I get a bit emotional.
The main lesson (#7) that I took from the situation was to get some training. Ideally, anyone who is serious about survival should get EMT training, but that requires a good amount of time which most of us do not have. At the bare minimum, everyone should have First Aid/CPR training and keep it current. These classes are widely available and inexpensive. Your local Fire Dept or college will offer these first aid several times a year.
If you are part of a survival group, all of your members should have basic First Aid training and someone should be trained as an EMT or better with some serious research into field/survival medicine. SurvivalBlog has a large section of First Aid/Medical related articles and JWR has several recommendations on survival and field medicine books. Be sure to pick some up and share them with your group’s Medic. (You do have a group Medic, right?).
Another lesson (#8) to be learned is to always have some sort of emergency kit in your vehicle. The EMT was helpful, but more helpful because I was able to provide him with some of the tools he needed to care for someone who was injured. The trunk of my car contains:
- Basic First Aid kit (gauze, bandages, rubbing alcohol, Neosporin, a few small splints, etc…)
- Wool Blanket
- Space Blanket
- Fleece coat
- Road Flares
- Zip ties
- Small tool kit (screwdriver, wrench, sockets, etc.)
- Strike anywhere matches
- Small bag of food (granola bars and a few cans of tuna)
All of these items take up less than 2’x2’ of space in my trunk. Keep in mind that my kit is tailored to my needs. Someone who lives in coastal Texas or a desert in Arizona will have different items than someone who travels through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Now last but not least, it is important to put my experience into context. What I described was how we were able to handle an emergency situation until the cavalry arrived, so to speak. What if there was no 9-1-1 to call? What if someone is seriously injured and the buck stops with you? For most people in the United States, help is only minutes away and we live our lives with a notion of security because of that. If you are reading this site, you are already acquainted with the notion that someday there may be no emergency services to rely on. This will require us to have a greater level of training and to take much greater precaution in our day to day lives. A minor injury today could be life threatening post-TEOTWAWKI. Please evaluate your level of preparedness and take the steps to get the training and supplies that you need. I hope my situation serves as an example that anyone could be in any situation at any time. You don’t need to be a Doctor or an EMT to help someone, but you do need to be prepared.