First Code Arrest
I had been a firefighter for around 6 months or so. By this time I had
been through our fire academy, and EMT training. I had been on a number
of interesting calls, and several fires. I was starting to feel like I
was learning to be a firefighter. I had friends and things were getting
better. I was still on probation, so there was still plenty of hazing,
but my skin was getting thicker. During this same time, Tempe Fire
Department (TFD) had sent its first group of students to Paramedic
training. I really wanted to go, but of course I was too new, still on
probation, and needed much more experience first. My time would come.
The decision for Tempe Fire Department to finally enter the Advanced
Medical Treatment field did not come easily. There was resistance from
all sides. The Fire Chief, the City council, (except for one) and most
of the senior firefighters had no interest in expanding the role of the
Fire Department. It was mostly fear of how much it would cost, that
affected the Chief and City council. The older very experienced and
capable firefighters, I think were in some ways threatened by this new
role. They loved fighting fire, but reluctantly responded on medical
calls. It was the newer guys, like me, and mostly the public that
demanded change. A very popular TV show had been on for a few years,
about paramedics in California. “Emergency”, a show portraying two
paramedics from Los Angles County Fire Department ran from 1972-1979
Naturally people everywhere assumed all firemen were paramedics, and the
pressure was on.
The first group of 6 students from Tempe Fire was sent for training
after much debate at the City Council, and a brave few stepped forward
to go. The paramedic system in Arizona was very new, the training
intense, and so far less than a hundred certified paramedics existed in
the state. Three of our original group had just passed their “Oral
Boards” and were now certified as Paramedics. For the first time, an
ALS (Advanced Life Support) rescue was in Tempe.
At this time I was working at Station 2, Engine 2.
It was sometime mid morning, when the power to the station blacked out.
The emergency generators kicked in, and almost immediately the tones
sounded, dispatching us to a call. “Possible Electrocution”. The
call address was only about 100 yards up the street from the station.
It was a very fast response, E2, and L2 responded. (The power going
out was directly related to the call we were responding to.)
When we arrived on scene, we found an electric company truck with a
“scissor lift”. Its platform was about 20 ft in the air. One of the
company workers told us, that the man on the platform had grabbed a
“hot” wire, and he was unconscious. My captain told them to get the
lift down, but they explained to us, that it had been jammed in place
when their friend fell back. They couldn’t move it.
Gary our engineer, a very good EMT and I climbed up the sides of the
lift. When we got to the top, we were confronted by a badly burned man,
and my first “code”. (Code is a term that means the patient is not
breathing and does not have a pulse) I checked for breathing, no
breathing. Gary checked for a pulse, no pulse. Gary ordered me to
start CPR, so I started mouth to mouth, while he started chest
compressions. The man was burned, had charred hair, a charred mustache,
and burns on his face. The electricity had blown out all of his zippers,
and the end of one of his boots. His large toe had a gaping hole as if
it had exploded. (This was the first time I had given mouth to mouth to
a real person, and to this day I remember the charred smell and taste.)
The Paramedics finally arrived. I didn’t know it at the time, but
this was their first code in the field too. We were still 20 ft in the
air, the platform was small, and became very crowded as they climbed up.
Several boxes of medical equipment were handed up and for the first time
in Tempe, Advanced Life Support was performed.
The medics intubated (inserted a tube into the lungs) the patient to
help breathing, and I moved to give chest compressions. One of the
medics was starting an IV. He hit the vein, and then dropped the needle
on the floor of the platform. IV needles come in two pieces, a sharp
needle, and a plastic catheter, once the catheter is inserted the needle
is removed. Somehow that needle ended up in my knee. I was doing
compressions, and calmly asked if someone could pull the needle out of
my knee. (Back then the fears of disease did not exist, but if history
books were kept on such things, I had the first “ needle stick”
injury on Tempe Fire Department.)
After what seemed like a very long time, the ladder truck stretched a
ladder up to us, and with great effort we finally were able to move this
200 lb. man to the ground, and transport him by ambulance to the
hospital. Unfortunately his injuries were too severe, and he was
pronounced dead soon after arrival.
The Fire Chief, who was also on the scene, ordered my Captain to take me
to the hospital to have the “needle stick” in my knee treated. Like
I said, no one was worried about contagious diseases at this time, so I
only went because I was ordered to. (It wasn’t for another 10 years
that paramedics even though about wearing protective gloves, and even
longer until other forms of protective clothing were introduced
Later that night, we were watching the news on TV. The coverage was
about how the man had touched a 10,000 volt line, his name and all of
the terrible details of his death. As the story was being reported,
the film on TV, showed a close up of me doing chest compressions. My
first time, on the news!
My captain, commented on how I had represented the department well, my
CPR compressions were perfect, (my words) the look on my face was that
of someone very concerned but compassionate.
We had all done a good job! It was complicated working high up on that
platform, for the first time ever, supporting our new Paramedics,
moving a very heavy person down the ladder and still providing care.
Everyone had done well, and no matter how often you see someone injured
like this, it never gets routine.
Of course, this is the Fire Department, and traditions at the time
existed no matter how bad the calls were. My Captain informed me, “You
get on the news, you buy ice cream”. We loaded up once again on the
Engine, and found the nearest market. I can say for sure, this was not
the last time I bought ice cream.
Excerpted from "Paramedic 189's Final Report" by Mr Rodney L Mortensen. Copyright © 2016 by Mr Rodney L Mortensen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.