This Is Only A Test

☆ May 3, 2011

fire / ems extrication

My EMT class convenes, early Saturday morning, at a wrecking yard.  We are joined by the Fire Department dressed in bunker gear.  We’re here to practice extrication: safely removing people from vehicles be they stable, mangled, or flipped (the vehicle, that is ~ we always assume the patient is mangled).

While the Fire Dept practices stabilizing automobiles, we practice moving patients out from various cars and trucks and onto a backboard.  I play ‘patient’ at one point and am awed at how smoothly, thanks to proper knowledge and teamwork, I am transferred from wrecked truck to backboard to ambulance.

We join up with the Fire crew to learn about the fearsome tools they use to take apart a vehicle.  We watch them in action.

Removing a door:
fire / ems extrication

Goodbye, door:
fire / ems extrication

Cutting the A-beams for roof removal:
fire / ems extrication

The top of a truck is folded forward:
fire / ems extrication

After a morning of practice in 30ºF weather with unrelenting 20-mph wind,
“Just like the real thing,”
one instructor sadistically cackles, we are corralled in the ambulance as our instructors set up a crash: two vehicles, one on its side, with four moulaged patients trapped inside.  Moulage: gory makeup that simulates all sorts of wounds and injury.

My classmates and I, and the Fire rookies, are then called to the scene to assess, extricate and transport these patients, while also tending to the additional patient care that takes place during each stage.  The patient I am responsible for is in the backseat of a Bronco, the upright vehicle in the crash.

I have a fireman break the back window of the Bronco for me and I crawl in to manually stabilize my patient in the backseat.  I discern his status, talk with him; sometimes, as he drifts out of consciousness, I simply talk to him.  I stay with him while others cover us with a tarp, and then I hear all the windows being broken in quick succession.  The glass patters against the tarp; gleaming bits bounce under the hem where I kneel.  Once the windows are broken, firemen work to cut away the roof.

Forced into blindness to all that is going on beyond the tarp I am under, the world becomes momentarily muted, then punctured by din as massive tools held by those I cannot see snap through steel just inches away from my patient and I.  Others, recognizable by voice, shout questions to me, instructions to each other.

A pool of fear spreads inside me as my range of sight shrinks.  I cannot see the rookies, wielding their bone crushing tools; I cannot participate, or even prepare myself for what might go on beyond this blue cocoon.  I give myself a mental shake, and let go of everything I cannot see and give myself to the one thing I can: the patient I am with.

It comes down to trust.
Sometimes, that is all we have.

I give my trust to those who move unseen on the other side of the tarp,
so that my patient might trust in me.


32 Responses to “This Is Only A Test”

  1. Terra
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 9:05 am

    Wow! What a vivid recollection! You’ve made it very real for the reader. Interesting to hear the type of training (and thus, real life scenarios at some point) you go through. Thank you!

  2. Kristan
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    Ditto what Terra said. I felt the sting of tears at the end, imagining what that trust must mean to someone in a real life situation. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Chris
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 9:35 am

    Having played “victim” for a Community Emergency Response Team in training, including moulage, I can understand the emotional aspect of such training. Although our scenario took place in a building, rather than in automobiles, I was amazed by the very real fear and stress that was brought up. One young high school girl who lay next to me waiting to be “rescued” burst into tears, her fears too overwhelming to contain even though she knew it was only a training exercise.
    I feel for those who work the other end of such scenarios, those who hold the fate of the victims in their hands…such an awesome responsibility. Your ability to overcome your own fear and give your trust to those on your team enables you to then help that victim to overcome their own fears and trust in you, to know that you are there and that they do not have to go through their ordeal alone.
    Thank you for all that you do and for having the strength and fortitude to do it with heart.

  4. rottrover
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 9:42 am

    So let me get this straight… You get to hang out with cowboys AND firemen? *sigh*

  5. Eve
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 9:53 am

    Have you ever considered writing fiction? I’d love to read about a woman who moves to the country and becomes an EMT (a fictionalized version of your life). Your writing talents are wonderful.

  6. Theresa Szpila
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    Phew! Beautifully and suspensefully written – I felt as though I were in the Bronco with you, Shreve. I’ve still got shivers running up and down my spine.

    I’m glad this was “only” a training session – good to know no one was really injured in that pick up and that it was fire department equipment that peeled off the roof and not a semi. But it’s also good to know you get this kind of invaluable, real-life-situation, hands-on training.

    Shreve, I pray you never need to use all the skills you’re developing, but I’m mighty proud of you for what you’re doing. I’d trust you and your “newby” team mates to rescue me any day!

    Like Terra and Kristan, I thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I feel like I’m learning, growing, and overcoming fears along with you.

    Dee, your comment baffles me. No doubt there’s a whole sub-text I’m just not getting.

  7. MJo
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    I am so glad I’ve found your site. Thank you for sharing. Your writing is beautiful. I just want to savor your words.

  8. Sherri
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    “So let me get this straight… You get to hang out with cowboys AND firemen? *sigh*”


  9. Holly Shepherd
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    Scary business indeed, but one that is so needed in these days of faster cars, and different combinations or scenarios that accidents happen in. You are doing a good service Shreve, and will receive tremendous pleasure from your efforts to help others.
    God Bless, and keep up your good work.

  10. catherine
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 10:25 am

    So , that’s how it works…Wow. Such a scary moment, being upside down in a car, waiting and praying for help.Nice to know people are being trained everyday for rescue.

  11. Grover
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 10:55 am

    You know C. J. and Craig?

  12. Maggie
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 11:16 am


  13. cassie
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 11:24 am

    I give tons of credit to you and anyone else who volunteers to help others like that! I would be way too emotional in such a stressful situation like that. . . Always impressed by those who can remain calm and be logical when it seems like nothing is sane!

  14. Steph
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

    I too send congrats and awe for your new endeavors. It sounds scary, exciting and important work, all at once.

    I have a great book recommendation on this very topic: “Population 485: Meeting your neighbors one siren at a time”, by Michael Perry. He too is/was a volunteer EMT in his small town. He’s a great writer that I think you would enjoy and relate to.

    Continued success and safety in all you do.
    PS. Btw,me three! regarding the “cowboys & firemen” comment. Ha!

  15. Dana
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

    I am so envious! I miss the days that I was an EMT! I loved the thrill it gave me. Then I got married and had kids *sigh* And like the others…cowboys AND firefighters….that is my heaven!

  16. Beverly Murphy
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    much respect to you and all the other volunteers. thank you for sharing your training experience with us
    and add me to the ‘cowboys AND firemen??’ list :)

  17. Keitha
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    I second Steph’s book recommendation. “Population 485.” Thats the population of his town and when a town is so small, many times out on a call you know the folks. Have been meaning to send you that book name since you started training. It’s short, but good. I think he has a website too.

    Ditto on the cowboys & firefighters. Just too romantic!

  18. Claire
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

    I have to agree – firemen and cowboys. Nice!
    Always look forward to your experiences in writing.

  19. Chris
    May 3rd, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

    As always, your writing is clear and moving. Thank you for these insights into what it’s like to be a first responder; to find a balance between professionalism and empathy.

  20. Carmen Mena
    May 4th, 2011 @ 1:22 am

    Wow. You are just so…. ah, indescribable! Keep up the awesome work, Shreve!

  21. I Hermit
    May 4th, 2011 @ 7:32 am

    You have done it again!
    You share and teach and write clearly you also remind us what being human is all about. Your heart and aspirations are worn on your sleeve, you are one of the most centered of being I have ever found.

    Are you the American Buddha?

  22. Stephanie
    May 4th, 2011 @ 11:45 am

    Very nice post – that training is so important. I have been on the inside of a mangled car waiting for someone with those tools to cut me free. I cannot even describe to you the gratitude I felt towards the volunteers that freed me and sent me on my way to the nearest hospital. It was nice to see what actually goes into that skill….

  23. Stacey B.
    May 4th, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    Herein I get to brag: I’m married to a fireman that was a cowboy first and still is on his five days off every week! =)

    Love reading your blog…feels like home to me!

  24. Deanna
    May 4th, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

    What a combination of abilities this takes! On the one hand compassion and caring. On the other hand toughness and skill. I don’t think the average person gets such a hefty dose of both. You definitely have it, Shreve.

  25. Bethany
    May 4th, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    I am simply in awe Shreve. Wow!

  26. Carol
    May 4th, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

    Things I learned from my extrication trainings… 1. Do not wear your sunglasses and then hold C-spine. You will sweat and fog up your glasses before the roof is peeled back and have to ask someone (Med 1) to take them off for you! 2. Holding C-spine (my specialty) with twisted entangled patients develops two things… intense cramps while holding position… and an extreme closeness with other EMS (I had to sit on someone’s lap to reach and hold another C-spine! Nice to meet you, classmate!) Glad you enjoyed your training!

  27. Sunny
    May 4th, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

    Thank you so much for doing what you are doing.

  28. heather em
    May 5th, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    Very interesting stuff here, Shreve. It is so chilling to hear about the rescue from the other side (the victim’s) of the perspective. Thank you for enlightening us, and keep up the good work. :)

  29. Suggestion Saturday: May 7, 2011 | On The Other Hand
    May 7th, 2011 @ 10:18 am

    […] This is Only a Test.  If I could influence traditional movie plots the hero of an action movie would be the first person to stop and help at the scene of an accident. I can think of no better definition of the term than someone who reacts to a dangerous situation in this manner (especially if he or she is a civilian). […]

  30. Des
    May 25th, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

    I’ve been lucky enough to attend trainings put on by the Cody Fire Dept during Cody Fire School when I was a member of my local dept and love working with WY firefighters and EMTs. They’ve all been great to work with, even though we are from SD and rarely get to work with most of them. Thank you for giving so freely of yourself, it’s amazing work you’re doing.

    April 16th, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

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    April 20th, 2013 @ 4:51 am

    Howdy! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a

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