Wednesday, August 8, 2007

When things go wrong... Part II

Boss Lady was in trouble. Either the sky was falling and we were all about to die, or I was going to kick her butt for not answering the radio after something like that.

I ran for my car, slamming it into gear before the door closed. Pedal to the floor, I flipped a u-ie and headed North.

I kept calling on the radio, pausing to listen for any response. I had to lay the handheld down in my lap occasionally to honk the horn and blow my purloined air horn as I came up on workers.

As I got closer to where the traffic line should be, I slowed.

I may have to hit the ditch, and I don’t want to do that going too fast… there’s still at least a two inch drop on this side, and the ditch is steep here. Don’t want to roll my car.

My best bet is they ran into trouble going by the paver, maybe had to stop the cop and let traffic by. That’s down in the hole, would explain the lack of a response on the radio.

I reached the hill before the hole, and no sign of traffic yet. Now I’m really worried. They should have been passing me by now. The fact that they weren’t, meant that the traffic line was stopped. We don’t ever stop a traffic line, unless something even more dangerous than trying to take two miles worth of traffic from forty five to a stop is up ahead.

I popped over the hill going slow enough to slam on my brakes and keep from hitting anyone that might be in the road, which means not very fast at all. Twenty, tops.

Still fast enough for anyone who might intentionally jump in front of my car, true, but slow enough I’ve got reaction time if I need it.

“Shit.”

I backed up to the top of the hill, snagged the handheld and started barking orders.

“South end, I know you have a cell phone, call 911, tell them we’ve got a major accident here, at least six cars, one state patrol on scene already, we’re gonna need ambulances.”

“What’s going on? Why do I have to call?”

“Stop asking stupid questions and DIAL 911!”

“Ok, ok, jeez!”

Back down the hill, slowly. This side of things was relatively clear, they didn’t get this far. Below me though, it was a mess.

There’s a ravine with a bridge over it at the bottom of the hole, the paver was coming up on the bridge, maybe two loads of concrete from framing the end and walking the paver up past the bridge.

Don't think they're gonna get that done today...

Somehow there was a pileup right by the paver. I could see the pilot car knocked into the dead lane in front of the big concrete laying machine, driver’s side crunched against one of the dump trucks that hauled the concrete.

Shit. Gerald's in there.

The pilot car driver that day was a nice old man, too old to stand out there all day, but good with traffic. He always gave me hugs, when I gave him a break.

Four more cars mashed together, pointing different directions. Must have rebounded off the guardrail on the bridge.

A string of crunched cars went up the hill, now that I had a second to look, a couple of them shoved half-off the twelve inch drop off the slab.

There was enough battered metal to make a junkyard dog move in and set up house down there, and it was obvious that there were going to be people hurt. A couple of people were out of their vehicles and moving around, already.

From there, it was hard to tell just what else was involved, except for one vehicle. A dark green pickup sat squarely in the middle of the freshly poured concrete, tires sunken. As I got closer I could see that it had several large dents towards the front.

I hopped out of my car, and spotted my supervisor off to one side yelling at the paving supervisor. I headed over there at a dead run. Not only does she need to know that the 911 call is in progress, but she needs to call the office, and she needs to get away from the paving supervisor before she says something dumb like…

“You asshole, there are people injured and you want to get a loader down here to pull the truck that caused all of this crap out???”

Too late. Ok, so I agreed with her, he was an asshole.

“Boss Lady!”

“And another thing you sorry..”

“BOSS LADY!”

“WHAT?!?” She turned on me and yelled in my face.

“South end is calling 911 with all the information I had. I’ll get things organized here while you call the office. I got the south end covered on lead-ins, but we’re going to need more ambulances than they have south of us. Did Owner Lady ever finalize that emergency detour plan? I think we’re going to need it.” I chose my words carefully. She had to play the politics game with this guy, and while he’d accept her cussing him out, under the circumstances, if I undermined her in front of him, it’d make her job a lot harder.

The fact that it yanked her back from the emotional brink and got her brain working again is just a bonus.

I couldn’t blame her, if I’d seen it happen I’d have been a wreck too. So would most of our male supervisors.

She took a breath, closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them again, Boss Lady had a grip on herself.

“Good. Explain to him why he can’t pull that pickup out.” She motioned towards the paving supervisor.

“Oh sure, leave me with the fun part.” This got a small smile.

She jogged back to her truck, maneuvered her way around, and headed back up the hill. She really needed to go north, to lead in any emergency personnel from that end, but she couldn’t get there from here. She’d have to detour around on county roads, which would mean some time lost. She’d spend it making phone calls, since she had a booster in the truck. 911 again with better information, the office to inform the big boss and get her down here, the state engineer for the site, and the Department of Transportation office to see if we could shut down the highway between the two towns. The county commissioners office to get permission to detour traffic around, at least to clear people out, and in case they wouldn’t close the road. Flaggers, we’d need all the extra hands we could get. The supervisor for the main contractor on site.

I ignored the paving supervisor. He was being an asshole, but the reality of the situation would sink in soon enough, and he’d figure out exactly why he couldn’t move that truck. His freshly poured concrete had just, I suspected, become a crime scene.

I started walking down towards the wreckage, even though that was the last place I wanted to go. I had to inform the officer that he had help on the way, and then I had to get back south and organize my flaggers. I had a thought and reversed direction, popping the trunk on my car, grabbing my first aid kit and a couple of Wal-Mart sacks. I’d just bought a couple of t-shirts and several 3-packs of bandannas the day before, and hadn’t gotten them out of the trunk yet. Not much, but maybe it would help.

I like to keep bandannas on hand, they’re handy when it’s hot, soak one down in your cooler and wrap it around your neck, cool ya right off. Of course, there are other things that they’re useful for, too. Like forming a pressure bandage.

The paving supervisor was following me, and as I once again headed for the twisted pile of metal that used to be several cars, he grabbed my arm.

“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THAT PICKUP?!?”

I stopped in my tracks and turned to look at him, giving him the kind of glare I usually reserve for jumpy truckers or equipment operators that refused to listen to me.

“Look around. There’s been a major fucking wreck. And if I’m not mistaken, you really should be checking on your boys instead of harassing me. You know, doing your JOB?? If you have a first aid kit somewhere around here, get it, and help out. Either way, you need to get your fucking hands off me and stop being an asshole. Unless you want me to put it in my report that workers were endangered because you were more worried about production than people's lives.”

I’m not the supervisor. I don’t have to play politics with this man.

I jerked my arm out of his grip and started walking, not waiting to see the moment when the full impact of this thing hit him. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

When I got closer to the wreckage, I looked for the trooper. He was bent over, three cars in, his hands busy with something I couldn’t see, the woman in the seat nearest him was sobbing and shaking her head. Shit.

I shoved reaction back, time to get freaked out later. Right then I had a job to do.

I reached the trooper, taking note of things as I went through. Blue four door, man, woman, two kids in the back seat. Man was bleeding down his face, looked like he probably broke his nose. Woman, holding her stomach and trying to curl around it, the seatbelt keeping her from it. Kids, strapped in car seats, crying, scared, but no obvious wounds. Red two door, high school age kid, unconscious or dead, the front end of his car all but gone. The engine must have been in his lap. Thoughts flickered through my head, none of them sticking around for very long. There was just too much to take in.

“Sir.”

The officer looked over his shoulder at me, and I saw he was trying to jerk open the door. I didn’t think he’d have much luck. The side of the car might as well have been one solid piece of metal, the body was so deformed there was no way that door was opening.

“I have one small first aid kit, two t-shirts, a bunch of bandannas, and a plastic sack.” I offered the items to him.

“I need a pair of hands, go check everyone…”

“No, sir.”

“What? I’m telling you I need…”

“Sir, I am not trained in CPR, first aid, or removing damaged car parts. I am trained in handling traffic control. I have to get out of this hole and get back in contact with the rest of my flaggers. I have to go to the south end and lead the ambulances here in a safe manner.”

“The ambulances will find their own way, now you go…”

No, sir. They won’t. Because I’m not having more people hurt or killed today. There are still men working up there. The faster I get out of here the faster you get help down here.” I shook the first aid kit and bag at him, looking him steadily in the eye.

I felt like a shit leaving all those people, and Gerald, when I might have been able to help… but my responsibilities were elsewhere.

“You’re a cold bitch, you know that?”

“Yes sir. Take the stuff.”

I jogged back to my car, headed up to the top of the hill, listened for radio chatter once I got there. Nothing, they must have taken my warning seriously for once. Or, Boss Lady yelled at them again when she could hear them again.

“South end, what’s the story on those ambulances?”

“On their way. Folks are getting antsy down here.”

“Nothing I can do for them. I’m on my way to lead the ambulances in. Tell traffic there’s a big wreck, they can sit tight, or turn around and go back to town once the ambulances are through, but NO ONE moves until I get my ambulances, got it? Make sure everyone you can reach is in their vehicles.”

“Well I did wave them in but there are some back there a ways that aren’t looking at me.”

“Then RUN. Grab a trucker and have him start yelling on the CB.”

“But..”

“No buts, welcome to the fun part of the job. As long as you’ve explained things to the first person in line they’ll stay still. If they don’t I’m on my way out and I’ll deal with them down here.”

“No, my first guy is pretty reasonable, it’s a few cars back that are getting pissy.”

“Ask them if they want to be responsible for someone’s loved one dying. That usually shuts them up. Coming up on you now.”

I took the lane change in front of the line of traffic and kept heading south for a mile or so, watching for the telltale flashing red and blues, and laying on the horn to get people out of the way. We’d been holding long enough that we had two and a half, maybe three miles worth of traffic stacked up.

I didn’t dare drive any further, I couldn’t remember what time it had been when I came on the accident, the ambulances could be there any second. I found a small gap in traffic and whipped into it, backing back out into the south bound lane and watching my rear view.

“Miss? What’s taking so long?”

“Sir, I need you to get back into your vehicle and stay there. We’ve got emergency services coming. Once they’re by you can turn around and go back to town or you can stay here and wait, but we’ve had an accident in the middle of the site, and I have no idea how long it will be. Do me a favor and tell anyone between you and your car that they need to stay in their vehicles and be patient.”

“Ok, miss, but… is there anything I can do to help?”

“Other than stay in your car, unless you have medical training, no sir. If you have a CB you can start telling people what’s going on. Now, get out of the way please.”

I was trying to be polite, the guy was concerned, not pissed off, not causing any problems on purpose, but I had problems of my own and I needed him out of the way.

I’d kept my eyes on my rear view and spotted the first glimmer that might be red and blues. I gripped the steering wheel with both hands while my pulse shot up, checked ahead of me to make sure it was clear, and waited until I could clearly see the ambulances before I accelerated smoothly and carefully. I set my own pace and waited 'till the ambulances matched me, watching in the mirror, and took them up to forty miles an hour. Everyone was in their vehicles, and the south end flagger was walking back towards the front of the line. I honked the horn and he turned to look before he dodged in between two trucks.

Ambulances don’t do high speed lane changes well. At least not in the distances that we had to work with. I kept them at forty till we got around traffic and into the live lane. I had enough room to get them around and into the zone without rocking them too badly at that speed. Then I gradually increased my speed. We had four miles to go before we got to the accident, and every second counts in those situations.

The ambulance right behind me got the hint after I’d laid on the horn going by one group of workers, and flipped on the siren. Good, now everyone will hear us coming.

I started reducing speed about a half a mile before the hole, pulling them back from sixty five down to forty, thirty. The driver behind me was on the ball, he never got too close.

I peeled off once I got them over the top of the hill, I’d need my car, and it wouldn’t be very smart to let it get boxed in by the ambulances. I followed them down.

“Yo!” I yelled as they bailed out, grabbing bags and equipment. “What else have we got coming?”

“The county boys, rural fire, another ambulance is coming from Walsh but it will be a while before they get here.”

“Got it, I’ll get ‘em here.”

I backed back to the driveway I’d parked in earlier, backing in. It was pure chance that I looked to my right when I did, and saw the car in the ravine, laid over on it’s top.

Shit.

I swallowed and headed back for the south end. Either they’d noticed it, or they hadn’t, but I had a lot of people that were going to be running hot coming, and I had to get them through safely.

“Farmgirl, you copy?” Boss Lady’s voice was steady again over the radio.

“10-4”

“You got those ambulances yet?”

“Two ambulances on site, I’m headed south to get the rest of the circus. One more ambulance reported as on the way from Walsh, Rural Fire, and everyone else in the county who has a badge or enough clout not to get kicked out, apparently.”

“Good, we’ve got ambulances coming from up north, too. We should have Owner Lady here soon, and I’ll leave her the north end, and be down in the hole.”

“10-4 Boss Lady. You want me to organize this end? Are we detouring or just turning them around if we can?”

“Yes, and for the moment we’re turning them around if we can. If the semis insist, send them up to 116 and back over into Kansas, once we get all the emergency people in here. Make sure the flaggers know what’s going on there.”

“10-4 Boss Lady, I got it covered.”

I was almost to the south end, I pulled up to the flagger, verified that he’d heard the conversation, and headed on back to the same spot to wait again.

The guy from earlier was out of his car again, wandering among the traffic line and talking to people. When he saw me he ran up to my window.

“I know, you need me in my vehicle, but there are four or five people with at least CPR training here, do you need them?”

Wow. I was surprised at the guys initiative, and impressed that he’d gone around asking everyone. There were bound to be some folks that were ready to start throwing punches at Traffic Control by now.

“I don’t know, I’ll ask the paramedics when I get back down there. For now, once I get gone, have them all pull their cars into the ditch and gather in one spot. If they don’t need them its no harm no foul, but if they do then they’re going to have to ride in with me.”

“Ok, I’ll go over on the other side of all these cars and start telling them.”

“Be careful, some bright boy might try coming up that shoulder. Here.”

I rummaged in the empty water and soda bottles in my backseat floorboard for a moment, and came up with my extra vest.

“If I don’t get that back from you before you leave, give it to the flagger up there, ok? At least you’re more visible now.”

“Sure, thanks.”

The guy sounded dubious, but I didn’t want him getting smacked while he was trying to help out.

Just then I saw the red and blues coming, and I went for another ride. The rural fire truck was followed by two of the Sheriff’s pickups, and a lone city police car.

“Farmgirl, you got a copy?”

“10-4” It was the south end flagger.

“I have Walsh Ambulance here, they want to know whether they’re going to have to wait on you or not.”

I thought for a second before I replied.

“Tell them to turn on every flashing light and loud noise they have, and watch out for our workers, and catch up with me. If they’re unsafe coming through, I’ll deal with them when its all over and done with.”

I knew the driver would be able to hear the radio, and the growl in my voice, and while it may not have intimidated him much, it did warn him that he needed to behave.

They did catch up by the time we got to the hole, and they did leave their siren on all the way in. Good boys.

I dove out of the way of the ambulances, and jumped out of my car to find a paramedic, or EMT.

Or whatever the hell training and title they’re giving those boys these days.

I caught one on his way to his ambulance for something, and matched stride with him.

“I’ve got four, five people on the south end that say they’ve got at least CPR training. You want ‘em?”

“Shit yes, we need all the hands we can get.”

“I’ll get ‘em here”

“We don’t need any more vehicles down here…” The guy looked at me severely.

“Let me handle traffic, bubbah, you just play with your doctor toys.” I grinned at him and he grinned back. I knew him, we'd gone to the same high school, even though he was a couple years ahead of me.

“Oh, there’s a car in the ravine, upside down. You can’t see it from the bridge, I don’t think.”

“No, you can’t. I saw it on the way in, but we can’t get to it yet.” His expression was bleak, now. He didn't think that there would be anyone left to save by the time they got down there, if there was anyone left alive in the first place.

“Gotcha.”

He jumped into the back of the ambulance and I took off for my car, trying to figure out how I was going to fit six or more people in a five seater car.

2 comments:

jon said...

Waiting, and holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, me too.

Here I go with my opinion again... Part 1 was a good build up for Part 2. Part 2 isn't exactly like I'd expected and that's a pleasant surprise given the unpleasant and possibly tragic circumstances. And the action's still moving at a pretty good pace.

mustanger