At 9:19 p.m., a call came into the E-911 call center that a vehicle had struck a tree on Warriors Trail in Warren County.
As is the normal procedure, several emergency response teams were dispatched to the scene including fire, ambulance and rescue along with law enforcement. All of them have a specific function, and the response is designed to ensure that if the accident is a really bad one, the victims have the best possible care and the greatest chance of survival.
That process was put to the test Thursday night on Warrior’s Trail.
The first person on scene was a sheriff’s deputy who reported that all the dispatched units should continue to head to the scene. Often the first person on scene will advise the other respondents they are not needed because the accident, fire or emergency call can be serviced with just an ambulance or some other unit. It is far more common for units to get a call to return to station than to continue.
A short time later, a call came over the radio that two people were in the crashed vehicle and the ambulance should hurry up.
That is an uncommon report to give on the radio, and it indicated to everyone on the way that this was a serious accident with serious injuries. Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs was on the way to the scene when he heard the call for the ambulance to hurry and that two people were in the accident. Briggs immediately ordered a second ambulance to be dispatched.
Rescue was dispatched with fire, ambulance and police. Rescue is a uniquely equipped unit operated by the Vicksburg Fire Department and staffed with specially trained teams. They are experts at getting people out of smashed vehicles. Soon after arriving on scene, Briggs advised that the Air Care helicopters should be alerted to prepare to carry two people from Vicksburg to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
The woman in the passenger’s seat was in serious peril. She was slumped to the left and laying on the driver. She appeared to not be breathing, and she was blue.
Medics began the process of treating her while firefighters worked on getting her out of the vehicle. Several people worked in unison to give the woman her best chance at living through the night. Within minutes, they had her out of the vehicle and into the ambulance.
Most people who come back from that situation are combative. The last they remember, they were doing something and on their own. Waking up with tubes in you and in the back of an ambulance is, to say the least, alarming. Fighting to remove the tubes is an instinct. Medics worked on stabilizing her for some 30 minutes before leaving the scene and heading to the hospital.
There is a an unspoken custom among firefighters, police and medical first responders to be distant about what they do. It is a part of their culture. They are almost always jovial and upbeat and never, ever show emotion from an accident scene, where they are trained to be analytical and methodical. They assess and act based on years of training designed to give victims the greatest chance at survival. Seldom do first responders let it show that an accident or situation has affected them.
The man in the driver’s seat was not so lucky. He was trapped and in almost an upright fetal position with the steering wheel under his chin, the dashboard in his face, and his feet under him and the seat. Briggs worked to stabilize him and keep him alive. When Rescue arrived, Briggs directed them to cut the A post, the metal bar between the driver’s door and the windshield, and pop the door off the vehicle. Even though Rescue works for a different organization, there was nothing but cooperation from them and everyone on scene.
Nathaniel Nichols and his teammate, Demetrius “Lucky” Claiborne, cut the A post and popped the door, and then worked to free the victim with the spreaders, what most of us call the “Jaws of Life.” Once the roof was opened, the door removed and the dash pushed off the victim, Briggs, Lucky and Nate with Rescue were able to pull him out of the vehicle and the team put him on the stretcher. It was almost 40 minutes from the time of the impact.
The driver looked bad. He had life threatening injuries that paramedics had to fear would cost him his life if not properly treated.
The ambulance was right next to the vehicle embedded in the tree. From stretcher to ambulance took less than 10 seconds.
In the ambulance, the serious work began to save the life of the driver. Like the passenger, he had probable head trauma, but his body took a lot more damage because the truck hit the tree on his side of the vehicle. They didn’t work nearly as long on him as they did the passenger. He was stabilized. His vitals were good with no indication of internal issues.
As rescue and both ambulances left the scene, the aftermath was sobering. The items in the back of the truck were scattered in the gully at the side of the roadway. The headlamp and parts of the grill were a hundred feet or so up the road. The doors of the vehicle were standing neatly next to the vehicle. The front of the truck was unrecognizable.
Since the 1960s, there has been a push to make vehicles in America safer. Things like glass that doesn’t shatter, seat belts and crumple zones are a standard part of vehicles on the road today. All of those things and so many more are designed so we can survive a serious wreck. This vehicle, made this century, had most of those features, and they saved the lives of the people in the truck. The crumple zones in particular spread out the energy of the crash and lessened the impact to the occupants who were wearing their seat belts. The impact alone could have killed them if the vehicle hadn’t spread out its energy. The seat belts saved their bodies from being ripped apart or thrown from the vehicles to almost certain death. The glass didn’t cut them deeply and cause them to bleed out.
Once you’ve seen just one of these accidents, you understand why police are so serious about making sure you are wearing your seat belt. They save lives. They undoubtedly played a part in saving two lives on Warriors Trial Thursday night.
Rescue, police, fire and medics all went to the hospital from the accident scene to finish their reports, gather their shared equipment and debrief on the crash. At every accident scene, a pair of scissors or some piece of equipment gets passed to someone to use, put down and then picked up by whomever is cleaning up. After it is over, they make sure to get the equipment back to its rightful owner.
It is also not uncommon for responders to talk about the accident, how they think it happened, and to fellowship a bit. In all truth, the fellowship part is probably the greatest motivator. These accidents have an impact those who respond.
Every first responder who has been around for a while has a story about the person who died on them. They can tell you in great detail about the accident and the death that still haunts them.
It is hard to have someone look at you while they bleed to death. You have to live with the reality of that person’s last vision being you. You also have to process that this person died while you were trying to save them. It is just as traumatic as those movies and TV shows make it out to be, but it is real. That father of three who looked at you as he died doesn’t get to meet his grandchildren. His life ended in your hands.
It is a lot to process, and our first responders deal with all the time. They need that fellowship and that debriefing after the accident.
Jerry Briggs is a leader. He has it, whatever “it” is and however you define leadership. He has it. When he shows up on scene he has the gravitas to command a bunch of Type A personalities in an emergency. He leads, but gets just as dirty and sweaty as anyone on scene. Afterward, the younger firefighters listen to him just like athletes listen to their coaches. They know they are working with someone who is fully committed to making them better at their job.
After the crash and after the fellowship, Briggs got his team together for a debriefing. They talked about the crash and what happened, what went well and what could have been better. They all commented on how well the city and county teams worked together to save the lives of the people in the crash.
Make no mistake about it: These two people would not have survived if the fire medic teams, the firefighters, the rescue crew and law enforcement did not follow protocol and their training. A couple of small mistakes could have ended the lives of the crash victims on Warriors Trail tonight. The teams on hand performed at a very high standard, but by their own metric, not perfectly.
There was some talk about they wished they knew sooner how serious the accident was, but not knowing didn’t really change anything. Still, they saw it as an opportunity to improve, and Briggs said he had already put the wheels in motion to address that perceived deficiency in this evening’s call.
As quickly as they came together, they split. Briggs walked away, and everyone on the team left with the same cadence in their step.
Another accident call will come in. When it does, this same group of first responders, or the group on call while they sleep, will respond. When the ambulances pull away, they will talk about what happened and what went well. They will also talk about what they can do to make it better the next time. Hopefully they get that couple of minutes to stand around and joke, fellowship and debrief.
If you happen to see one, tell them thanks and let them know you appreciate them.
If you think you have the right stuff to join this team, they will train you every step of the way and talk about what you do well. The first step is to make a call to Jerry Briggs at 601-636-1544.