My job is highly unpredictable. Disabled Vehicles, Medical Emergencies, and Rollover Crashes are a few of the possibilities I may deal with when I clock in each morning. My day can go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.

Yesterday morning, not more than 30 minutes after beginning patrol, I rolled up to an accident. Before seeing the wreck, I’d spotted the tire marks and smelled the rubber. A Chevy Tahoe had crashed into a Tractor Trailer on the right shoulder. A passerby had stopped and was trying to get my attention.

Being the first emergency vehicle on a scene is not unlike a triage situation and brings back memories of my US Army Combat Medical Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I didn’t see combat during my time with the US Military, but the training has stayed with me all of these years. In the case of automobile accidents, the First Responder must position their vehicle in a shielding manner, protecting everyone involved in the crash. I’m confident you’ve seen this before. Possibly a Fire Engine or State Patrol Car parked at an angle in order to protect the scene or incident.

Fire extinguisher in hand, I ran to the crashed SUV. The engine was smoking, and I could see clear liquid pooling beneath the vehicle. I was relieved to see coolant instead of gasoline running down the shoulder of the highway. The man who’d stopped had already sprayed the engine, but he was happy to see I had a large extinguisher in case the truck flashed.

During a crisis, my mind slows down and begins to prioritize, even compartmentalize the details of the situation. I’d be surprised if my pulse jumped even by one.

The driver was screaming and begging me to pull him out of the smoldering Tahoe. Because the doors were crushed and the steering wheel was smashed against his chest, I knew I’d be waiting for the Fire Department and some heavy equipment.

I split my attention between talking to the driver and updating information to my dispatch. Fire and EMS were en route, and I could see red and blue lights approaching the scene. A local Sheriff’s Officer had shown up first and traded places with me at the injured man’s side. Immediately back on the radio, I gave direction to my co-workers who were fast approaching. Within seconds, Fire, EMS, CSP, and my co-workers were arriving on the scene. We closed down all but one lane of the Interstate Highway. The Fire Department did a fantastic job of cutting the man out of his SUV.

Exactly two weeks prior, there’d been a fatal accident in nearly the exact location. Apparently, someone hit an Elk and then made a costly mistake. The driver pulled over and got out of his car to examine the damage. Another vehicle struck and killed him. Next, another vehicle crashed into the first two cars. That driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was ejected across the highway. Miraculously and fortunately, he walked away from the accident.

It happens that fast. One bad decision and everything can end. From what I’ve seen, distracted driving and following too close cause most of the chaos. The difference between driving past a crash and being involved in one is the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Please drive safely and stay off your cellphone.

Joseph Shanklin

June 15, 2021

4 thoughts on “Getting There First

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