‘Carousels in my Mind’
My fire fighters assisted in Shattered Dreams at the Truckee High School last week. I just finished reading the article in the paper about this program.
I hope all of you experienced just half the emotions I did after this event.
For this fire fighter, this year struck close to home and I would like to tell you why. One of the focus points during the presentation was the surviving mother and wife of the victims of a vehicle accident that happened here five and a half years ago. Vehicle accidents involving death and injury fall under the jurisdiction of either the California Highway Patrol or the local law enforcement agency. Those officers involved have the same emotions but are the investigative authority and are not able to speak. I can.
That night over five years ago, my dispatch pager went off and reported a head-on vehicle accident on 267.
Unfortunately it was an ordinary dispatch for five fighters. After my units were at the scene one of my experienced and confident officers requested more rescue resources because of the complexity of the problem. I looked at my wife and said, “He doesn’t sound right. I need to go.”
After I arrived, what I observed created a snap shot as clear in my head now as it was then. An adult driver dead and trapped in a car. More disturbing were the two beautiful teenagers also dead, only looking as if they were sleeping in the same car as well – Obviously, a family on a ski weekend. Later we learned they were headed for Northstar, one mile up the road. I have an everlasting snapshot of the car in my mind. Oh, I also remember alcohol and another driver to.
Lets talk about that snapshot for a minute. In the fire service we use what I call Recognition Prime Decision-Making. Basically we learn by training and experience. Every experience we have, be it a fire, wreck, or some problem, becomes a photo slide in the carousel of our mind. As time goes by when we arrive at a problem, we search that carousel in our head for a slide that matches the problem, drop it in and use that to help make our decisions on how to best mitigate the problem. This theory applies for every occupation known to humans. I, like many firefighters, have a slide tray labeled, “do not open.” These pictures hurt too much. This wreck created too many slides for the “do not open” carousel.
So back to this week’s events. The overriding feeling I have is complex and somewhat political, or at least emotional.
Basically here it is: 1. We have graduation this week. 2. We have a problem in this community with alcohol use by high school students and adults alike. 3. The summer season is here and the visitors will abound. 4. The people who need to read this will not or think it will never ever, no way, not on your life happen to them. The combination of all the ingredients spells disaster.
Folks, I know so many of your kids. Please, please share with them my concerns and yours. Don’t stick your head in the sand. There is no safe way for kids to drink. Ask them hard questions about their plans and hold them accountable. I speak for all my firefighters and all your police officers. We have all the slides we need in our “do not open carousel”. Let’s not create any more.
If that doesn’t sink in try this in closing: The wife and mother I mentioned above. She keeps one article of clothing from each of her lost children. The smell of the clothes is all she had to remind her of her Shattered Dreams. Be Safe!
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