Anyone can be a First Responder

Yesterday as a passer-by on highway 15 leaving Las Vegas in route to California, I responded to a car accident which involved an SUV and a 4-door sedan. The SUV had rolled multiple times before coming to a stop upside down, resting on its roof.   Regardless of who is at fault or how it happened, there where passengers trapped and serious injuries that needed to be tended to immediately.

To set this situation up here are some simple details of the 3 passengers that were injured:

  • The first passenger was an adult female who appeared to have been ejected from the vehicle.
  • The second passenger was an adult male (driver) and had his hand pinned between the roof of the SUV and the ground. Essentially the weight of the car was resting on his hand.
  • The last passenger was a young female (between the ages of 11-13 years old) who was pinned between the backseat and the cargo area of the vehicle.
  • There were also two-family dogs that were ejected from the vehicle.

I arrived about 2 minutes after the accident and there were already about 5 good samaritans that were on the scene to include one California Highway Patrol officer.

Upon my arrival, I immediately assessed the situation. First evaluating the overall safety of the scene, gas leaking, engine fire, anything that would pose a risk to those injured and those trying to help. Next, I did a cursory check for immediate critical bleeds on all victims, looking for massive bleeding and or possible amputations.  All victims where conscious however, all passengers did sustain serious injuries from my initial visual check.

At this time, the officer was calling the accident into dispatch and requesting fire/paramedic support. The good samaritans where trying to assist however, it was apparent that they did not have the training nor did they have the experience to conduct this type of vehicle extraction or how to treat wounds.

I spoke to the officer and we ran back to his vehicle to retrieve his first aid bag. He stayed on the highway to direct traffic and guide fire rescue as I went back to help the victims.

First, I went over to the little girl that was trapped. She was pinned between the back seat and the side of the vehicle which was bent and mangled. Although people were trying to pull her out, no one had thought to cut the seatbelt which was holding her in place. I crawled in the back of the vehicle and cut her seatbelt in two separate places, the shoulder belt and the lap belt, which then freed her enough to get her out of the vehicle.

Second, was the driver whose hand was pinned under the vehicle. He was badly injured in different areas of his body. He was bleeding from his head, his legs were injured, and obviously his hand was crushed. After a quick assessment, again the seat belt was holding him in place. Since he was suspended I knew that if I cut his seat belt he would fall and potentially cause further injury however, this had to be done. I directed an individual to climb in the car and support the driver while I cut him loose which helped minimize further injury. After this was done, we then had 5 individuals lift the car on its side thus, freeing the drivers hand and allowing the person supporting him to drag him free of the wreckage.

Once all victims were free, I found what appeared to be the most severe injury. The female passenger had a severed finger which was hanging by a small sliver of skin. I tended to this injury utilizing the limited medical supplies in the police officers medical bag. Simultaneously, others applied c-spine support to all victims even applying support collars.

By this time, fire rescue had arrived and I was able to give a cursory overview of injuries that I knew about. The injuries I noted where:

  • Driver had head trauma, head/face lacerations, crushed right hand, potential leg fracture.
  • Child had lacerations to her head/face possible fractured left wrist/hand multiple lacerations to her body.
  • The ejected female had head trauma, head/face lacerations, lacerations to her body, severed finger, and possible arm fracture.

Obviously, there is the possibility of internal bleeding and concussions but the initial assessment helped fire/rescue could focus on the most severe injuries right away.

The main point of this isn’t to boast or brag about my reactions. It is however, to highlight the importance of training and how a simple drive can turn into a serious situation. Anyone at any time could be a first responder. I believe that everyone has the best intentions to help in emergency situations. The reality is the best intentions in the world can’t provide you with the knowledge of what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

Some key take always from this incident:

  • Be calm- Calmness always prevails in emergency situations, it will help calm others and allow people to listen to your direction.
  • Training- Everyone should have basic lifesaving training. CPR is fine but legitimate wound management classes like Bleeding Control is better https://www.bleedingcontrol.org/
  • Be a force multiplier- People want to help and if they don’t know what to do they will look for guidance, use them. As I was tending to wounds I was also giving direction to others so they could assist. If individuals don’t want to help clear them out of the area.
  • Situational Awareness- Knowing what needs to be done in what order helps things go smoother.
  • Medical supplies- Don’t count of police to have the best first aid kit, I generally have a full kit in my car. However, as luck would have it, I just mailed mine out in advance due to me being with a client for the next 3 months.
  • Pocket knife- Carry one or at least have access to one because you never know when you will need to cut a seat belt or two. Additionally, if this was at night, a good headlamp or at least a flashlight should be accessible.
  • Talk and reassure- Talk and reassure all the victims that are shaken up and have suffered serious injuries. Not only were the injured in need of reassurance, the other party (who appeared to have caused the accident) also needed reassurance that all the injured would be fine.
  • Look for cell phones- I was able to reach into the SUV and retrieve the wife’s cell phone and had it placed with her in the ambulance. In this day and age, who remembers anyone’s contact info? Having that cell phone could be critical. Additionally, if you have an iPhone, make sure to set up your emergency contact data. Instructions can be found on https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207021
  • If there are animals, remember they were traumatized as well. We collected one dog and the highway patrol officer would return it to the victims or family at a later time. Sadly, the other dog could not be found.

I felt it important to share this experience because as I mentioned anyone at any time can become a first responder.  I could have done a few things different or better and I will use this experience to learn and make the appropriate adjustments.  The question that only you can answer is, are you prepared, would you know what to do and when to do it?