I pressed the mic key and called for help.
“Rescue 1 to Fire Alarm, expedite police and a fire company for lights.”
“Roger Rescue 1, location?”
“Rt. 95 South, high speed lane just past the Thurbers Avenue curve.”
We positioned our ambulance the best we could — small comfort, since tractor trailers, careening around a curve, might not be able to avoid killing us all. A mixture of antifreeze, oil, transmission fluid and broken glass littered the highway, all illuminated by a lone headlight that survived the crash.
The driver was barely conscious, bleeding from multiple lacerations to the head. Empties that had probably been stashed under his front seat popped loose when the front of the car made contact with the Jersey barrier and rested at the victim’s feet. I managed to pop the passenger side door; the driver’s door was pinned to the wall. The ground shook as a tractor trailer sped past, narrowly missing the wreckage, followed by another, whipping highway dust in the air, stinging my face and covering me with grit.
3 a.m. on a Friday night is no time to be stopped in the high speed lane of Route 95 in Providence. The bars and nightclubs had closed, the stragglers made their way home, most of them intoxicated and oblivious. A few cars fishtailed, then righted themselves before speeding on. Others flew past, the drivers watching us and not the road ahead.
The State Police arrived just as we extricated our victim, who emphatically told everybody that he was an EMT and “on the list” for the next Providence Police Department Training Class. He was charged with driving under the influence. The good news: he lived, and managed to avoid killing anybody. The bad news: he’s no longer on “the list.”
Life’s balance is easily tipped in one direction or the other, sometimes through events beyond our control. Often we bring our own misfortune upon ourselves, and through bad choices find that the life we envisioned was snuffed out not by happenstance, but by reckless abandon. We read about the drunk driver who killed his passengers but miraculously lived, or the one who killed a young mother and her infant or an innocent firefighter trying to help an accident victim on the highway. We judge, and condemn, and hope justice is served. The monster behind the wheel whose actions caused so much harm must be punished, and punished hard, we think, before moving on with our lives.
But what of the ones who make it home? Are they not just as guilty as the ones who didn’t? What about you, and me? Have we ever driven when we shouldn’t have?
We were all kids once, and most of us did some crazy things — things like going to a club, drinking and then driving — but through the grace of God, or just plain old luck, made it home unscathed. What of us? Are we also monsters, or are we just the lucky ones who get to be police officers, EMTs, nurses, teachers, accountants, business owners and laborers, and move on with our lives as respectable, law-abiding citizens?
When you drink and drive, you risk everything. The kid who was going to be a cop and an EMT isn’t, and his life is forever changed. His is a different journey now, his dreams as broken as the glass under our feet as we wheel the stretcher toward the ambulance, while cars and trucks continue to fly past us.
Michael Morse (firstname.lastname@example.org), a retired captain with the Providence Fire Department, is a monthly contributor and author of the newly released “Rescue 911, Tales from a First Responder.”