Saturday, May 18, 2013

Old School Trench Rescue

Back in the late 1970s, the wonderful world of trench rescue training with its shoring work and special equipment was in its infancy.  In my area, it hadn’t even yet been conceived.  Hell, Johnny and Roy were the cutting edge of fire rescue as far as we were concerned.   

We were dispatched for a man injured in an excavation behind the local junior high school.  When we arrived in the old Chevy Suburban ambulance, we found a male laying at the bottom of about a six foot deep trench.  Part of the wall had come in on him and he complained of hip/pelvis pain. 
Not knowing any better, we jumped right in with him and started to clear some of the dirt away by hand and with some shovels that the other workers had.  We were smart enough to request fire department assistance, and the arriving engine company, no smarter than us, helped with an attic ladder for access and more hand tools.  It was like being an archeologist, as the land where they were digging was an old landfill, and we were working on a couple of layers of antique trash. 
Once we had the dirt off him, the real fun started.  We had to get him immobilized to lift from the trench.  We had nothing to work with but the basics we carried on the ambulance; no stokes basket, and certainly no modern strap system.  We had a full backboard and cravats.  For the uninitiated, i.e. younger than 45 years of age, cravats are folded triangular bandages.  Part of the EMT curriculum at the time was to be able to completely immobilize a victim to a long board so that when the board was stood up vertically, the victim did not move using nothing more than these big handkerchiefs.  It was something we practiced for hours at a time.  Now we had to do it for real. 
As you can imagine, it’s not a speedy method, but we got to work, square knot after square knot.  Finally done, it was the moment of truth.  We stood the backboard up with the ladder behind it to slide him up.  He didn’t move a bit.  With the assistance of the engine company, up the ladder he went and onto terra firma for transport. 
Luckily nothing bad had happened—to any of us.  The walls of this trench, made up of landfill material, were far from stable, but we were protected in our ignorance.   The old days were not always better…

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