Prof. John A. Heitmann
HST 344 01
25 January 2011
Driving Lights and Sirens: My “Auto” Biography
“Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine.” The following words were spoken by the late actor and car enthusiast James Dean just weeks before he would be involved in an accident while driving his Porsche 550 Spyder that would claim his life. His words carry a powerful message that cannot be overlooked—a haunting reminder of the responsibility one must assume whenever they are behind the wheel.
To define an automobile as a vehicle in the traditional sense of simply a means of transportation is, to me, a gross understatement. Sure, to some that may be sufficient, but to others their car may be a beloved family heirloom, a fast, racing machine, or maybe even a father-son bonding experience. However, I feel I have a special relationship with my model 2000 Wheeled Coach Type III ambulance. It is a tool upon which I, as well as the community I serve, have come to rely upon as much as the emergency medical technicians who operate it. A “vehicle” that truly makes the difference between life and death.
As I reflect upon my experiences as an EMT for over a year and a half now, I cannot help but be confronted with a mélange of emotions. I can say with sincerity that within the doors of that hulking machine I have experienced some of my proudest moments while at other times gripped by fear and anxiety, the likes of which I have never (and may never) experience elsewhere. Perhaps a story will best serve as illustration:
It was the fall of 2011 and I had just returned with my crew from staging Dayton’s largest annual rock concert known as X-Fest. Our crew was exhausted from a full day of treating and transporting patients intoxicated on only God knows what who, as a result, are usually injured in some sort of moshing activity. We only had an hour or so before our shift was over and we were looking forward to relaxing. But fate is not always so kind. Just as we returned to campus we got tones from dispatch indicating an emergency. Over the radio we were told that a young woman, clear across campus, had been violently seizing for several minutes now which is a serious situation since breathing is near impossible during the muscle convulsions of a seizure. Instinctively, and even before dispatch had finished, I flipped on the lights and sirens and quickly sped through the streets of campus, adrenaline coursing through my body. We arrived on scene to find an unconscious patient whom we immediately loaded into the ambulance while students from surrounding houses came out to see the commotion. The girl was still in critical condition and while the rest of my crew worked to stabilize her in the back of the medic, it was my job to get us to the hospital quickly and in one piece. However, there was a catch. Our target hospital, Miami Valley, is located past the fairgrounds where the thousands of people who had attended X-Fest were now frantically trying to leave. Local police had temporarily closed many of the roads in order to facilitate the efflux of traffic which left the street we needed to traverse in order to get to the hospital at a complete standstill of traffic. We had no choice but to dive straight into the sea of traffic. My hands moved quickly over the console, manipulating the sirens and horn to alert the traffic to the oncoming ambulance. Like a river through a forest, we meandered through the traffic as cars moved to the best of their ability in recognition of the emergency. In all, I probably drove on the right side of the road maybe half of the ten minutes it took to make the one mile journey. Still, because I was so familiar with the ambulance, we were able to make it to the hospital safely and in time to get the patient the care she needed.
Like the friend who has been with you through your worst and best times, I have developed a bond with my ambulance. It has taught me invaluable driving skills and confidence that I feel can only be obtained in very limited circumstances. There is no other feeling like driving with the lights and sirens of the ambulance on. Cars ahead move aside almost as if you own the road as you legally break the speed limit by sometimes as much as fifteen miles per hour. Not to mention the wave of adrenaline you feel as you prepare for the emergency ahead. The 7.3 liter turbo diesel engine is surprisingly powerful and the steering smooth and tight. I truly enjoy my job as a volunteer EMT serving the campus of UD and my experiences driving the ambulance has undoubtedly played a huge role in that.