I have crashed ambulances more than once. For the most part, most crashes weren’t my fault. In the case of some grinders, I may have had a small piece of culpability, mostly due to slightly suboptimal decisions on my part, at least in hindsight.
One of my first crashes occurred on a snowy night. There was an inch or two of fresh snow sticking to roads when my partner and I had to respond to an emergency call. I have to admit, I was having a good time. Non-medics may not know this, but turning the lights and sirens on during a snowstorm with big, fluffy flakes in the air makes the view out the windshield look like you’re accelerating the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace. I was roaring southbound on a three-lane road that was congested by traffic. But the far-right lane opened up and I got into it. Having no other traffic in the lane allowed me to increase my speed. Punch it, Chewie!
I was approaching 40 miles per hour or so when I realized why there was no traffic in the far-right lane. It was a turn lane. As a matter of fact, it was a right-turn only lane that ended at a triangular curb island. The island had a lightpole sticking out of it. You know what I mean, right? One point of the triangle curb separates the turn lane from the continuous traffic lane.
|Like this. But not so obvious without the red line around it. And covered by snow.|
I realized it was a turn lane when I hit that curb at 40 miles per hour. In my defense, the snow on the road had hidden the island. It was as deep as the height as the curb - it made the curb invisible! We may have gotten a little air, with snow and slush flying around us. I have no idea how I missed the foot-wide lightpole in the middle of the island – I guess when we got air, we rotated a little. When we landed, we skidded sideways right toward a flabbergasted driver in a crappy sedan. I was skidding sideways and had no ability to stop at all. I started flailing my arm at him as a signal for him to get out of the way. He stared at me with his mouth open. Finally, he pulled forward and the ambulance skidded and sparked to a stop right where he had been parked. I took a deep breath and tried to calm my nerves. My partner unleashed a string of profanities that were mostly aimed at me and my utterly inadequate driving skills.
I was hoping that the ambulance wasn’t damaged and we could go on our way without letting anyone else know what had happened. Chances were probably low, being that the ambulance was sitting at a tilt, there was a not insignificant amount of steam spewing from the grill, and the steering wheel was able to spin freely. When I got out and looked, I found that each wheel on the ambulance was pointing in a different direction. We notified dispatch that our response would not be completed by us and that we had been in a non-injury crash.
My partner and I sat in the ambulance waiting on a tow truck. I tried to interrupt his string of angry curses and get him to focus on our story. I was leaning toward the crash being caused by me trying to avoid a school bus full of nuns and handicapped children – the maneuvers that caused the accident were heroic, see? In the end, there were too many holes in that story, so I decided that the truth would set me free. The truth, as I recalled it, was that I was crawling along very slowly in accordance with the weather conditions when I slightly clipped a curb.
A sport utility vehicle pulled up behind us. What kind of jerk stops at a busted ambulance at the side of the road? I thought. What, does he think he can help? We don’t have a radio? Seriously, who does that?!?
The owner of the ambulance company does, that’s who.
Crap. The owner got out of his Suburban and my partner got out of the ambulance and hustled over to him. Crap. I hoped my partner would be gentle. I didn’t think he was completely clear on the “...gingerly driving very slowly due to the weather…” tale. I approached cautiously and heard part of the explanation he was giving to the boss: “…I’ve never been so frightened! It was terrifying! I’m shocked we weren’t killed…” Crap. You’ve got to be kidding me! He can’t deliver the story any more gently than that? I mean, help a brother out!
Thump thump. That was the imaginary sound of the metaphorical bus running me over.
So that was the third time I was fired from that job. I’m pretty lucky that each time I got canned, they let me keep working and continued to pay me. I’m also lucky that my driving mistakes and errors of judgment didn’t result in worse outcomes.