It was a cold night with enough wind to make working outside uncomfortable. I was working this evening with paramedic Bob Connors on the Plenty Ambulance Service main truck. We had a couple of ambulances that were used on a regular basis, and the main unit was a new Horton model with all the works. It had been purchased off a showroom floor with the latest bells and whistles. We staffed it with a seasoned paramedic and an EMT.
We operated by portable radios, “walkie-talkies” as most people called them. One of the portables was ours and connected us to the Plenty Ambulance Service dispatcher back at our headquarters building on Fulton Ave. The other was a NYC radio that we used to receive calls and communicate with the NYC dispatchers. The city of New York was having a hard time keeping up with the call volume for their ambulance system. The longest waits were in the South Bronx.
We had been trained to listen for calls on either radio, but were only dispatched to specific calls by the Plenty dispatcher. If we heard a call on the NYC portable, followed by “no units available,” we would inform the city dispatcher that we were available and they would add us to the call with a polite, “Thank you.”
The call on this wintry Bronx night was, “Man down, multiple GSW (multiple gunshot wounds), possibly from automatic weapon.” Multiple gunshot wounds were common. With no city units available, we were added to the call, and made a quick run to the scene, an area where we had responded before. We got to the patient first and began treating a man in his mid-20s for gunshot wounds. His demeanor was calm for his circumstance, but that was to change quickly. Bob began treating his wounds and trying to determine exactly how many bullet holes there were. He had bullet wounds to his torso and extremities, along with a grazing wound to the head. I took quick vital signs and tried to stop the bleeding. Blood covered his face and upper body. Soon a NYC ambulance joined us at the scene. The protocol now, with the NYC unit’s arrival, is that it was “their” patient and we would provide support in any way we could. The two NYC medics were grateful to have extra hands and, as the four of us continued to work up the patient, he suddenly became angry and aggressive. Bob and the NYC medics had already made the decision to “load and go” with him, so he was placed on their cot and loaded into the back of the NYC unit. The patient had quickly gone from not fighting us, to combative, and now in the back of the unit, he went completely limp. Bob Connors was at the head of the cot attempting to place a breathing tube in the patient’s trachea. Bob quickly checked for a pulse and called for CPR, as the man was now in traumatic cardiac arrest. I was the closest to the chest and began chest compressions while Bob continued to intubate. One of the NYC crew jumped out of the ambulance, slammed the doors shut, and we were suddenly speeding towards North Central Bronx Hospital. The hospital emergency department physician was radioed, and he advised to continue treating and transporting the patient to their facility. On arrival, we rapidly pushed the cot along the emergency room corridor with one person standing on the bottom rails of the gurney doing chest compressions while the others rushed the cot into a trauma bay. In the trauma room we were replaced by doctors and medical students who were soon cracking open the chest of the patient. We did internal CPR, physically massaging the heart inside the chest, while the patient received doses of resuscitation drugs to try and restart the heart. This evolved from a possible resuscitation to a teaching scenario, and we were no longer needed.
As soon as we stepped out of the trauma bay, Bob looked at me and asked, “Where is OUR ambulance?”
My answer was to look at him in complete silence. I was trying to process the question. OUR ambulance? Oh yeah, the nice new one that I was driving him around in about 45 minutes ago. Oh yeah, THAT ambulance. I could only tell the truth as I now realized it. “It’s still on the scene.”
Bob looked at me in complete silence for what was probably five seconds but seemed like an hour. “Oh God, Ben is going to kill us!” (‘Ben’ being Ben Housel, the director of the Plenty Ambulance Service and a NYC paramedic himself.)
“Yes,” I said, “Ben is going to kill ME!” We were soon joined in the hallway by the medics from NYC that had worked on the patient with us. When they heard what I had done, leaving our brand new ambulance on the side of the road in the South Bronx, at NIGHT, they were eager to give us a ride back to the scene and find out what had happened to it —IF it was even there.
We rode back to the scene with Bob and me seated in the back of the truck, mostly silent. The medics from NYC were taking turns inventing some very gruesome and amusing (to them) tales of what we would find. An ambulance completely engulfed in flames. An ambulance with no tires, no engine, and no transmission. (This was not too far-fetched because many a stolen car was seen along those streets in just that condition.) Possibly no ambulance at all, because it had been taken elsewhere to strip. We rode for what seemed like an eternity until I heard one of the NYC medics up front ask us, “What color are the emergency lights on your truck?” We said that they were green. They had been green on the display floor and nicely matched the green stripes painted along the sides. We both stuck our heads up next to the window in the back of the NYC unit and to our disbelief; we saw green lights up ahead, bouncing off the walls of a high-rise looming in the distance.
We often made medical calls into these high-rise buildings where local gangs ran the elevators. When we walked up to the buildings gang members treated us with respect and we were taken straight to the elevator. We had guys escorting us to the right floor, where they often knew the patient. I was told by a gang member, “Next time, you might be coming for me.”
That may be the reason our shiny new ambulance, still running with the heater on, was sitting unmolested next to the curb where we left it. Where I left it. Not one broken window, not a scratch on the side. Nothing. Emotions ranged from disbelief on the part of the NYC medics to sheer elation on my part. I would live to see another day.
It was the most fantastic, spiritual, involved, right on, intellectually satisfying, family infused, hard working, natural way of life that we had ever encountered.
— Janet McIntyre (Sierra)