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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Charlie Foxtrot

Engine 54, Engine 21, Engine 51, Medic 97, traffic accident.....

This is in the middle of 54's area. 21 will come from the north and I will come from the south in 51, to meet at the scene if 54 still needs us.

The next update has a chilling effect.

Rollover and over an embankment, six patients, some ejected. However, dispatch does not actually know where the scene is. The call came through Hazzard County 911, and Mayberry FD is already looking for it on their side of the line along with the Mayberry ambulance service.

The place they dispatched us to is associated with info that Hazzard County gave our dispatchers regarding a cell phone ping. But then our dispatchers mention a road name that was in the conversation that is nowhere remotely near where we've been sent. In addition, the caller is apparently one of the patients, and is describing terrain in no-man's land way down south that fits with the alternate possible location.

54, 21 and the medic will continue to the original scene to check, but the new spot is now behind me and closer to Mayberry. I divert to the new location, which will make me drive back right past Station 51, and flop from our TAC channel over to the Hazzard County channel to see what they know. Not much, except that the Hazzard County ambulance is already on scene asking for assistance yet no one seems to quite know where they are or how to interpret their directions. Units are scrambling to communicate on our TAC channel, Hazzard County's dispatch channel, and a shared inter-op channel that we should all be using but not everyone has access to. This in addition to the fact that we're on the fringe of radio coverage for any of these channels.

54 and 21 arrive, UTL. 21 returns, and 54 starts my way with Medic 97 right behind them.

I arrive at the end of the world, where roads stop having reliable names. A couple of Mayberry units are there. The Mayberry Chief hustles up to me to let me know a second Hazzard County ambulance just went by them a few minutes before, but they don't know where it went.

Seriously? You didn't think of following the medic if it seemed to know where it was going? Oh well, this is their call, we are the mutual aid, so I tell the MFD Chief that we have another engine on the way and ask how we can help.

He gives me a blank stare for a half second, and then as if he didn't hear me, he asks me where the call is at and what we want them to do.

We have thus descended into Charlie Foxtrot status.

We thought it was their call, and they apparently thought it was our call. No one has Command, no one knows where the ambulances are, and everyone is scattered on three radio channels.

Cue the Southwest Airlines catchphrase: Wanna get away?

We are - in our present literal location - technically in our district by about 15 feet, though the roads into no-man's land head mostly into Mayberry territory. This could be anyone's call. But OK, I can take it.

Now with a reliable starting place to work from, I managed to get enough information from the ambulance to guess where they are, and with that, we're off into darkness.

After about five miles of that we come over a rise and find an ambulance coming toward us. Great, are we ALL lost?

No, as it turns out, this medic has two patients aboard. The other Hazzard medic has one patient aboard and is coming up behind them. There were never more than three patients, they are all loaded, and there is nothing left to do. They thank us for showing up, and off they go to the hospital.

You could just sense the deflation of everyone's adrenaline when I got on the radio and told everyone to just go home.

So, what happened?

True to past performance, massive communication breakdowns between 911 agencies. Hazzard County 911 gave our dispatchers an address near a cell phone tower in our area, and the other road names out of our area carried no meaning and were ignored. We got sent to the tower. The tower.

Too many radio channels, with too many people talking on them. The Command vacuum empowered everyone to chatter until confusion reigned.

The first unit on scene failed to initiate Command. The first officer on scene also failed, as did the first Chief. It should never have fallen to me as first-arriving M/A representative to recognize that and try to fill it.

We're not perfect, I make plenty of mistakes, but this Charlie Foxtrot was worse than usual, and oh-so-preventable with basic communication skills.

It could have been worse, I guess. Argh.

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