With mounds of snow making Baltimore sidewalks impassable Saturday, many pedestrians took to the middle of the streets, following paths carved by plows or trucks. And that drove Don Dziwulski a little nuts.
A 12-year-veteran of the Baltimore Fire Department and one of its supervising paramedics, Dziwulski has about all he can handle on a normal day, when calls for assistance - and life-and-death decisions - come thick and fast.
Saturday afternoon, driving an ambulance around the snow-covered city was made even tougher by having to slow down, and even stop, for pedestrians who just wouldn't get out of the way.
"I'm trying to be a gentleman right now," Dziwulski said at the wheel of a red-and-white Ford F-450 truck, its siren blaring and lights flashing, as he carefully maneuvered his way around a man on Harford Road who appeared to be too busy talking on his cell phone to consider stepping aside.
For Dziwulski, the job of a paramedic - which he insists he loves - is made twice as hard by relentless snow. "There are fewer calls, but it takes you longer to get there and you're longer on the scene," said Dziwulski, who was working an unusually long 38-hour shift.
He and his colleagues summoned extra manpower for the shifts covering Saturday and today, not necessarily to deal with a surge in emergency calls but because each call requires more time and effort.
In some cases, ambulances had to alter their usual routes just to find streets they could navigate.
"You have to go way out of your way sometimes," Dziwulski said as he followed an ambulance from the 900 block of E. Lombard St. to Mercy Medical Center to oversee delivery of a patient with an apparent seizure. "We just went four blocks out of our way because we knew which streets were clear."
At Mercy, as Dziwulski resupplied the ambulance with morphine from the stock in the back of his truck, one of the medics described Saturday's working conditions as horrible. "It's just hard to get around," said Neil Holmes, who has worked for the department for almost 15 years. "Luckily, this thing is four-wheel-drive, so we haven't had too much of a problem."
Holmes' partner in the ambulance, Jeff Harris, a paramedic for 20 years, was doing the driving. "It's OK as long as you drive smart," he said. Then, tapping his temple, he added, "You use your common sense."
Their boss, Laura Shiloh, an emergency services battalion chief, said that on a normal shift, the city would have 24 medic units available, and that another eight units had been added - some of them Humvees on loan from the Maryland National Guard - to cope with the storm. The paramedics, she said, are used to bad weather, but she conceded that "it's hard to push a stretcher in 2 feet of snow."
Back on the road, Dziwulski headed north on Charles Street in Mount Vernon, and waited patiently as two people, traveling on skis, found a place in the banked snow to let the vehicle pass.
A moment later, a fire engine driver's voice crackled over the radio, evidently speaking to his dispatcher: "We got stuck a little bit," he said. "We've got to work our way through this."
On his way to Union Memorial Hospital, Dziwulski found it funny that a party was being held on a porch on North Calvert Street in Charles Village, apparently by Johns Hopkins University students. But he was less amused when, just down the street, he saw a young man standing on a porch roof, scooping off snow onto the sidewalk. Dziwulski opened his window and leaned out.
"That's dangerous," he told the man. "If you fall, I can't guarantee how long it'll be before we pick you up."
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