The Nightmare Before Christmas


'Twas two nights before Christmas when it happened. The station was at normal capacity with about 10 people. John and I were playing a game of eight-ball at the pool table, while others were playing cards or watching television. Conversation that evening ranged from the thick fog outside to the New Year's Eve party at Alex's house. Outside of the crew room, the equipment sat quietly and patiently in the barren bay of the station. Our gear was hanging neatly along the far wall next to the dormant fire engine.

The station exploded into life, though, as our alarm bellowed its electronic tones. Within seconds, the doors leading into the bays flew open as the eager crews sprinted toward their respective gear. . . .

What is usually a short ride seemed much longer due to the fog and the severity of the call. While en route, we were updated RTC with State Police reports of two people trapped. By the time we reached the scene, our duties were assigned and a plan of attack was already organized.

As we pulled up to the scene, we could barely make out the two vehicles through the thick fog. The engine pulled to a stop about 20 feet away due to massive debris in the road and then we went into action. I grabbed the jaws and the snipes while others grabbed necessary rescue equipment. When I reached the cars, I finally realized the severity of the accident.

In the middle of the road were two demolished vehicles, a dark sports car and a medium two-door family car, the steam from their engines rising and entwining with the night's fog. The metal was either missing, torn or twisted in undescribable ways.

My amazement was shattered when a scream of pain and for help broke through the dense fog. With the tools in hand, we ran to the car from which the scream came, from the family-style vehicle. With spotlights now penetrating into the vehicle we could see the source of the scream. Inside were two patients.

The first was an older lady nearing her 60s, seat-belted behind the steering wheel. Her graying hair was soaked with bright red blood from several gashes in her forehead. One eye was wide open from fear and shock; the other was swollen shut. . . .

The steering wheel was pressed tight against her chest while her arms laid loosely against her side. I was unable to see her feet because the dash of the car was laying on her legs. Then I finally realized that her eye had not moved nor her body twitched in pain since I had been looking at her. At the same moment, the paramedic said that she was a "priority four," and shock and disbelief came over me.

Then another scream of pain brought me back into reality. The scream came from a second patient, a younger male in his mid-20s. As the Emergency Medical Services crew worked on him, he was shrieking in pain and becoming combative. . . .

In about a half-hour, we finally gained complete access to him. While we were extricating him, the EMS crew was trying to stabilize him with little success. We knew once we moved the engine off his legs, every movement would be critical. The engine was gently moved by using the rams to lift and push the engine up and away from his legs. By the time the engine was completely off of him, he was unconscious. We quickly but gently moved him from the car onto our backboard. . . .

We quietly moved our equipment to the driver's side with dreaded anticipation for body recovery. . . .

As anger and disappointment were taking their toll, a second medic began calling for help from the opposite side of the road. The driver of the other car was now becoming combative toward our female medic. We raced over in time to hear him slur, "Let's go back to my place," as he tried to fondle her. As we forcibly restrained him, another smell infested our senses. It was the pungent smell of alcohol. It wasn't until he was handcuffed to the stretcher that I noticed he had no visible injuries except for a busted lip. . . .

Later that night, back at the station, we found out that the driver of the sports car was returning home from a Christmas party when he apparently crossed the center of the road at a high rate of speed and hit the other vehicle, which was going to a family Christmas party to exchange gifts. Then we were told that the young passenger didn't live. The doctor said nothing we would have done could have saved him.

The driver of the other car walked out of the hospital the next day with a police escort; the mother and son were buried the day after Christmas.

This real-life experience opened my eyes to the tragedy of drunken driving. Since the mid-1980s, both state and national governments have been enforcing stricter alcohol limits on drivers. In the year this accident occurred, 20,208 deaths resulted from accidents involving drunken drivers.

If someone had taken this man's keys, only 20,206 deaths would have occurred. This is an extremely small dent in the national figure but a lifetime in the minds of the people who knew these two victims.

John T. Caldwell III


The writer is a member of the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Co. The events described above did occur several years ago.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad