Emergency Medicine

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Emergency Medicine

There's no rush like an adrenalin rush, and no satisfaction like helping others. Emergency services to the public provides both, and an on-going challenge to maintain personal skills, and when on the job to triage, diagnose, and treat those in need of help.

Search and rescue (SAR) depends upon a mix of skills not often used in today's electrified and urbanized world. I do both wilderness SAR (with the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU) and urban SAR (I was the coordinator of the Haight-Ashbury Emergency Response Team (HAERT)).

My vertical climbing skills aren't to be envied, but my incident management (overhead) is fine, overland backpacking skills are excellent (that was my "top of El Capitan pizza" you tasted on my home page), I'm an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), PADI Rescue Diver and Divemaster, and a radio ham.

Emergency service volunteers are needed in every town and city, with a wide variety of aptitudes, from bureaucratic paper-shuffling skills to pouring coffee to a disaster survivor. Read on, and perhaps you'll join us.


My history with emergency services

I can barely remember a time when I wasn't interested in emergency services - helping others in moments of crisis. At the age of four I was placed on skis in the beautiful ski resort of St. Moritz in the Austrian Alps. From about nine or ten onwards I spent each winter weekend skiing at Bellayre or Hunter Mountain in upstate New York; we rented a winter cottage in nearby Woodstock or Fleishman's. By thirteen I was participating in Junior Ski Patrol (when not risking my fool head skiing freestyle).

When I was seven I learned to swim at Mrs. Dee's Swim School in Liberty Corners, New Jersey. Mom explains that she couldn't enjoy the summers at the community pool while worrying about me falling in (especially if I'd fallen in within a half-hour of eating :-). My twelve I was a Junior (under-age) Red Cross Lifeguard, the year later I became the real thing.

It was around fifteen or sixteen that I became a junior trainee at the all-volunteer Green Knoll Rescue Squad, a multi-vehicle ambulance squad. I lived a half-mile uphill from the squad house; when the "squawk box" screamed the tone combination that denoted a call for us - beep BOOP screech screech BLAT - I woke and jumped out of bed before I knew it. With one hand I copied down the contact information relayed by the dispatcher as I dressed with the other. By running to my bicycle and racing downhill in the black of night I was able to consistently be the first on at the squad house. To me came the priviledge of opening the front door, the vehicle bay doors, all the lights, and waiting for the adults to arrive by car.

I remember being thrilled by the flashing strobes and the siren as we raced to the scene of emergency. Once we searched for an hour for the driver of a car that'd been horribly wrecked, close to the bar from which he'd just left. Then we, along with the police and the fire departments gave up. He'd been thrown from the car, walked home, and gotten into bed. The next morning he reported his car stolen; he didn't remember the entire incident. My departure from the Green Knoll Rescue Squad was hastened by the sort of petty politics that so sadly seems to be an integral part of small organizations. (I'd once heard it said that academic political battles were so fierce because they were about nothing. That's even more so of public-service organizations.)

In my last year at Boston University (after my adventures in Boston) I took a scuba diving class from Linda Normandeau, an accomplished diver who travelled the world on contract to photographic dive teams. I took to helping out whenever I could, both at the school and at the nearby dive store, East Coast Divers. Between the two I very quickly had a hundred dives in my log book; many of them were early-morning lobster dives in Gloucester. Before long I was diving several times a week, mostly as an assistant to Linda or R. Todd Smith, a lanky diver from Minnesota. Within months I'd taken the Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver classes, and continued to dive frequently until my move to San Francisco.


My diving experience (and fat log book) made it easy for me to continue the same diving pace in the beautiful waters off Monterey, again as an assistant. (The kelp forests are to die for!) With several other assistants I completed the Divemaster class, allowing us to take responsibility for the safety of a class. (In a well-run class, Instructors are responsible for the quality of the one-on-one teaching while the Divemaster takes care of the class as a whole). Many more hours were spent in the water, and a few harrowing hours were spent exiting the turbulent waters of steep Monastary Beach. Wreck-diving from Schmitty's boat was fun, especially with Schmitty's Akita acting as first mate. While in the paradise island of Kaua'i, Hawai'i I was able to trade my services as Divemaster for free scuba diving in the following days. It pays to wear a hat with a shark fin on top.

By the autumn of 1992 I had spent two years leading friends through the high country trails around Yosemite National Park. In the span of four or five months I'd


* spoken with Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) director John Gill, been offered a trainee position, and been pointed at the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU) when I explained that I had a steady job and couldn't live in Yosemite,

* gotten a trainee position with BAMRU,

* qualified as an amateur "ham" radio operator (KE6DZF here)

* and finished the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification class.

red cross

I've been able to combine my emergency services skills to interesting ends. Each year the American Red Cross furnishes medical support to dozens of public events. For the Bay to Breakers (a footrace from one side of San Francisco (the bay) to the other (the ocean, "breakers")) I volunteer as a combination medic and communications person; for the last two years I've been a MAT (Mobile Assistance to Traffic) team leader at the finish line. (Some day I'll have to relate those adventures as well.)


By the summer of 1995 I'd spent two years almost entirely with the city limits, thanks to a local job, a layoff, and several book-writing contracts. I began looking around for more public service volunteer work in San Francisco. I'd been in Palo Alto during the "not yet the big one" earthquake of Autumn 1989. That was a 7.1 Richter-scale earthquake that flattened the Cypress Structure in Oakland, crumbled Santa Cruz, and caused a few buildings to slide from their foundations in San Francisco. (Someday I should relate my experiences during that event.) The San Francisco Fire Department adopted a city-wide self-assistance plan, with each fire batallion having an all-civilan Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, or NERT). My neighborhood, the venerable Haight-Ashbury of flower-children fame, didn't have a NERT, and so a few others (already in the process of organizing one) and I formed the Haight-Ashbury Emergency Response Team, or HAERT. I'm its coordinator.


1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers
  A day in the life of a volunteer to the Bay to Breakers footrace in words and pictures. The day was 19 May 1996.
  1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers (page 2)
  1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers (page 3)
  1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers (page 4)
Search and Rescue
  Emergency medicine, search and rescue in particular, has always been an interest of mine. So I joined up.
  A Wilderness EMS Medical Kit
  Keith Conover of the Wilderness EMS Institute presents the WEMSI Personal Wilderness Medical Kit and related footnotes.
  Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit
  BAMRU was the first wilderness search and rescue unit I experienced. Their professionalism and enthusiasm were a great place to learn human tracking and related arts.
  Haight-Ashbury Emergency Response Team
  The Haight-Ashbury Emergency Response Team - HAERT - is one of San Francisco's Neighborhood ERTs.
  Haight-Ashbury Emergency Response Team Boundaries

Have you found errors nontrivial or marginal, factual, analytical and illogical, arithmetical, temporal, or even typographical? Please let me know; drop me email. Thanks!

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