How to Be Ready When Disaster Strikes

How to Be Ready When Disaster Strikes


During a recent Thanksgiving Day road trip to see my parents in Indiana, a journey I make about every 3 to 6 months, usually alone, but this time with my two kids in tow , we witnessed an accident.

It All Happened in a Flash.

We were on I-24 between Chattanooga and Nashville, running at 70 MPH when suddenly, a car started fish-tailing and went from the far left lane across three lanes of traffic and off of the highway. Almost instantly, there was a huge cloud of dust and smoke and I was clearing traffic and exiting the interstate to render aid. As we passed through the cloud, we saw flames and the mangled car.


At this point in time, I already had my son – who was asleep and as it turns out, had no idea what interstate we were on nor what mile marker we were at – calling 911. Meanwhile, my daughter was already heading toward the car and I was positioning the vehicle to shield us from any explosion (it’s just what you know to do as a military guy). Somehow, the driver of the accident car had already gotten out of the car and came wondering out of the smoke and flames. My daughter grabbed her and got her away from the burning car and then went back to check for more victims.


Meanwhile, the 911 operator was running her script, and asking my son where we were at. Last he knew, we were Northbound on I-75. Nope, you’re on I-24 and at this location, said the operator. Help was dispatched.


This accident occurred at highway speed, and I’ve always read that anything above 45 MPH is usually not survivable. This time, even though the car hit a tree and as you can see from the photo, was completely mangled; the driver survived, if scared and injured.


As it happens, my daughter and I, who is an airline pilot, had just recently been discussing all the emergency first aid treatment I have received over the years, both in the Air Force and even way back in High School. So, following what I had been trained, though it occurred long ago in survival school and various other trainings, I applied direct pressure to the wounds, elevated the bleeding parts above the heart and then, because we also always carry a first aid kit, my son, who did an outstanding job, dressed the wounds, while I immobilized the wounded part and he used bottled water to start clearing the blood off. I knew you were not supposed to move a wounded person due to the fact it might do further damage, but the fact that the car was on fire and might explode and that the driver was moving on her own, meant just get her and all of us to safety and get metal between us and the flames. Meanwhile, I had asked the other people if anyone had a fire extinguisher, and we started to clear the area due to the imminent threat of explosion. A truck driver had one and gave it a shot, but it didn’t work completely.


All of the above happened very quickly, as it usually does. But the police and fire departments soon showed up, doused the flames and took over the task of caring for the poor accident victim. She was doing fine, but showing signs of shock and was out of immediate danger.


The police thanked us and we were on our merry way. You can bet everyone had a lot to talk about and reflect upon what just happened. It’s just what you do when you are a bi-national, multi-nation growing up kind of family.

So What Did We Learn?

  • Get first aid training. This was not the first time I’ve put mine to use nor, I suspect, will it be the last.
  • Carry a First Aid Kit in your vehicle and know what’s in it. When I was stationed in Germany, you had to have one in your car and I believe a can of gasoline as well. Seemed like overkill at the time. Now, not so much.
  • Maintain Situational Awareness. At 70 MPH, a car covers about 103 feet in a second. Even though I had actually witnessed the entirety of this accident, I could not immediately discern where the car was at until I saw the cloud. Meanwhile, I needed to get my vehicle to a stop within range of the accident vehicle while not getting in an accident myself. I am guessing that this entire process took less than 10 seconds, meaning we probably covered 700+ more feet of highway before we came to a stop.
  • Seats belts, airbags and safer cars seem to save lives. Well, duh.
  • You will get the shakes – after the fact. I did; we did. But during the actual event, you have to remain calm and convey it. Human emotions are apparently contagious. When the victim cries, you’ll get a lump in your throat. Be aware of this mirror neuron effect and consciously try to project ‘positivity’. The person in your care desperately needs it.
  • Stop and have a cup of coffee or even two – and take some time to calm down after such an event.
  • Someone has to take charge. That’s usually me. But it may be you. You will need to ‘Hold Until Relieved’.

  • Talk about it afterward. Rewind the tape.
  • Learn what you can from it for the next time.
  • The technology helped. Having that 911 Operator be able to pinpoint our location accurately was pretty amazing (even to a jaded tech guy like me). I think a telemedicine application, like Healthchat, could be very useful in these situations.

Christmas lies just ahead, so time for yet another long drive. Wish me luck.

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