W.Va. Medics Find Fiery Crash, Try in Vain to Save Lives

EDITOR'S NOTE: On Sunday night, paramedics from Shepherdstown, W.Va. Fire Department came upon a crash while returning from a call. The following is published with permission of Andrew Arnold, the writer.

As many of you know, there was a horrific and tragic vehicle accident yesterday in Berkeley County near Blairton. First and foremost, we here at EPWF would like to extend our sincerest prayers and sympathies to the victims, their families and their friends. It is my hope that a little comfort to all can be found in what I am about to post. It’s going to be a long one.

A Shepherdstown Fire Department paramedic unit received a call for a medical emergency yesterday evening. In routine fashion, the crew responded, cared for and transported that patient to the hospital for further evaluation and care. It was a routine call, as most of them are. They transferred care to hospital personnel, restocked their supplies, made the cot up and headed back to Shepherdstown. On the way back from calls like these, there is small talk, joking… heck… who knows how many problems in the world have been solved by crew members during this “down time” back to the station. I can only imagine that’s what was happening until….

Medic 3 and its crew members happened suddenly upon a very serious motor vehicle accident… literally seconds after it occurred. Now let me just tell you…. When you are dispatched on a call, there is mental preparedness that occurs. Crew members receive information from dispatch, begin to process how they will respond, and begin to mentally prepare themselves for the job that lies ahead. The crew members of Medic 3 did not have the luxury of this “mental preparation” time.

They found a vehicle upside down on its roof, into a guardrail that rests on top of a steep embankment that leads down to the bank of the Opequon Creek. There was very heavy damage. Two victims lay trapped inside, severely injured… AND the vehicle was on fire. Immediately the crew called Jefferson County dispatch to let them know of the accident and its severity. 

Normally, in a situation like this, a caller will have to call into the 911 center. The dispatchers will ask a series of questions and make a determination of what resources will need to be dispatched based on that information. Then units will be dispatched, crews will assemble, and they will respond from their respective firehouses. All of this takes time…. where precious minutes tick away. This time, however, help was there… and they were there right away.

Back at Shepherdstown’s firehouse, members were going along with their daily routine… until they heard Medic 3’s message crackle across the vocals. They heard the urgency in the crew’s voice. They made the decision, to completely break protocol, and to immediately begin responding to assist their brothers and sisters on the medic unit. Again, precious minutes were saved. There was no waiting on dispatch, or a request for mutual aid. More help was fast on the way. Jefferson County 911 called Berkeley County 911 and advised them of the situation. Berkeley 911 then dispatched more resources to the scene. Ultimately, crews from Baker Heights, Bedington and the City of Martinsburg worked together feverishly on this scene with Shepherdstown crews.

Back at the scene, there was not any time to wait for help. With two victims trapped and the vehicle on fire, the crew from Medic 3 placed themselves and their own safety tremendously in harm’s way. They beat back the flames with the small extinguishers they had on board. They soon learned that the fire was beyond the capability of those extinguishers. That’s when they, at great risk, began to work and try to free the victims from inside the car. Heroically, they were able to free and remove one victim, to the paramedic on scene who began treatment immediately. Unfortunately, they were not successful in removing the second victim.

Shortly after, Shepherdstown’s Rescue Engine arrived on scene to begin extinguishing the fire and begin extrication efforts, followed shortly by the other Berkeley County units. A helicopter was called to the scene to transport the removed victim to a trauma center. 

This response was coordinated, professional and VERY FAST by the members of all of these great departments! Everything lined up perfectly insofar as the response. Those victims had no better chance than they had yesterday… and I hope there is some comfort in the community knowing that.

One of Medic 3’s crew members received a laceration during the rescue that had to be treated and stitched up at the hospital. I know of no other physical injuries that occurred to responders on that scene… Notice I said “physical”.

I do not know the disposition of the victim that was removed and transported via helicopter. But I do know that the members of Medic 3 performed a dramatic rescue yesterday evening. They operated at great risk to themselves, far beyond the call of duty. They became heroes.

But there were no smiles. No “high fives”. No celebrations. 
As gray as it is outside today, it is a shade darker in the firehouse. Sleep was lost last night. These heroes will have images from this accident etched in their memories forever. They will be changed because of it. They will always wonder and second guess if there were anything they could have done differently to save that second victim… ALWAYS!

You see… we as first responders know logically in our minds that we cannot save them all. But our hearts never listen…