Stopping to help (or call for help) when pulling up on devastation

Todd Lemery

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Jun 2, 2014
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I only have a couple of things to add. I’m retiring next year from the firefighter/EMT service and have seen a bit in my day.
Training is great. Get as much training as you can. Experience is the best trainer, but lacking practical experience, training is the next best thing to help you calm down and think clearly about options.
Risk vs reward. You’ll never have to worry about a nail through the foot or an electrical shock if you keep on driving. You’ll also never have that feeling of possibly saving someone’s life. It’s your call. We’re all adults here and it’s not any of my business to tell anyone how they should respond.
 
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Feb 19, 2007
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Austin, Texas
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A short Article I have been working on. Thoughts?
“Rendering Aid”

If you are an active spotter/chaser, you run a pretty good chance of eventually arriving first on the scene of destroyed homes or communities. These scenes can be a very dangerous environment with many hazards ranging from panicked citizens and animals to downed power lines that can re-energize at any time. Knowing what to do and what not to do can not only save your life, but the lives of others. Spring severe weather season brings with it a lot of discussions about what to do or not do when coming across storm damaged areas. Your actions can truly save lives, or can make the problem worse. We would like to provide some basic tips to keep you safe while making a big difference for those needing help.

STEP 1, CALL 911. The first critical step every spotter/chaser should take when either witnessing or coming upon destroyed homes is to activate the first response system as soon as possible. This is usually through calling 911, but can also be performed through HAM and other communications. It is critical that the notification is made as soon as possible to allow dispatch systems to both gauge the magnitude and location of the damage path and to send resources. TIME IS CRITICAL! Notification in itself is the first form of “Rendering Aid”, and for those with little or no first aid or incident safety training, calling 911 immediately may be the most important thing you can do to help.

STAY ALIVE, WAIT FOR HELP TO ARRIVE. What you do after calling 911 depends upon your training, capabilities, and comfort level. I advocate that no one puts themselves in a situation in which they get themselves hurt and/or become part of the problem. YOUR SAFETY IS THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY! Remember, these disaster scenes are riddled with things that can hurt you or kill you. The simple act of walking through a disaster scene is one of the most dangerous things first responders do, and they are trained to mitigate or avoid the hazards. Calling 911 and staying back until properly equipped firefighters arrive may be your best option. Rendering Aid can be as simple as little things like offering a storm victim a place to sit out of the rain, offering them a drink of water, or just showing you care for them in their time of need.

Good Samaritan laws generally protect people who stop to help as long as their actions are reasonable and within their scope of training/education. If you are a trained in first aid, you can perform those activities that you have been trained on, but you must perform them the way you were trained. Keep in mind, the more training or medical/rescue equipment you carry with you means the more liability you assume. In some states, professionally trained professional first responders may be required to stop and help (if they are within the state they are certified).

GET TRAINING. We would like to encourage every spotter reading this to get formal first aid and CPR training. One of the first steps taught in providing first aid is “Scene Safety”, if the scene is not safe, do not proceed (see the previous topics!). Having first aid and/or CPR training does not make you a first responder, but it helps to guide you to safely help those you may come across that are injured. You will never know when you will have to put your first aid training to use and your first patient may end up being yourself or a loved one. It pays to know first aid and CPR. It is a very good thing to be able to make a positive difference!

A fantastic program that offers disaster and emergency scene training is “Community Emergency Response Training” or CERT training. For more information go to: https://www.ready.gov/community-emergency-response-team

BE HELPFUL, BUT DON’T GET IN THE WAY. When the first responders arrive, their initial action will be to provide a “size-up” of the area. This “size-up” is used to determine the number of resources needed to manage the incident. The most helpful thing you can do for a first arriving responder is to let them know what you know in 10 seconds or less. If you have training, you may offer your help, they may or may not need it. Remember that the initial first responders may be stressed just trying to understand the magnitude of the incident (size-up). Do not take shortness or lack of interest personal, they have a big job to do and they are trying to figure out what they need to address. Be ready to get out of the way once you have provided them with your report. If you have done this correctly, I can attest that it is appreciated, even though the first responders may not show it at that moment.

In closing, “Rendering Aid” comes in many forms and is the human side of spotting/chasing when you are the first one to roll into a storm ravaged area. It starts with calling 911 to get help on its way to those who need it. It may be the only thing you can do, but it is a critical lifesaving action. Your first obligation is always to ensure your own safety. It is good to be a Good Samaritan!

Randy Denzer is the Public Safety Director for the Spotternetwork and a professional Fire Battalion Chief.
 
Feb 19, 2007
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Austin, Texas
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I did reach out to Scott personally, as a staff member, and I sent him a link to the thread. He stated that he didn't really have any more to add at this juncture, but noted that he did try to contact 911 several times after the tornado was doing damage and had been on the ground for a short time, via his personal cell phone, at the time the videos where shot, and that, per his response, "cell towers were down when I tried calling 911 after the video stopped rolling and couldn’t get ahold of anyone."

He did tell me that initially, early on in the chase, he was part of the reason the tornado warning was upgraded to a TE because he was able to contact the NWS initially (see jpeg attachment of SN report) to let them know a large tornado had touched down and was beginning to cause damage. That's just secondhand information, as I was not present and did not chase last weekend.
Randy, I also came off a bit harsh in that first post, and I want to apologize to you.
Jesse,
That is really good to hear because non of that came across during the original long version of the video. I just heard him excitedly saying, "THE TORNADO IS IN MY FACE" over and over while folks were dying on the street he turned around on.

This is all great discussion and one that should happen within any, "Community". I have always said that I hoped he did something that was not shown in the video, which was pretty damming. I know that non of us would be happy if a chaser turned around in our families destroyed home without at least calling 911. Thanks for reaching out to him.
 
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Feb 19, 2007
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Randy, I also came off a bit harsh in that first post, and I want to apologize to you.
Apology Accepted.
This is all good discussion that raises awareness of the visibility of our actions. At the least, I hope the discussions put pressure on all of us to do what is socially right when the time arises. We will most likely all end up being in this situation at some point. We can not let the excitement of the chase overshadow that folks are hurt and dying. Many of you are in a position that young up and comers are watching to learn from your actions. Show them what you would want done for your family if it were their home. Call 911 or at least try hard.
 

Jesse Risley

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Apr 12, 2006
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Apology Accepted.
This is all good discussion that raises awareness of the visibility of our actions. At the least, I hope the discussions put pressure on all of us to do what is socially right when the time arises. We will most likely all end up being in this situation at some point. We can not let the excitement of the chase overshadow that folks are hurt and dying. Many of you are in a position that young up and comers are watching to learn from your actions. Show them what you would want done for your family if it were their home. Call 911 or at least try hard.
In response to an earlier post you made, re: other stories of chasers previously helping victims immediately following tornado events, there are some rather high profile events where chasers stopped and rendered whatever aid they were comfortable providing. I know Dick McGowan, Lanny Dean, and others assisted to some degree immediately after Greensburg was hit in 2007. I posted my story earlier in this thread about the Yazoo City, MS tornado in 2010; I know that in addition to myself, Reed Timmer, Joel Taylor, the Discovery Channel team's medic, Dick McGowan, Brad Goddard and Kevin Crawmer were also on scene immediately afterward and rendered aid. I know Jeff Piotrowski and others rendered aid immediately after Joplin was devastated in 2011. I don't recall specific names, but there were chasers who stopped in Pilger, NE right after it got hit in 2014. I am sure there are countless other stories, these are just ones that I can think off right off of the top of my head relative to more high profile, destructive tornadoes in the last decade or so.
 
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Feb 19, 2007
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Jesse,
You are VERY correct and I have seen many other Chasers really work hard. Eric Fox, Josh Jans, Nancy Boes, Jeff P. and the list goes on. Myself, and many other Chasers worked all night in Greensburg and in Garland. Afterwards, I made sure that those who truly helped got recognized for their self sacrifice, including discontinuing their chases to help. They deserved it.
I just do not want new chasers to think it is acceptable by the "Chase Community" to at the least not even call 911. All rendering of Aid after that single, initial action is dependent upon the individuals training and comfort. Myself, and the other US professional first responders who chase, have an ethical obligation to notify 911, stop and offer help.

Again, Great discussion.
 

B. Dean Berry

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May 25, 2014
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One thing that I try to hammer home whenever discussing this topic - You can't save everyone. Some people, particularly those who have never been emergency medical providers before, will have a great deal more trouble with this than others. I see CPR being discussed. CPR is great for low-numbers events, and will likely be used more around family and friends than on a disaster scene, but I can't stress it enough, to not get hung up on CPR.

One of the first modules taught in CERT is Triage and medical considerations in a disaster. If you are dealing with a mass casualty incident, as a CERT team member, and you come across someone who is not breathing and has no pulse, you drop a black tag on them and keep moving. If you come across someone who is not breathing, but has a pulse, you reposition the airway, deliver two rescue breaths, and if they do not start breathing on their own, you drop a black tag on them and keep moving. This one facet is going to hang up and disturb probably 99% of those that are coming into this fresh. The whole point of CERT, and disaster operations, is to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people possible.

CPR. Once you start CPR, you cannot stop CPR until you are relieved by someone of equal or higher training, a doctor tells you to stop, a life safety threat forces you to leave, or you are physically exhausted. By law. In most states. Doctors and trained personnel are going to be in short supply in these situations, so you're going to be stuck doing CPR for a long time. Is this doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, working one arrest for an hour? No, it's not, and that's why the CERT black-tag method is a thing.

Lots of people are going to have problems doing this.
 
Apr 25, 2009
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I agree. No one is required to help beyond calling for assistance - and some people don't even do that.
I want to add to Warren's several excellent comments. I am not a first responder, but have had a bunch of recent training in search and rescue and advanced first aid, so have thought about this as a result.

First responders will arrive pretty soon. But, some injuries need to be treated ASAP. In this sort of situation, that would primarily be excessive bleeding. I carry a tourniquet in my vehicle at all times, just in case. And, in case your first aid training isn't recent - the guidelines on tourniquets have reversed as a result of the Iraq/Afghanistan war experiences. They used to tell you to never use a tourniquet, but rather rely only on direct pressure. Now, if you cannot control bleeding with direct pressure, and it is serious bleeding, a tourniquet may be the right thing to do (but don't put it around someone's neck!). Likewise, if someone isn't breathing, they aren't going to last. Ditto for no pulse, although with trauma codes, the odds of survival with CPR are pretty low.

So, if I were to arrive at such a scene, or a motor vehicle accident, after checking scene safety, I'd look for people who need immediate assistance - and try to do triage and treat those most needing assistance, but still alive, first. BUT... not by digging into a collapsed building or otherwise doing something dangerous - the first rule of SAR is to not become another victim.

I am less clear what to do if professionals are already on scene. I don't want to get in the way, but maybe they need help with something - even just holding a clipboard. So I guess I'd look for the incident commander and ask, if it looked like they didn't have enough forces already. Otherwise, I'd get out of there to avoid being in the way.
 
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I did reach out to Scott personally, as a staff member, and I sent him a link to the thread. He stated that he didn't really have any more to add at this juncture, but noted that he did try to contact 911 several times after the tornado was doing damage and had been on the ground for a short time, via his personal cell phone, at the time the videos where shot, and that, per his response, "cell towers were down when I tried calling 911 after the video stopped rolling and couldn’t get ahold of anyone."

He did tell me that initially, early on in the chase, he was part of the reason the tornado warning was upgraded to a TE because he was able to contact the NWS initially (see jpeg attachment of SN report) to let them know a large tornado had touched down and was beginning to cause damage. That's just secondhand information, as I was not present and did not chase last weekend.
I guess the original, unedited video tells the truth in regards to the house he encountered. Those who saw that are better able to comment on what actually occurred.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Very interesting and thought-provoking topic, and I appreciate the varying points of view and reasoned discourse; this discussion could have easily degraded, since it started as a criticism of a particular individual, but it has remained very civil and intelligent.

It has certainly prompted some soul-searching for me. Of course at a minimum I would call 911, but I honestly don’t know what I would do as far as getting directly involved. I find it anxiety-provoking to think about it; there’s a reason some special people become doctors, nurses, firemen, police officers and EMTs, while others do not. I’m a guy that himself has trouble even going to the doctor, or just walking through the halls of a hospital to visit someone.

Aside from the sight of blood, bodies, etc., I’m afraid I would freeze in panic if I had to make life or death decisions on what to triage, when to leave one person for another, or just in trying to figure out exactly what to do, without potentially hurting someone further - for example, I had always heard that you shouldn’t try to move a person in a car accident because you can hurt them further; I would have the same fear in moving a person out from under a collapsed structure.

I can only hope that, as another post alluded to above, if the situation prevents itself, some inner reserve of strength would overcome these fears. After all, sometimes thinking about something in abstract terms can be more anxiety-provoking than having to just act without time to think about it. But usually there *is* time to think about it, if you’re chasing properly you are not going to be “in” a town that gets hit, in most cases you are not going to happen by devastation, you would have to consciously decide to enter an area that had been hit.

However, I’m not sure how much it’s even worth it for me to worry about or prepare for. I only get to chase two weeks each year, and in 20 years I’ve never been in the type of situation discussed here. Also, as a chase vacationer, am I really going to pack and travel with all of the stuff that Dan listed as per the CERT training? Just seems like overkill relative to the actual probability I am going to need it.

....I know now that I'm going to make sure I have everything on this list in my chase vehicle before this season begins. You really can't even begin to do any type of on-site assistance safely without them:

- helmet
- goggles
- mask
- work gloves
- rubber gloves (worn under the work gloves)
- reflective vest
- flashlight
- hard-toed work boots
 
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B. Dean Berry

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The determination to carry the loadout, obtain the training, and act if needed, is all up to the individual. What you're comfortable with, and what you're comfortable doing.

I think the entire thing boils down to "summon help first". 911 Was down, the cell networks were down. Sorta brings all those discussions I've heard about how ham radio has no place in chasing any longer because cell networks are so much better these days into question, doesn't it? Call it in, above all else. Everything else is up to the individual, and the basic tenet of "don't get yourself hurt or killed". I carry a lot of disaster equipment in my trunk, but it also lives there year-round, too.
 
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Jul 16, 2013
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I'm not trained in CPR, search and rescue, providing medical assistance. I'm an IT guy, storm chaser since 1995.So in 2019 it's now expected I should be? I guess I'm confused. Call 911? Sure, I will, but you seriously think that 911 doesn't already know that a tornado has ripped through their area? Trust me, they're fully aware.
 

Steve Miller

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I'm not trained in CPR, search and rescue, providing medical assistance. I'm an IT guy, storm chaser since 1995.So in 2019 it's now expected I should be? I guess I'm confused. Call 911? Sure, I will, but you seriously think that 911 doesn't already know that a tornado has ripped through their area? Trust me, they're fully aware.
Joey, I don't think anyone is expecting you to be anything. That's the purpose of the discussion.
Regarding 911, here's my opinion based upon many years of talking with EMs: Yes, 911 likely knows a tornado is impacting an area in real-time. However, individual victims of impact are generally unable to provide a big picture look at the situation to 911 when that info is needed the most. Big picture info from a reliable, calm, educated source is priceless in order to determine the scope of the event to best render aid. I've sat and listened to many stories about spotters or chasers having called 911 or an EOC/EM and made reports that helped with the scope of the overall initial response.

This leads me to another point (and probably another thread) and that is: How should we report to 911 or an EOC via direct call?
What info is most important? How does one properly convey scope?
 
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Joey, I don't think anyone is expecting you to be anything. That's the purpose of the discussion.
Regarding 911, here's my opinion based upon many years of talking with EMs: Yes, 911 likely knows a tornado is impacting an area in real-time. However, individual victims of impact are generally unable to provide a big picture look at the situation to 911 when that info is needed the most. Big picture info from a reliable, calm, educated source is priceless in order to determine the scope of the event to best render aid. I've sat and listened to many stories about spotters or chasers having called 911 or an EOC/EM and made reports that helped with the scope of the overall initial response.

This leads me to another point (and probably another thread) and that is: How should we report to 911 or an EOC via direct call?
What info is most important? How does one properly convey scope?
The 911 operator will usually ask you for more information if it's needed. And yes, individual calls are very important. For example, "The tornado crossed Highway 12 and took out a lot of trees," vs. "The tornado crossed Highway 12 and several cars were struck and people are injured / trapped," vs. "The Tornado crossed Highway 12 and struck two cars but the people are not inured." It's important that resources are distributed in the most efficient manner possible following a disaster. Never assume "someone else" called in.
 
Aug 27, 2009
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Two things left unsaid in this very interesting discussion:

- I know of several storm chasers who have had a really strong psychological response (i.e. traumas) as of being a first responder after a major tornado. We have all seen videos of the rubble and devastation after a tornado but very few have seen what a tornado does to a human being. Imagine a night time tornado where you only see this lit up by sporadic lightning. These are memories that will haunt you forever. Having said that, not helping out in a situation like that is something that could leave even worse psychological scars! I am not pointing this out to discourage people to assist, I am just saying this is a factor often left undiscussed. Life threatening wounds are more important than psychological scars.

- If you do not feel comfortable helping out with people or feel that you would just worsen the situation, perhaps one of the less risky but yet important ways of assisting (outside of calling 911) is to try to clear the roads so that emergency personnel can reach the wounded. This is of course when there are no live wires on the ground.

I hope that, in a catastrophic event like this, that I would be able to help out more than just calling 911 but I think you don't really know until you are in a situation like that yourself.
 

Jamey Ahlgrim

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Jun 4, 2013
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Well I'm a couple weeks late to the discussion but I'll add my $0.02.

First off, I am a firefighter/paramedic with 30 years experience in fire and EMS including supervisory and command experience and also an active chaser for the past 12 years. I'm going to add a couple of things to think about. I did skim through and read most of the thread so far but admittedly may have glossed over some things so I apologize if it's already been mentioned.

#1. I can vouch for Scott Peake stopping and helping in damage paths. I pulled up to the destruction caused by the Mayflower, AR tornado in April 2014 on I-40 just after it hit and long before any emergency vehicles were there. At one location was a car under a load of debris on the interstate and several people on the pile trying to get to the injured underneath. One of those people helping was Scott Peake. I have video of it if anyone is interested.

#2. At the scene listed above I ended up parking my car on the shoulder of the interstate and leaving it for a couple of hours while I searched for victims in an RV park on the east side of the freeway. This potentially blocked access for responding emergency vehicles since the freeway itself was blocked. Lesson learned: If you stop, be very aware of how much you and/or your vehicle might be in the way and take appropriate measures. Again, I have video if anyone is interested

#3. I stopped to help after a tornado leveled parts of Earle, AR in May of 2008. At that scene I presented myself and my credentials to the fire department incident command and offered my assistance. I then waited for an assignment. Eventually enough help arrived and I wasn't needed as a freelancer so I promptly left the area. Lesson here is self-dispatching might help initially but when help starts arriving it becomes a hindrance. Fire and EMS workers need accountability of everyone on scene and the more freelancers their are in a scene the more complicated the organization gets for incident commanders.

#4. I was one of the first to almost arrive at Pilger, NE in June 2014. I approached from the south and was met on the south edge of town by downed power lines across the highway. I could see the destroyed buildings from my vehicle and wanted badly to help. I have also personally seen a firefighter get electrocuted once and have had a healthy respect (fear) of downed power lines ever since. I ended up having to go around and once I saw that officials were moving into Pilger I quickly got out of their way ad never entered the town. I feel bad that I did not help but I still think I did the right thing. I have video of this also however it is hard to see the power lines in my video. Proof that video only tells part of a story.

#5. Can an average person handle what they may find on the scene of mass destruction? It's life-changing to some and you might not know it until it's too late. I fault nobody for not entering scenes like that. If your strength is following a tornado after it hits something to continue to give timely updates to prevent further injuries and deaths down the road, I'm all for it. If your strength is to help the injured then do that. And if you are their selfishly for the quick action shot or whatever then it would be most helpful to just get out of everyones way.

#6. If you think you are going to stop and help at these scenes then consider carrying multiple tourniquets as a minimum first aid supply. Buy a bed sheet and cut it into strips. I can't think of much else that you could carry in bulk for cheap that would help the most patients.

Just random thoughts and opinions from someone who works in the industry.
 
Jan 7, 2006
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Fantastic post, Jamey. It's great to hear such a nuanced and detailed perspective from someone with expertise on the subject. Much appreciated.

The next time outside critics, or envious rival chasers, want to hammer someone and drag their name through the mud for a personal, subjective interpretation of their failure to do X, Y, and Z in a certain event, replying simply with the URL to the above post should suffice. Bookmarked.