Who Goes There?

Returning from a shopping trip with my two strapping sons, they pointed out an engine racing into a nearby townhouse development. Moments later, an ambulance shrilled in behind the engine.

“Look, Dad!” said Good Guy #1, “There’s a fire!”

“No, son, it’s not a fire,” replied DTs.

“Maybe someone got shot!” said Good Guy #2 (Ah, television.)

“No, nobody got shot. Probably someone having chest pain.”

“Well,” they asked, “How do you know?”

Fair question, for DTs did not that night carry either radio or pager – and this was, besides, a different county from that in which he runs rescue, so no such information would have been forthcoming on this incident.

But I gots my eyes.

Now, the Parental thing to do would have been to slide unobtrusively onto the scene and ask a lounging firefighter, “Chest pain. Second floor?” and watch the Worshipful Eyes of My Youngun’s bulge when he replied, “Naw, third floor.” Second, third – close enough. I still would have garnered Wow! points.

DTs is however professional enough to have kept his unneeded arse out of the way of Working Folk. Instead, I reveal to you the false bottom in the top hat so that you yourself may perform this feat of legerdemain for your own progeny – with the understanding that it is better to Assert Parental Knowledge rather than going and bothering the rescue guys. Also, please don’t park (either in-car or with-butt) anywhere in their way to observe the goings-on, as this annoys them greatly. That said, let’s begin.

Notice first the Where. If all your emergency pieces and activity are on a road, it is reasonable (and seems obvious) to assume that the incident involves a motor vehicle – an accident involving car vs. tree, car vs. car, or car vs. pedestrian. You may of course slide “motorcycle”, “moped”, “bicycle”, etc. into any one of those roles, but not two – a “pedestrian vs. pedestrian” is unlikely to generate such excitement unless it is the rare and humorous “Death by Public Mosh on a Major Thoroughfare.” Certainly, EMS activity can signal “Heart Attack While Driving” – but you’ll be able to spot that once we’re done here.

Uncommonly you will find it to be a Car vs. Itself, in which case you’ll either note flame shooting from the engine compartment, smoke from the engine compartment, or (if you’re late to the scene) steam from the engine compartment as the fire guys put the thing out. If you see an ambulance at this type of scene, be prepared to say, “Watch now, the ambulance will leave,” as it is rare indeed that people driving burning cars won’t step out and thus avoid injury – no ambulance needed.

“Wheres” include anywhere there are People or Their Things, and so to exhaust all the possibilities – fields, parkland, rivers, lakes, etc – is quite a task. We’ll stick here with the likeliest of Wheres, the next likeliest being housing developments, hotels, schools – in other words, structures. It is within the Structures class of Where that we may Delight and Entertain The Young, by correctly guessing the problem.

Now, (dealing strictly with Structures here,) the second step in determining what exactly is going on is to notice Who is There?

The Police Rule: If there are no police evident, you may rule out Assaults (gunshot, baseball bat, or otherwise), Domestic Disturbances, or any other scenario involving Mayhem – including Harm to Self. EMS, and Fire Guys especially, like to think they’re tough, but we don’t look annoyed and say “Quit it, I’m busy” if someone is shooting at us while we work. Conversely, we don’t ask PD to come on every call “just in case”. Therefore, No Police Cars = No Violence. Police Cars = Violence of Some Sort.

It is in the details, by the way, that one may ruin a perfectly good trick – “Voila, a Dove!” elicits laughter, not “Oohs” of astonishment when, it turns out, you’ve prestidigitated a rabbit. If you see Police, cover your bases with your kids – say in a deep, melodramatic voice, “Looks like trouble…” and leave it at that.

Okay, with PD accounted for, scenes for the most part have Fire Apparatus and Ambulances. Sure, there are other types of vehicles pulling into some scenes, but it’s up to you to explain the Ice Cream Truck, the Bus load of Nuns, and the Horse Trailer, ‘cuz I can’t. Be creative.

If you see a single fire engine, your most likely bet is Smell of Smoke (someone smells dinner burning), Investigation (smoke alarm on the fritz), Outside Gas Leak (tree planting gone horribly wrong), Hazard (burst pipe causing water to run out the electric sockets) or other Potential Danger to Property.

If you see a single ambulance, you may safely wager Abdominal Pain, Obstetrics emergency (baby a-borning), “general illness” or a simple injury of some sort.

You understand now why Cybil was so vague… And remember, an ambulance (or engine) may be en route to the scene, so don’t guess too quickly.

It is in combination, both Engine(s) and Ambulance(s), that we truly may dazzle the uninitiated. And here I use “engine” to mean any fire piece. Just because it has a big ladder on it doesn’t mean they needed a big ladder on the call, that may just be the piece they were in when the call came.

A single engine, single ambulance may be many things, but note – if the ambulance pulls up and stops anywhere near the engine, it is probably not a fire. Fire guys get just as annoyed at Bambulance Folk as anyone else if we’re in their way. So, ambulance near the fire truck = the truck is probably there for manpower. Good guesses include chest pain and difficulty breathing. Less likely: the caller told dispatch the person with “leg pain” weighs 400+ pounds. Again, fire guys for manpower.

If you live in a jurisdiction that runs both Basic ambulances and Medic ambulances, you may see one of each. Thus, 1 Engine + 1 or 2 ambulances = medical emergency.

Two or more engines, you can dredge up your “Looks like trouble…” voice again. The ambulances (there will be one, at least, “just in case” for the fire guys) will park far away – perhaps even a block away – from the engine activity. This is either a working fire or the possibility of Something Bad. Say, an inside gas leak.

That’s basically it. There you have it. Mix and match.

Three things to remember, though: In your quest to look Knowledgeable, do not rely just on the number and type of apparatus on scene. Neglecting to point out actual fire and smoke, if your kids see it, can make you look silly.

Secondly, if you see multiple Police, multiple Engines, and multiple Ambulances – calmly go someplace else, as that is probably not a healthy place to be just now.

Third, and most importantly – Stay Out Of Their Way. I mean it.


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