December 6, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

Lewis raced down the stairs of the office building, leaping and jumping over steps, trying to get to the ground floor as fast as possible. Bumping and slamming into the walls, he sped as fast as he could, skidding and slipping as he rapidly descended each flights of stairs. Sensing he was losing precious seconds of time, he jumped over the last couple of steps and came crashing into the door. He immediately stepped back, opened the door and ran into the bright light of day and the chaos outside.

The building he had just come out of was situated at the corner of a busy intersection. Traffic was usually very heavy at this time of day as vehicles coming off the freeway followed this route. It was even worse during commuting rush hour. But today, there was another, more serious problem. Minutes before, a driver had lost control of his car and it had launched onto the sidewalk and crashed into a corner street light. The pole had crumpled at the point of impact and fallen into the middle of the road, shattering the light and causing other vehicles to swerve and collide with each other. Some drivers, in an attempt to avoid collisions, ended up with their vehicles off the road, or in the ditch. The traffic from the other direction was also affected, as well as traffic in the middle of the intersection. There were car horns blaring, people shouting, and at least one person screaming in agony on the side of the road. It was a chaotic scene.

Sitting on the fourth floor of his office building, where he worked as an IT technician performing database backups and systems administration, Lewis had heard the screech of tires and the initial impact with the light pole. Then the unmistakable sound of metal crunching, followed by the pole crashing into the street and the sound of breaking glass. He knew that there was an accident outside, and immediately launched out of his chair and began running for the stairs.

As soon as he burst out of the doors, he ran straight into the middle of the road. His mind raced as he assessed the situation. Situation: motor vehicle accident, multiple injuries, severity unknown. He could see that more traffic was heading this way from the off-ramp of the freeway. Those drivers did not know that there had just been an accident here and they were still driving at considerable speed. Mission: Prevent further accidents, prevent fatalities, treat the injured, restore order. Lewis ran past the last stationary vehicle, stood in the center of the road and raised his arm up high, motioning the oncoming traffic to stop. At first, they didn’t see him and they kept coming. He took a few steps forward, raised both arms and waved them in a wide arc, signaling the closest driver. The vehicles were within a few feet of him when they noticed him and slowed down, eventually coming to a stop just inches from where he stood.

Execution: Take control of the situation, assess and triage injuries, redirect traffic, designate assistance. After the oncoming traffic had stopped, Lewis glanced behind him at the intersection. It was a chaotic scene.

In front of him, in the first vehicle that had stopped, the driver sat with hands firmly gripping the wheel, staring at the scene wide-eyed. Lewis walked up to the drivers side door and opened it. He quickly grabbed the driver by the collar and with one swift motion, pulled him entirely out of the car and onto his feet.

“What’s your name?” he demanded.

“George,” replied the driver compliantly.

“Ok George,” Lewis walked him to the spot where he had stopped the traffic. “You’re going to stand here, you’re going to keep your arms up like this, as a signal to the traffic to remain stopped. Don’t let anyone into the intersection, do you understand?”

“Y-yes sir,” George stammered.

Lewis ran back to the main intersection and to the vehicle that had slammed into the pole. He glanced inside quickly. The front of the car was crumpled up against the base of the pole like a piece of paper. Smoke rose from the engine and various warning bells and dings sounded from inside the car. There was nobody seated inside the car. Then, he noticed a man lying on the grass not far from the vehicle, clutching his abdomen and curled up in pain. He ran to him and knelt down beside him. Administration, Logistics: Ambulance required for evacuation to hospital, medical assistance to assess and treat injuries, traffic control, tow away damaged vehicles, clean up the mess on the road.

“Where are you hurt?” he asked, but instead of answering, the man only cried out.

Lewis made a quick assessment. The driver was breathing normally. He appeared to be suffering from abdominal injuries. No bleeding from the head. No apparent concussion. No loss of limbs. No apparent broken bones. No thermal, electrical, or chemical burns. No open fractures or tears or cuts in the skin. He pulled out his mobile phone and dialed 911.

“911, what’s your emergency?” the operator’s voice came on almost immediately.

“Motor vehicle accident on 81st and Beckridge,” Lewis stated, speaking quickly, “Multiple collisions, several injured. Internal injuries. Need ambulance and police.”

While still on the phone, Lewis walked back into the middle of the intersection and raised his hand to direct traffic that was coming from the opposite road. There were pieces and parts from cars everywhere - a fender that had fallen off, springs and washers, broken glass, a piece of a tailpipe. Dark oil was slowly coalescing on the road like a pool of blood. There was the smell of gasoline and thick smoke in the air.

As he redirected the traffic away from the crash site and intersection, he surveyed the situation to see if anyone else was wounded or if there were any fatalities. There were several people sitting or standing on the curbside, and a few lying on the road. All were alive. A quick glance in the other direction revealed one person lying motionless in her crashed vehicle. The main airbag had deployed and was now hanging from the steering wheel like some giant white balloon which had been deflated.

Lewis hung up the phone and ran over to the vehicle. The driver was in her seat, head thrown back, apparently unconscious. Lewis put two fingers on her neck to check her pulse. She was alive. Breathing a sigh of relief, he opened the car door and reached in to unbuckle the seat belt.

That’s when he heard the voice behind him.

“I’m a doctor,” the voice said. “How can I help?”

Lewis turned around to see a man standing behind him in jeans and a white shirt, with a dark blue turban and a graying beard. Apparently, he had jumped out of his car and come running over when he saw what had happened. The maroon Honda was parked on the side of the road with the driver’s side door still open. Command, Signal: George directing traffic, Doctor on site, medical and cops on their way.

“She’s unconscious,” Lewis replied, “I don’t know if there are any injuries or broken bones.”

“I’ll take care of it. Are there any others?”

“One on the grass across the intersection. Abdominal injury, probably internal bleeding. Another two lying on the road over there, extent of injuries unknown. There are a few others on the side with minor cuts and bumps.”

“Got it, I’ll be right over there to check on the abdominal injury. Need to triage the rest. You have your hands full with traffic. I’ll handle this.”

Lewis nodded to the doctor and returned to the middle of the intersection. Long lines of cars were beginning to form on all roads coming into the intersection. Lewis redirected traffic along the single remaining lane that was free of debris or obstruction. He watched as all the motorists drove by, some scowling, some impatient at the inconvenience, others gawking at the spectacle of the accident. None had stopped or offered assistance. None except the doctor in the dark blue turban.

The hot sun beat down mercilessly as Lewis worked. Sweat trickled down his face and his mouth felt parched. Still, he worked efficiently and diligently. Eventually, he heard the wail of sirens in the distance. Police and Ambulance. Help was on the way.

The doctor was now kneeling next to the passenger on the grass, talking to him and checking his injuries. Lewis felt glad that he was there.

The sirens got louder and louder until finally the ambulances and police arrived. Uniformed EMT’s poured out of the back of the ambulances and rushed towards the injured. The doctor quickly briefed them on the state of the injured and gave rushed medical advice for each one, walking alongside them as they moved the patients into the ambulances.

The police took over the situation, setting up barricades and handling traffic even as they were documenting the accident. They had a brief chat with Lewis to get his statement. They thanked him for his quick thinking and his assistance.

The crisis was over. Lewis turned around and started to walk back slowly to the office building. Looking up, he saw the office windows lined with people watching the spectacle. Some of them were his co-workers. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the doctor walking back to his maroon Honda, similarly exhausted, rolling down his sleeves. Before he stepped back inside, he looked up for a moment and their eyes met. Lewis nodded in acknowledgment, and the doctor smiled and waved.

Standing just outside the office building, with arms folded and leaning against the wall was Tanya, another co-worker. She had just made it down the stairs in time to see Lewis walking back.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine, eh?” she remarked, as he passed by.

Without responding, Lewis pulled opened the door and walked into the building.