vrijdag 21 november 2014

Are they dead?

It was just before Christmas, before supper, when a father and his daughter went out to pick up a Christmas tree. They got in the car and drove to the point of sale on the junction of “A” street with “B” way, where every year lots of Christmas trees are being sold. They bought a Christmas tree and drove back home.
At the junction, the father evidently did not notice the red light. He drove, as it appeared later, through the red light onto the junction, where a large truck approached from the left. The truck driver, who had green light, was suddenly confronted with a car coming from the right which did not stop and continued onto the junction.
The truck driver applied his brakes with all his power, but because he carried a full load, he could not avoid a collision. He smashed into the left side of the car and dragged it some 30 m along. The collision left the car in no more than a scrap heap. The father appeared to be trapped and the situation looked serious.  The emergency services were the first to be called out and we as police were the first to arrive on the scene. I noticed the driver was trapped and seriously injured. However, what I saw afterwards was dreadful. I saw a Christmas tree had been pushed into the car, and I saw a child’s arm sticking out of it. I called my colleague Henk on observing the child’s arm. My colleague pushed his hand inside the wreckage and called out it was indeed a “real child’s arm”. At that moment you still hope it might have been a doll that was laying on the back seat, but unfortunately....
In the meantime the first fire crew had arrived on the scene, and started freeing the casualties. At such a time it is better for us to step back, even though you feel the compelling need to assist with the release of the passengers. We did indicate to the fire crew that we were sure there were two casualties involved, one of them being a child.
What was important to us at that time was to gather possible witnesses, and to cordon off the scene of the accident as masses of people had gathered who insisted on following the scene from close by. One has to remain professional at all times, but at times like this you would want to throw them a punch because of their misplaced remarks. Especially when you know a child is involved who is trapped in the car and may no longer be alive, receiving remarks like being authoritative and having nothing better to do than bully the public. On such occasions, as a police officer, you need to apply self-control, we are trained for this after all, aren’t we??
Meanwhile, we had gathered more witnesses who had seen the car drive through a red light. We had taken the lorry driver from the scene of the accident and taken him to the Police Station Zuidplein. He was totally shaken and it is much better not to leave someone at the accident scene in such circumstances.  He confirmed he had passed through a green light and only noticed the car approaching from the right onto the junction at the last minute.
It was evident there was no hope for the two passengers. Because the child, who appeared to be a little girl, was so badly trapped and had died, it was decided to full-lift the car and transport it to the Boezembocht Police Station to free her from the wreckage on site there. The fire crew followed and were then able to cut the little girl from the wreckage, undisturbed and without onlookers.
We were able to identify the driver by his driver’s licence and vehicle registration, and by cross checking further records, we established a woman and a young girl were also registered at the same address. We suspected this was the little girl that was in the car but you cannot be totally certain at that time. 
A visit had to be paid to the address with utmost urgency, also to avoid the mother attending the scene of the accident. My colleague Henk and I drove to the address of the casualties.
This is a difficult task and hard moments when you are going to turn someone’s life upside down. Having arrived at the address, I first glanced through the window and at that time I nearly lost all courage to ring the doorbell. What I observed was very endearing on the one hand, but because of our arrival very dramatic on the other hand. I saw the table had been laid for two, with also a child’s plate, laid out on a pretty (Christmas) tablecloth and lit candles on the table. I saw a woman in the room dancing around to the sound of music.
And then you have to ring the doorbell. A lot of questions run through your mind which will be best to ask. The woman answered the door, and we asked if we could come in. She frowned when she looked at us. We heard jolly Christmas music in the background. She asked if something had happened and I again asked if we could come inside. This is better on such occasions, so as to avoid emotional scenes to the public eye, and to avoid someone collapsing in the doorway.
The woman soon realised something serious had occurred and asked if something had happened t her husband and daughter. I asked if her husband and daughter had left in a car, and the make and colour of the vehicle, as well as the clothes her husband was wearing before he left. All details were verified.  I informed the woman that they had been involved in a car crash and had sustained serious injuries, even though I knew they were most likely to be dead. She obviously did not trust my facial expression and asked outright: “Are they dead”? I then had to tell her and she burst out in tears and sat down on the couch, head held in her hands. This moment felt like an hour and you just do not know where to put yourself. Henk sat down next to the woman and put his hand on her shoulder Silence is the best way, until she started to ask questions on what she had to do next. We asked her if she had close relatives nearby that we could notify, as we did not want to leave her on her own. After the relatives had arrived, we left. It felt as if we were led to the slaughter, when we headed back to the station. We felt like shit to put it mildly. I will never forget the look on Henk’s face.
Having arrived home that evening, I just sat on the couch for hours with a beer, and was unable to go to sleep. Everything was going around in my head........what a dreadful day this had been.


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donderdag 6 november 2014

Airbags, life saving or dangerous?

There are not many cars left out on the road which are not equipped with airbags.  Airbags are a great invention which can prevent serious injuries to casualties.  However an activated airbag can be extremely dangerous, when passengers are not sitting correctly in their passenger seats.


This is when we received a call out to an injury-accident on the motorway. Several cars were involved. Having arrived at the scene of the accident we found two cars were involved, one of them turned on its side with wreckage at the back which once was a caravan. The contents of the caravan were spread across various lanes of the motorway, causing total chaos. We found one casualty in the car that was turned on its side. It was a female, and I took care of her.  Her husband is standing by, looking helpless and my colleague looked after him. The woman appears to have sustained serious injuries and required urgent medical attention. I called out the ambulance and fire brigade, explaining the urgency, and tried to keep the female conscious. All airbags in the car had been activated. This should have been favourable for the woman, who is still strapped in her seat belt.  However, the woman’s foot is shattered and burned.  Her leg is laying in a very strange position, which is hard to understand. 

Even the paramedics and the mobile crash team, who had landed their helicopter in the middle of the motorway, could initially not understand. How so much injury could have been sustained in such a relatively minor accident. The paramedics asked my colleague to ask the man, in which position the woman was travelling in her passenger seat , just prior to impact. Then it became apparent that she had been sitting in a slouched position with her right foot resting on the dashboard. On the middle of the bridge her husband suddenly had to break because of slowing traffic in front.  It appeared later, the caravan had such a heavy load which resulted in the man being unable to stop his vehicle on time and smashed into the car in front. This explained the serious injury to the woman. Because of the sudden breaking, the woman was not able to sit up properly, as she was slouched and had her foot resting on the dashboard. The dashboard airbag was active on impact. The woman’s foot became trapped between the dashboard and the car roof, because of the inflated dashboard airbag. Additionally the activated airbag generates a lot of heat which caused the burns to the woman’s foot and leg. She also sustained a serious hip fracture, caused by her leg being wrenched up. She was freed from the wreckage by the fire crew and taken to hospital urgently.
Shortly afterwards I was again reminded of the power of an airbag. In the village of “X”, a driver smashed into the car in front. His dog is sitting on the passenger seat and his head got smashed between the dashboard and the front windscreen. The airbag got activated on impact and the dog’s head got stuck between the airbag and car roof. The dog died on impact.

Since having witnessed these accidents I get the shivers when I see people “relaxing” their feet on the dashboard, or even worse, when they travel with a child on their lap. I tend to stop these cars which often results in a baffled look on their faces and unable to understand why they have been stopped by police.  When I point out the dangers of feet on dashboard, or child on lap, you can see them shudder at the thought.

I am convinced that readers of this blog will think about it twice before putting their feet on the dashboard, or travelling with a child on their lap on the front seat.

(translated by Irma Gasson, UK)

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dinsdag 4 november 2014

Cowboys they are!

The emergency services’ profession needs to be in your blood.  Emergency services staff chose to do this work.  After all, action, stress, working under pressure, clout and helpfulness, are the main criteria for the serving officers.  Ideally, there should always be a happy ending, but it often does not turn out that way.

One early Thursday morning we received a call-out regarding an injury-accident in the Rotterdam region. I will not reveal any details in order to protect the relatives’ privacy. The point of this story is the (in)credible reaction by the public.

At the scene of the accident the casualty was in a serious condition, in fact so critical that it was decided not to free the casualty from the wreckage (who was still able to communicate at this stage), but to call in the close relatives to enable them to say their good-byes at the scene of the accident.  The medical team were concerned that the casualty would not survive after having been freed from the wreckage.

As I was on my motorbike and huge tail backs had formed, causing the roads to be blocked, I was tasked with contacting the family in a village some 15 km distance from the scene of the accident. I got to the address fairly quickly without too many hold-ups, where colleagues of the emergency services were waiting for my arrival, and who had meanwhile informed the relatives. Both parents were home and it was agreed I would ride in front, if necessary using blues and two’s but with suitable speed so as not to cause any danger to the traffic.  It was agreed that they would use their hazard lights, so it would be clear to the public that their car was following my police bike.  Fairly quickly we approached the tail backs, and this is where I really had to work at the job. 
I tried to manoeuvre the car behind me through the traffic, which for me on the bike was not too much of a challenge, but for the car following me this was much more of a problem.  On the provincial road we managed at first to pass a large part of the tail back, but then were continually blocked by cars who were trying to U-turn across the central line markings.  Several drivers, who were standing next to their cars, threw dirty looks to the car driven by the parents, and used language not to be repeated. We were hardly able to move.  One U-turn driver got out of his car and insisted on expressing his opinion on the long queues and that the police were not doing anything about it. I was not in the mood to enter into a discussion with him and demanded he move his vehicle out of our way immediately.  Initially he refused and demanded to know why this particular vehicle was able to pass, and if by any chance the passengers in the car were family of mine and I just wanted to give them a quick pass-through. I felt very angry and several things went through my mind, would I spray pepper spray in his eyes, push him aside, push his car into the grass verge, and carry on? One would be quite capable of abuse in such circumstances but I restrained myself and told him once more to move over, to enable the relatives to get to the scene of the accident with utmost urgency. Purposely slowly he walked back to his car, still moaning, saying “yeah, yeah, whatever”!  We were finally able to move on, only to be confronted once again by an oncoming vehicle.  I did not feel like going through the whole thing again and continued – this being possible in this particular location – across the verge onto the cycle path, with the car following.  Unfortunately the cycle path was also very busy. And again..there was no sympathy.  You cannot imagine the commentary regarding the following car, that it was not allowed on the cycle path, how dangerous it was, etc. etc.  As if I was not aware of this!  I then left my blues and two’s on continually so as not to have to listen to any further comments. 
We finally arrived safely at the scene of the accident, and the awful scene I then witnessed I will never forget.  The parents had to say good-bye to their child, who was still communicating, but they knew it would be over soon after release.  So many questions were fired at the rescue team, to establish if there was absolutely no other way.  As emergency services personnel you feel so uneasy and defeated.  The fire crew started their horrible task, the release from the wreckage. After having been freed, the casualty was taken to hospital by ambulance and despite the urgent transport and immediate care, we later learned that the casualty had passed away. I stayed behind at the scene of the accident.  The fire brigade packed up their gear in silence.  The medical team packed up their stuff in silence.  A member of the highway services collected his traffic cones in silence.  The man from the Waterworks stood there in silence.  The recovery vehicle driver started his work in silence.  Everyone had their own thoughts about the terrible job they had to do.

We had done our best but if I may speak on behalf of all the emergency services, we all felt defeated on that day.
I only hope those members of the public who made their comments will be sorry when they learn the truth. The tough cowboys in their red fire truck, in their yellow ambulance, and in their striped police vehicle overtaking with a lot of commotion, were silenced.

Fortunately there is a lot of support available from the BOT teams, The Services Support Team, made up by colleagues, where you can get it off your chest, when necessary.  That day this was certainly needed in my case.
(translated by Irma Gasson, UK)