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How our team saved a boy impaled on a boat trailer

EMTs, firefighters, and cops came together to extricate a 10-year-old with a bolt through his skull, and we all learned the importance of working together

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Here is the third place winner to our EMS Week 2015 essay contest. This year’s theme was EMS STRONG, and we asked you to share stories of when a pediatric patient made you feel like a superhero. Check out the other winners here.

By Bruce Glover

This incident happened many years ago. I was a volunteer firefighter in a small town in the Houston area. Same town I grew up in, was active in church, my kid’s schools and sports - the kind of place where you know almost everyone. I had just completed my EMT-B when we were dispatched by our police department to an EMS call, and back then the dispatchers didn’t provide much more than just an address.

When the call came over our voice pagers, I knew exactly where the house was located because my parents lived across the street. With no way to communicate with the dispatcher it made me wonder, could this be a call for one of my parents? With all the known and unknown, it increased my levels of thinking of what my actions might have to be. Remember, I was a green basic running a first responder call in my personal vehicle.

Once I arrived at my parent’s house, I found they were not the reason we were dispatched. My dad took me across the street to the backyard of the home and I never thought I would have encountered a call like this: found a single police officer holding a young (10-year-old) male above the frame of a rusty boat trailer. The officer had both of his arms around the boy’s upper torso, standing inside the framework of the trailer without the boat on it, with a 5/16 bolt impaled into his head just above his eyebrow area.

I quickly looked at the other bolts on the trailer frame and determined that approximately ¾-to-one-inch of this rusty bolt was impaled into the boy’s head. I knew the kid and his family, and advised PD to have LifeFlight on standby, waiting on local EMS service to arrive on location. By this time other members of our fire department arrived on location and even though I wasn’t the senior officer, they allowed me to take the lead on this call due to my employment as a mechanic, and because I had many years of training and experience in rescue and extrication.

But this was far from the normal rescue type call. I knew first and foremost to stabilize the trailer and the patient to prevent any further injuries or damage. With my dad’s help and our FD raiding tools and equipment out of his garage, we stabilized the trailer with jack stands, and provided some additional stabilization to the PD officer who refused to release the kid.

Did a quick head to toe survey; he was alert and oriented x 3, vitals were close to normal, no bleeding, only complaint was head pain where the bolt had penetrated. Motor functions were present. Local EMS ambulance arrived on location and I gave the patient info to the EMS crew, which was also just EMT-B’s on the unit. We contacted LifeFlight and advised them of the patient’s condition and mechanism of injury. They advised us to keep the patient stable and wait for their arrival before attempting to remove him from the bolt impaled into his head.

While awaiting their arrival - which seemed like forever, but wasn’t - we discussed our options, which was to cut the bolt as close to the frame of the trailer as possible with little to no movement of the bolt to prevent any further injuries. Based on my experience, we decided to cut the bolt with bolt cutters, but due to the small size of the bolt the cutters on our truck were too big.

Thanks to my dad, he had a smaller set. Once everyone was in place I took the bolt cutters and made several partial attempts of cutting the bolt, rotating the cutters as I made several small indentions into the bolt to prevent it from snapping off all at once, which could have sent the bolt deeper into his head. I heard the snap and checked; he was free to be removed from the trailer frame.

LifeFlight and other EMS personnel placed him on the stretcher, wheeled him to the ambulance and transported him to the landing zone in the church parking lot a few hundred feet away. All I can remember is the feeling of relief that came over me when I saw the bird taking off. We turned the trailer upside down, took all my dad’s stuff back to his house, loaded up our FD truck and went back home to my family.

A few weeks later the kid and his Boy Scout Troop came by the station and provided both the fire department, myself and the PD officer who refused to let go of this kid for at least 45 minutes, with plaques for our service to the community. The boy didn’t suffer any effects to his motor function, but his mother did tell me that he does have some issues with his mood and behavior. I never felt like a hero then, and after many years of service, both as a volunteer and a paid firefighter, I never did. I did it not to feel like a hero; I did it because of the feelings you get when providing help to those in need, no matter the time, place or circumstances. And I also learned that for every person that stands out as going the extra mile, there are those next to him or her, working as a team for a common goal, for the good of their community.