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Safeguarding the scene: The story of critically injured medic Christiaan

Bleeding on the brain, six broken ribs, blood in the lungs and cracked vertebrae. Those are among the injuries ER24 medic Christiaan du Toit sustained after he was knocked over by a vehicle while attending to a collision in Secunda in September last year.

Madreline Meintjes, Christiaan’s crew partner and best friend, reflects on that fateful night. “We [ER24 Highveld] responded to a head-on collision between a bakkie and a minibus on the R546 on a Saturday night. We were busy treating two patients who had sustained minor injuries. A security company’s vehicle that was assisting us on the scene was parked at an angle behind our ambulance. As they were about to leave the scene they saw an approaching vehicle that made no effort to stop. The vehicle crashed into their vehicle first and then into our ambulance which in turn knocked us over. I was in such shock that I didn’t know if Christiaan was injured or dead.”

Madreline injured her ankle and lower back, and Christiaan sustained critical injuries.

He has no recollection of the night but remembers waking up in the hospital the next morning. “When I woke up in the hospital I thought I was in my bed at home after finishing a night shift,” said Christiaan.

He spent one month in the hospital and another month in a rehabilitation facility.

Fast forward to April 2019, Christiaan is still recuperating at home and hopes to return to work soon.

Although it forms part of their job, responding to primary vehicle collisions is always a risk for EMS, even more so at night, because of the high risk of a secondary collision.

Werner Vermaak, ER24’s Communications Manager, who has also been a victim of a secondary collision, explains: “Secondary collisions, such as the one above, often happen when road users are distracted or ignore warning signs of an incident ahead. We have seen numerous incidents where road users crash into the back of other vehicles or they veered into the medics simply because they wanted to see what was happening on the scene.”

First responders will usually park in a certain way, first and foremost for their safety and secondly strategically, so to make road users aware of the incident and indicate that they should approach with caution.

“Scene safety is vital to emergency services. The medical personnel rely on services such as traffic, police and fire services. However, supplementary services are not always available or required. Therefore, the ambulance crew has their own basic scene safety equipment in the vehicle. The vehicle is parked at an angle, where possible, and road cones are placed as far back as possible to close off a lane or to warn oncoming motorists,” said Werner.

Rhett Davis, ER24’s Fleet and Procurement Manager, explains why it is essential to maximise visibility on the scene or whilst responding. “High visibility cannot be stressed enough. Our medics have to ensure they use reflective vests at all times and keep the vehicle emergency warning lights on whether it is day or night. Our staff’s safety is as important as our patients. Our vehicles are also equipped with the latest LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) that include blasters and strobe lights in front and the rear.”

Although specific measures are put in place to safeguard the scene of a collision (as happened on that particular night), the risk remains.

“The EMS remains a risky job, and you do hope for the best with every shift,” said Christiaan. “But I miss my job. Currently, I feel quite useless as I am still booked off from work. I try and keep myself busy by reading books and also by brushing up on protocols.”

“Although I visit him often, I miss working alongside him. I look forward to his return to work,” said Madreline.

Recommendations on what to do when you approach an accident scene:

  • If you see any lights flashing in the distance, reduce your speed immediately and approach with caution.
  • Be cautious when road cones are packed out on the scene.
  • Be extra cautious when you approach accident scenes.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Never drive when you are tired.
  • Always keep a safe following distance and do not rubberneck.
  • Do not pull over or park at the scene to have a look at what is going on.
  • Listen to radio traffic reports in your area.

ER24 medic Coenrad also shares his ordeal, read it here.