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Guest Post: To Live and Die in LA

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

I think I saw him first: a man lying face down on a street corner. I hit my partner in the shoulder.

We were dazed on the ride back to station. Working for an ambulance company that only did facility transfers, we were at the extreme edge of the company’s service area, returning from taking an invalid woman back to her Los Angeles home. It was a difficult transport, just toward the end, because the only access to her home was seven flights of stairs. We muscled our patient to her bed, made sure she was comfortable and taken care of, and trudged back to our ambulance.

Our radio barely worked we were so far from the repeater. My paperwork was done so there was nothing for me to do. I remember leaning my head on the window and looking staring down at the moving pavement. I stared so long I was becoming nauseous. So I adjusted and looked forward. That’s when I saw him.

“Yeah, I see him,” he said.

We were both that mix between excited and panicked. This looked like an unconscious person. A true emergency. True emergencies are something we rarely saw.

My partner radioed the location and situation in as he pulled over. The dispatcher sounded excited too. “Really?” I could hear her ask as I grabbed my clipboard and the jump kit with our supplies. I left the sliding door on the side open. My partner had yet to leave driver’s seat when I reached the patient.

As I knelt, I heard what sounded like a zipper followed by metal very quickly hitting the side of our ambulance. Thunk thunk thunk. Three, maybe more. My kneeling went to me falling on my ass and scurrying backwards. I’m not sure how I got into the ambulance but I remember falling backwards as my partner hit the gas and peering out the back to see who shot at us.

My partner radioed it in. He was yelling into the microphone. I remember telling him, “Shit. I left the jump kit.”

We were interviewed by police on what happened, paramedics checked us out, and our supervisor came to pick us up. They weren’t sure if the ambulance would become evidence since it had seven new holes in it. Either way, the company didn’t want us working for the rest of the day. Our supervisor kept asking if we wanted to talk to someone, a counselor to assess us for PTSD. But I didn’t feel traumatized, I felt dumb.

Scene safety is the first thing they teach you as an EMT. As a first responder, you’re no good to anyone if you’re hurt or dead. You, in fact, become another patient and are then risking someone else who has to retrieve and treat you. I knew this. Coupled with the years of situation awareness lessons [link post] from a paranoid (or ironically erudite) father, I shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.

Unfortunately, our patient was dead by the time police secured the area. An officer told me they probably shot at us because our uniforms. No one contacted me as to whether the shooter or shooters were caught.

I didn’t stay with that transport company much longer. Not because of the incident; I wanted to work for a 911 company, not an EMT company transferring the elderly from place to place. One where I could do primarily emergency response. I wanted more experience.

And I checked the scene for safety on every call.