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Do You Stop? Today I Drove up on a Bad Wreck on the Interstate

My family and I enjoyed a little R&R at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg on Saturday. Today, we headed home while an ice storm came through Virginia. On our way down I-64 West (edited…I originally said East and it was a typo), we came up on an accident…

The truth is, we shouldn't have been there. We left early on Sunday to have my daughter back for cheerleading practice. We found out on the way home that practice was canceled. We were taking our time, traffic was light, and the roads were in bad condition and getting worse. I would have much rather been back in Williamsburg enjoying the pool still.

Then we came up on a single vehicle wreck. The vehicle was sitting upright on the side of the road, but the faces of the people standing around is what got my attention. The car seemed to have flipped or rolled. It was a bit mangled. There were 4-5 stopped cars on the side of the road. I had no clue what was going on, but I told my wife I was going to stop. There weren't any emergency vehicles on scene yet. 

I parked on the side of the road, in the grass, a distance from the road but close enough that I wasn't worried about getting stuck. I then ran back to the vehicle. 


When I was leaving, I stopped and snapped one photo of the scene

I mentioned on Facebook that I don't always stop for wrecks when emergency crews aren't there yet, and someone asked why. I don't because I have a duty to my family to keep them safe. I don't want to stop if that puts my family at risk by being parked on the side of the road. 

In this situation, we were uphill, traffic was light, and I felt like my family was safe. 

I proceeded to the car.

I was right…the looks on the faces of the bystanders was bad…then I spoke without thinking before I made it to the car.

I asked if everyone was alright. The answer I got wasn't good…and I realized that this person I asked might have been in the car or known the person. Luckily he wasn't. These people didn't know what to do. They had been there a while. 

I got in the vehicle and asked if anyone was a medic. Nope… I told them I was a firefighter/EMT and instantly they looked to me for guidance in making everything better. Unfortunately, I didn't have anything…I couldn't do much but I did what I could. I think I did help them though. I explained what I thought was going on with the patient, but let them know that there really wasn't much we could do until "real" help arrived. 

It always amazes me how things are when we are on the other side of the coin and waiting for Fire/EMS/PD response. Everything is different. 

Crews were on their way. When I got to the car, I heard units going West bound figuring they were going down to turn around. I was right. The wait wasn't too long. 

In the end, crews showed up from Fluvanna, Goochland, and Louisa Counties including the Brothers from Kents Store VFD. Apparently, we were located at the corners of all the three counties. They all responded. They did a great job on scene. I found out later that it was reported as an MVA with possible ejection/entrapment.

I stayed long enough to help get the patient out of the vehicle, then I left. He was in good hands now. 

Come to find out that I knew some of the Brothers and Sisters on scene via FB. 

In the end, I am glad I stopped. I wasn't really able to help the patient in any way. If I did anything positive at all, it was giving the Good Samaritans a break and some understanding of what they were experiencing. I was able to calm some of the shocked looks on some of the faces. Nothing ground breaking, but it might have just been being there and knowing what was going on. 

Kudos to the crews on scene. They did a great job. 

When I got back in the car, my kids had a million questions. I shared what they could handle. 

Do you stop?

Comments - Add Yours


    I do stop if there's no responding units already there or within earshot. Most recently was quite close to home, a local farm's pickup lost its brakes at the end of my street, jumped the fence and landed in the diningroom of my neighbor's home. I took this shot after I was able to pull away from the scene and turn around less than 500ft from my own driveway. Luckily the worst injury was to the building and not the very unsettled driver and residents. There's a lot of talk here in MA about "Duty to Act" and "Good Samaritans" and whether we're safe from becoming entangled in the legal machine should we stop and involve ourselves, whether in a marked vehicle or uniform or not. So far I have not had cause to regret stopping, though there have been scenes I was only too happy to hand off to the arriving units.

    • MAEMTB who hopes the image appears this time.

  • Lisa Matheson

    As a non-first responder, I've pulled up on wrecks, shootings, etc. and didn't know what to do and it was most unsettling–especially when I was a fire/ema PIO in a marked car and people looked to me for help.  So I took the CERT training and Red Cross first aid.  Training gave me a bit more confidence, but it also made me realize how I could easily become part of the problem or make the situation worse by not sizing up the scene and realizing what my limitations were.  

    About 2 years ago on my way to Atlanta, I rolled up onto a 2-car accident right after it happened. The driver of the large SUV was conscious and talking with others who'd stopped.  I ran to the small pick up that had been knocked off the 4-lane highway at the notoriously bad intersection. The driver was bad off. From what I could see: compound fracture of the hand; unconscious; shallow, labored breathing; head trauma; bad skin color. He was surrounded by people who wanted to help but had no training.  They were doing what they should–comforting and reassuring him. I ran back to my car to get my first aid kit that was no where near BLS in nature.  I gloved up and instantly became "incident commander."  Those first on scene had felt so helpless (something I knew all too well) and it comforted them to have any level of authority on scene. I gave a man a pair of gloves and some 4x4s to help with the head bleeding after I cautiously adjusted the victim's head to improve his airway and somewhat hold C-spine. I heard fire and SO pulling up.  A paramedic silently stepped up behind me and I related what (little) had been done and what I assessed.  I thought he'd immediately take over, but instead he said, "You've got this" and we worked together to get a collar on him. Then they took over. I've never felt so complimented and yet so incompetent in the same moment. 

    So all this is to say, please stop.  Even without equipment, you will be able to do more than a concerned bystander.  All it took was gloves and a 4×4 for me to bring a sense of control to the chaos.  You could bring that sense of control, plus your expertise could help improve the victims' chances and stop bystanders from endangering themselves or the victim.  You could be the extra set of hands needed to extricate a victim.  If it were one of your loved ones, you'd want your brothers and sisters to stop.

    While you don't do it for gratitude, I will never forget that paramedic and the Battalion Chief who allowed me to experience a nanosecond of what you do as a "sister."  I don't know the outcome of the man I helped, but without you he surely would have been worse off.  Thank you for all that you do — on and off duty!

  • Anonymous

    I stop if there are no units yet on-scene.  As others have stated, stopping bleeding, holding c-spine or just keeping someone calm can be quite helpful. At a minimum I may be able to call in a better scene size-up.  I remember coming up on a scene about a year or two ago involving a passenger bus, dump truck and a car on a highway.  It was property damage, and there were no passengers on the bus, but I can imagine how that may have gotten initially dispatched otherwise.  I also find a lot of bystanders like to try to interrogate or simply drown accident victims, as I'm always asking bystanders to stop trying to pour water on people's faces.

  • D Holmes

    I used to stop all the time. Safety first and then deal with what has already happened. Over the years dealt with car fires, roll overs, multiple vehicles and even a few tractor-trailers. I used to qualify as a non-transport ambulance with all I carried in my GMC Suburban but those days are over.

    Today I still carry a complement of gear but not as a EMS/Fire responder. I figure if I need it I can always give to an off duty EMT. I am still qualified as a first aider so would do up to that level.

    The things you do in the first few minutes can make a big difference in the outcome and that is why I stop. Turning them over to the official responders is a relief and they have always appreciated that someone filled the gap until they got on scene. Part of the reason to continue to do so.

    Make sure you give a complete report to the lead responder and then get out of the way unless asked for help.

  • John Erlandson

    I am with a rural FD/EMS Service and carry a trauma bag in my POV.  I do, can and will stop anytime I think someone needs help.

  • Amy Jo McNeal

    If no apparatus is on scene I will stop, even if I have no equipment. Physcologically just knowing someone is there at one of the scariest times in a victims life is the best “medicine” and treatment you can give.

  • Dean Mark Gonzales

    I am presently assign at a relatively small town as firefighter/EMS for more than a year now. And since my residence is some 30 kms from my unit assignment, we have arranged a weeklong duties. Whenever I rode my motorcycle from my home for duty, or from the station for off-duty, it always occur to me that what if incidents/accidents occur along the way; should I stop to help? Or should I ignore? Before judging my judgement, let me share how firefighters respond to incidents here (not only in our AOR, but mostly nationwide).

    It's, if I may say so, lucky for a firefighter here in The Philippines to be assigned in a fully equipped fire station. Why? Because most of our stations have a long lists of lackings; from the lack of PPEs to malfunctional apparatus. In fact, in our station we don't have SCBA. Just this year, on September, we responded to a conflagration involving a commercial building fire. Three personnel was on duty that time, including myself, one fireaide (locally paid personnel assigned at the station to augment the lack of organic personnel from the Bureau  of Fire Protection; no proper training). (I myself is connected to the bureau, we trained for 6 months at the Fire National Training Institute; the only fire training facility in the country). During the fight of that conflagration, I was the on the nozzle with the fireaide as my back-up ( the other organic personnel operates the apparatus). When we need to push through the attack inside of the building, I almost suffocated on the smoke that greeted us at the opening- we need to go inside to have a clear shot at the fire to contain it lest it could spread instantly on the different classes of fuel inside the store; inorganic fertilizers, paints on can, and so on. We go inside without breathing equipment, only helmet, turnout gear, and boots. But we need to do since if the fire spreads outside would mean the shanties nearby would be swallowed instantly. Our fire engine contain only 1,400 liters of water. And a run to a water hydrant some 200 meters for refill would be disastrous to the area of conflagration. We fought the fire for 18 hours with a fire engine of a neighboring municipality arrived later that evening. With all might and courage we fought that fire that fortunately cause only the business of that certain establishment; no human life was in danger, no fatalities or whatsoever. 

    Now, back on the issue of whether I should stop or not if an accident/incident happened along the way even without the basic PPEs, such as gloves, safety googles, or breathing mask for resuscitation, I might say  the call for duty, or rather the desire to save lives, outweighs any lackness. After all, may be my presence might make a difference in the scene.

  • flatbedemt

    I do stop, but I stop in front of the vehicle(s). I have made it a habit to not put my family in jeapardy but have done so on occasion. My wife understands the danger(s) of me stopping, (fortunately my vehicle is equipped at all times with an O2 tank, and a full BLS level II pack, a abc 10# fire extinguisher, a minimum of 6 flares, 3 triangles, a fyullsize lightbar with an arrow stick to the rear, rear aux flashing leds etc) I try NOT to have my kids in the car on scene, but being a tow truck driver, an EMT-B, former FF 1/2, & an ems instructor – Not stopping and knowing that I have the training/ability to render assistance and medical attention and finding out later that the person passed would be a burden on my concious. My wife is helpful by means of keeping communications with emergency responders thru our local 911 system keeping them completely in light of current situational status(es) and keeps our kids calm. She does more than she knows.

    But on the topic of weather I would "recommend" stopping With familoy in the car, than my answer would be No, Not if you can help it. -MJ

  • Tree

    I'll stop if there's no one on scene.  Locally, I may ask a fire policeman if they need help, if I can do so without jeopardizing myself or anyone else.  As often as not, they're all set, and off I go.


  • Ken

    I do if there's no one on scene yet.  When they get there I get out of the way unless I'm asked to assist.  I'm a firefighter and paramedic.