Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Traveller Leaves Emptyhanded - Part 1

So there we were, Katherine and I, with Rudi in the car seat in the back, driving home from the cottage one Sunday afternoon about 4 years ago. A little past Peterborough, we were having a rather lively discussion on why I had to stop and help people at the side of the road, which generally resulted in me being late for something... like dinner for example.

I was part way through my response when I noticed it... It was rather sublime actually, a little green Honda in the oncoming lanes drifted toward the outside shoulder, then lurched toward the median, and then twisted to the outside again, sailing off the shoulder and cartwheeling three times before coming to a rest near a tree.

In the roughly six seconds and 200 metres travelled that this all occurred within, I had begun saying to Katherine "Grab the cellphone and dial 911".

"Why?" she replied, not having seen the car, which was now twisting away from the centre meadian.

"Look over there! That's why!" I replied, as the car had begun its series of three cartwheels over the ditch. By now I had our van on the shoulder, hazards on, slowing to a stop. "911, tell them to send everyone, and that we are just east of the 1/4 Tapley Line!" I yelled as I put the van in park, and headed across the highway to check things out.

After crossing two lanes of traffic in each direction, I arrived at the scene. The car had come to a rest opposite where I had the van parked. It was a crumpled mess, a Honda Prelude station wagon, dark green, laying driver side up. I didn't have a very good feeling about this as I approached, as I had seen at least one occupant tossed around the vehicle as it was cartwheeling, and guessed there was one dead person inside.

As I came closer, another gentleman approached, an older guy who had been following the Prelude. He had pulled over about 50 metres back, and was just walking up the shoulder toward the wreck. I went down, looked in, and saw a man in the front passenger area, injured slightly, calling out "Lee, Lee, Lee!"

It appeared he was calling for his driving companion, a young lady who was now wedged between the rear seatback on the passenger side, with her upper body in the rear seat compartment, and her legs in the storage area of the station wagon. It amazes me to this day, but her body had somehow become stuffed in the space between the side of the seatback and the wall of the car, barely a half inch space at best. She was unconcious, but I could barely make out her breathing and moving; fortunately she wan not dead.

Holy shit. That was pretty much all I could think. Not the standard variety of holy shit though, more of "this is quite amazing" version. A second man had joined the first. "Are they dead?" he asked. What an optimist! I laughed, and replied that they weren't, but we might have to get them out. The first gentleman replied he had been following them, and saw the whole thing happen, that the vehicle seemed to lose control and veer right, then left to the median, and then off the road - exactly what I saw.

We all returned to the car, and I spoke to the gentleman inside to calm him, that we would get him out, and that an ambulance was on the way (or so I hoped!) It was at this moment that a fire burst out in the engine compartment. Time was now an issue, and we would have to get both he and his passenger out before emergency vehicles arrived.

Three or four more people had arrived now, and the second gentlemant to arrive produced a fire extinguisher. "My wife bought it for me last month." he said, but added that he was having difficulty getting its tab release to work. I asked if he had ever used one, and he replied no, so I suggested he hand it to me. Sure enough, the safety release tab had broken off, and the nozzle could not be depressed, rendering the unit non-functional. By now the engine fire was cooking up nicely, flames licking four feet in the air.

"Where did she pick this up?" I asked.

"Wal-Mart" he replied. I burst out laughing. At that moment, a kid approached and asked if he could help. "Yes" I immediately replied. "You see that van across the highway? you have 30 seconds to get over there and get the fire extinguisher, inside the sliding door. Do everyone here a favour and DO NOT get run down!"

He trotted off; thankfully traffic was light, and slowing to pass the scene. Several younger guys had just helped the driver out of his window, but the girl in the back was still pinned, motionless.

"Here it is Sir!" The kid was back with my fire extinguisher. The engine fire was large now, and flaming out from the open engine compartment and left wheel well, licking 10 feet into the air.

"Okay Sir." I said to the gentleman who brought the first useless extinguisher, "When you arrive at a scene like this, it's best to bring proper equipment, like this Garrison extinguisher....bought at Canadian Tire." I deadpanned, then pulled the clip, and aimed, depressing the trigger firmly.

'Fllloooofffffffff' is the only way I can describe the rather pathetic manner in which dry chemical extinguishers release their contents. The stuff doesn't shoot out, It kind of splurts out, anemically. Three seconds and half the contents of my extinguisher later the fire was out.

About 20 people were now near enough to be considered helping out, including at least half a dozen younger men. "Okay gentleman, you have two minutes, rip that door off and get her out!"

(to be continued)

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