By Pam Witt-Hillen ThedaStar flight nurse
Change starts with a single idea that leads to a single person taking a single step. Change is all around us in the world of emergency services; some accept it while others dislike even the thought of it. Beyond the tragedies are even more close calls. Anyone who has worked in EMS for a time can tell you of close calls they have experienced while working on the side of a roadway or at the scene of a crash. Mark Friend and Justin Hansen were roadside innocent victims. Both were struck and pinned against their vehicles. It only takes a brief lapse in judgment to create an aftermath that lasts a lifetime.
On January 4, 2013, Mark Friend’s day would start out just as your day started today. Mark worked on a sanitation truck at the time in Jefferson County. That morning, he was performing his job as he had done day in and day out. He would not be driving recklessly or texting while driving. He was attentive. Like many others, he had experienced close calls on the job in the past.
At the same time, just around the corner, was a young woman who was getting ready to start her day. It was a cool morning and frost had accumulated across her windows. As many people do in a hurry, she scraped only a small part of her window, knowing that the defroster would clear the rest. While driving through a subdivision, she made a turn facing into the sun, and with the frost covering the windshield she was blinded for only a brief period. Unfortunately, during this brief period, Mark was standing behind his truck and in the direct path of her car. He was pinned between his truck and her car from the waist down.
Mark later had a tourniquet applied to his leg, but only after the car could be removed to gain access. He was pinned for an estimated 45 minutes, after which he was flown by another medical helicopter to University of Wisconsin Medical Center in Madison. On arrival in the emergency department, Mark was in cardiopulmonary arrest. He had no palpable pulse and was not breathing. Physicians performed a rare surgical procedure called a thoracotomy. They opened his chest and placed a clamp on his descending aorta, preventing any further bleeding and blood flow to his lower extremities. Emergency room physicians placed their hands directly onto his heart and performed cardiac massage in an attempt to restore blood flow and regain a pulse.
Mark regained a pulse that day. He was taken for emergency surgery, where his left leg was amputated. After more than 30 surgeries, and likely more to come, he is still working for the same company. He is no longer able to work in the field but works in the office. Today, he looks for any opportunity to spread awareness of roadside safety. Since his tragedy, he has helped push a law through legislation. The “Slow Down to Get Around” law now doubles any moving violation fine around a sanitation truck. It currently is, and has been, a law that when driving, your windows must be reasonably clear of obstructions. If you drive with frost covering any of your windows, you can be stopped by law enforcement and given a citation.
In 2013, 527 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Wisconsin. An additional 39,872 people were injured. Mark Friend was just one of those injured in 2013. Despite the severity of his injuries, his medical expenses, the lifelong aftermath, the effect on his family and the loss of a limb, he is represented as 1 of 39,872. Even though many of the injured did not likely experience the same journey as Mark, the staff at any of Wisconsin’s trauma centers knows too many people have had devastating effects caused by a momentary lapse in judgment.
In January 2014, Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Justin Hansen was working at the scene of crash on Highway 41. While retrieving items from the trunk of his police car, a second car was driving too fast for conditions, lost control and spun out, striking and pinning him against his car. A tourniquet was rapidly applied to his leg by a bystander. After Justin could be removed from between the vehicles, he was transported to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center- Neenah Trauma Center. He was hypotensive and required blood transfusions in the emergency department. He was taken to the operating room, where attempts were made to save his leg; however, the trauma was too severe and ultimately ended with an amputation.
By this time, nearly everyone is aware of the “Move Over and Slow Down” law. What people may not know is this law doesn’t only apply to law enforcement vehicles. It is for all emergency vehicles, highway utility vehicles, snowplows, sanitation vehicles and tow trucks. It doesn’t only apply on double-lane highways; any highway falls under this law, including single-lane highways.
These are only a couple stories. So many more occur each year. The aftermath lasts a lifetime, not only for the victims and drivers, but also for their family members and friends. Distracted driving occurs every day in each one of our communities.
Each year, dozens of EMS and healthcare professionals get together for the P.A.R.T.Y. at the PAC. Last year more than 5,000 students from all over northeastern Wisconsin attended. Students are shown the tough reality and aftermath that occurs after even a brief lapse in judgment. The question is “what can each of us do to prevent our friends, family and co-workers from being involved in one of these tragedies? What can you do to help promote this change?”
Send us your pictures promoting roadside safety and safe driving practices. We’ll share them and together we can create change. Send to ThedaStar@thedacare.org.
Did You Know?
- It is illegal for anyone to talk on any handheld device while driving in a Wisconsin road work zone. This includes all emergency personnel.
- It is the law to “Slow Down to Get Around” when passing a waste disposal truck on the side of the road. You can be fined double for any moving violation near a sanitation truck.
- It is the law that your windshield, side windows and rears windows must be reasonably clean at all times. You can be stopped and cited for not cleaning the frost off your windows prior to driving. 346.88
- It is the law to move over or slow down for all tow trucks, maintenance, utility, EMS, fire and police vehicles on the side of the roadway. This law applies to all highways, including single-lane roadways, and not just interstates.