The sun is shining brightly on a small hamlet in anytown, USA, but things are far from ordinary in what would otherwise be a tranquil Saturday afternoon in a hearth of Americana’s Shangri-La. As you stumble out of your chase vehicle, an eerie calm settles over the area. All across the immediate landscape destruction ensues. People are trapped in their homes; time is running short. Wild animals and pets litter the area, some crushed to death in a cruel blow emanating from nature’s matriarchal fury. The smell of natural gas fills the air, as shocked residents spill out into the street, some injured or trying to make sense of the ensuing mobocracy, not knowing that some of their family members and friends unfortunately have passed unto necrosis. The buzzing sound of arching power lines, crackling in their disheveled remnants, dot the landscape in a menacing quintessence. People are trapped, others are hurting, and a community will not now, nor ever, be the same. Lest you think this is some sort of manuscript sundered from the pages of a Michael W. Davis novel, think again. Unlike Little Jack Horner who sat in some corner, this was the reality staring down the faces of those chasers who arrived on the scene at Yazoo City, MS immediately after the devastating tornado ravaged the community in April of 2010.
In light of all the attention that the Yazoo City tornado has received, thanks in part to the recent episode of Storm Chasers, perhaps it’s time we reflect more on the role that chasers and storm spotters might need to play as sort of “first responders” in the aftermath of severe weather, particularly destructive tornadoes.
No one would suggest that chasers, as untrained members of the general public, could or should function in the same capacity as trained medical professionals. However, if you are going to pursue severe weather, eventually you’re going to intercede the inevitable – casualties left in the wake of major severe weather episodes. If you’re one of the first persons on the scene, and you are able to render some aid, then it might be suggested that this topic be taken into consideration before you depart on your chase.
To her credit, chaser Shawna Davies has pushed this issue for several years, but it’s something that I think most chasers, including myself, have mostly taken for granted. I don’t pretend to have expertise in this area, but reliving that day on television this week has made me think more seriously about how the chasing community might need to be more cognizant of these scenarios. It should also be noted that Convective Addiction’s own Danny Neal is an EMT – B, but the rest of us are non-medical professionals like most of the remainder of the chasing community. Danny does take a medical kit when he goes chasing, and other chasers who are EMTs or first responders have told me they do the same – kudos to them for being prepared.
Your safety is first and foremost – be safe, be smart. You need to be judicious about the dangers involved in navigating the scene of natural disasters, and some common sense is in order, should you choose to chart these pandemonic waters. You need to treat all downed wires as if they were live; don’t go near them and watch where you step. Lest you want to light yourself and possibly others up like Macy’s Christmas tree after Thanksgiving, you would do well to be cognizant of ruptured natural gas lines as well. Given the enormous amount of broken glass, nails, and other debris, it would be wise to keep long pants, industrial gloves and work boots in a bag with your chasing garb.
There is much that chasers and others can do, being first on the scene, to help free people who are trapped with little or no injuries, provided that they operate with the safety of themselves and others in mind. You should be physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for what can happen as a result of tornadoes and other destructive forces of nature.
As far as injuries go, most experts would suggest that you can do far more harm than good unless you are trained as a first responder, EMT and/or a paramedic. If you don’t have training in this area, and most of us probably don’t, your best bet is to keep the victim safe from sustaining additional injuries, comforting the person until trained professionals arrive, yet avoiding any movement or repositioning of the victim whatsoever, unless they are lying in or near a life threatening hazard (e.g., the house is on fire and they are trapped near the door).
If and when you encounter this, even if you don’t intend to, assuming that you go out of your way to even think about it, are you even quasi-prepared? This hand is the first raised as one who previously abrogated that responsibility. It won’t happen again.
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