When One Victim Becomes Many

A recent article by Bryce Hall published on www.slate.com and promptly published as an abridged version by The Age and again in the Sydney Morning Herald highlights a problem that many emergency service workers are already well aware of. Hall illustrates his article with an all too familiar story regarding an accident causing the death of one victim and then a chain of events leading to more deaths. “In 2007, a Virginia dairy farmer died from inhaling methane fumes while working in an enclosed manure pit. A hired worker attempted to save the farmer and was also killed by the fumes. The farmer's wife and two daughters then jumped in, each frantically trying to save the earlier victims, and also died. One death quickly became five. This type of compound tragedy, in which rescuers become additional victims, is far too common. In certain situations, more people are killed trying to rescue others than killed in the initial accident.”


Perhaps the only place or training to educate the public about the dangers to the first responder, that comes to mind for the general public, is first aid training. Remember DRABC - Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing, and Circulation.

Generally, the scenarios taught to budding first aiders are the room full of gas, or the victim still in contact with an electrical source. Don’t get me wrong, fantastic that guidance like this is included in first aid courses, I’m just saying that it is a shame that the logic of looking after yourself first then attempting a thoughtful and considered rescue (after alerting the emergency services) is perhaps, not commonplace.

I also believe that Hollywood movies represent an inflated expectation of what the ordinary untrained and not supremely fit individual can achieve. We’ve all read or heard many stories where a sibling or even a pet has fallen into a river or been washed of rocks into the ocean and then one drowning become a multiple drowning as others enter the water believing they can swim with the ability of a lifeguard and tragically find out that they can’t. Or the hero who enters a burning house armed with a wet handkerchief as depicted in many television shows, only to be rescued unconscious along with the original victim upon the arrival of the fire brigade. The examples go on.

The cure is for all of us to take a reality check on our physical capabilities, keep our wits about us, assess the situation prior to acting, and (this is the tough part) conceding that at times, calling the emergency services may be the best or only thing you can do.

Click here to read the original unabridged article.