Let’s face it. Real life often happens in an eyeblink. One moment nothing can possibly go wrong. The next it is disaster and, sometimes, pure terror.
We are taught to find a responsible adult or locate a police officer, or just call 911. They will fix it.
I was reminded of all of this as my Boy Scout troop hiked in the White Mountains this past weekend. The temperatures were impossibly high for October. The view from Mount Moosilauke, one of the 4,000-footers, was spectacular.
But the 12 miles we hiked in 11 hours were just as arduous as always, with boulders the size of houses. We could have taken the Gorge Trail, but chose the Ridge Trail, which lengthened the hike by four miles each way.
This is not easy hiking, so my Scouts prepare. They are taught about proper equipment. They participate in rock climbing classes. They learn CPR. They carry personal first aid kits. They practice at camp.
But still I worry.
There will be accidents and only part of it is prevention. One adult ended up looking like a turtle during a stream crossing. He was unhurt, but like most accidents, it happened in an instant with no clear understanding of how to prevent it from happening again.
We all do hike plans and the adults carry cell phones so we can call for help, but all of us—adults and Scouts alike—know that if there is an accident, we are going to have to handle it. We may get support later, but at a minimum, the critical first couple of hours are going to be on us.
So I take first aid and CPR courses at least once a year. I take courses that teach me to Trek Safely. I learn about water safety. But there is always this nagging feeling about whether it will be enough. When the time comes, will I know what to do?
Eventually, we probably all start to wonder about how the professionals handle it. And some of the more cynical probably wonder if the training is adequate.
With that in mind, about three years ago I began to think seriously about how to train for emergencies. Last year I worked out a swap with Steve, the trainer who is assigned to varsity hockey games for which I am the announcer. He wanted to learn to be an announcer and I wanted to learn more about how to treat injuries, so he got the microphone from time to time and I got to follow him around to see how to do first aid properly.
I thought he was a better announcer than I was a trainer, but that is a subject for another column. Still, I was feeling pretty comfortable until I ran into Steve at a soccer camp this summer. Right after lunch, a high school-aged player came into the first aid station with trouble breathing and a rash breaking out on his neck and chest.
I was amazed how fast Steve was. Even though the luncheon food was clearly labeled, the player had eaten some food containing peanuts and was now having a full-blown reaction. Out came the EpiPen, which made things a little better, but now Steve was really hustling.
That’s when I found out that EpiPens are just a very short-term stopgap and that this player had to go to the hospital immediately.
Part of the reason Steve was so quick with his diagnosis was because he had checked out the luncheon food and knew what was in it. Ah-ha! Preparation and knowing the environment. I learned about that somewhere.
All of which brought me to Monday night, when I joined members of the in a live fire exercise at the outdoor range. I am not big on guns, but the Reed Street and Woburn encounters, both of which involved weapons, were fresh in my mind.
Of course, anybody with any sense has to experience at least some misgivings when thinking about their selectmen handling guns, but I found the experience interesting, scary, and instructive.
First, there's the the video trailer where you and your partner are faced with various situations.
Entering a convenience store after shots have been fired, making a routine road stop, entering premises after a silent alarm has been triggered and going to the scene of a reported school shooting are just four of the situations to which you must react. What to say, when to draw your weapon, when to fire it and what you hit are all critiqued heavily by instructors. Figuring out that the cute blonde is the shooter, not the convenience store clerk, was just one of the many problems presented.
Next to the open range, which is lit only by flashlights.
Just getting your weapon out of the holster can be a frustrating exercise. Here what you are firing at is less clear. You also have to keep your partner in sight so you don’t end up with a really horrible outcome. Again, the critique and instruction took far longer than the actual firing.
By the time the class got to traffic stops, I was a spectator, thoroughly worn out from trying to make decisions, talking to my partner in an effective manner, figuring out when a bold front was the best thing and when I had to use my weapon, and paying attention to the range officers who emphasized safety constantly.
I came away thinking that I needed a lot more instruction in many things. I also came away with an appreciation for people who go beyond the minimum in trying to do their jobs better.
Thank you, Steve and Police Chief Corr, and all the rest of the professionals who put so much of their life into what they do.