Every day, EMTs, medics, cops, firefighters and the rest of the first responders see the most horrible things. Then there are the times when even they are shocked by what they see. Luckily these times are rare. They are also what these stories are all about.
Be warned, some of these stories are terrifying but they will also make you appreciate the jobs these responders do for us and the sacrifices they make. These stories may be tough to read on the surface, but underneath, you'll see the heart of the responders.
"I'm an EMT. This one messed me up for a bit and makes me a much more cautious driver.
Some teenagers with Mustangs decided to race each other down the highway at 1am. They both end up losing control at insane speeds and bump each other, sending the car in the right lane off into the trees. The driver somehow survived and was Med Evac’d out in critical condition. The car in the left lane went over the guardrail median and head first into a Jeep, then caught on fire.
We got on scene and found the now-extinguished, burnt mess of the wreck. The passengers of the Mustang were just... carbon stacks. No bodily or facial recognition whatsoever, just charred masses of what used to be people. The driver of the Jeep was severed in half, torso hanging out of the driver side window, legs still by the pedals and organs everywhere in the seat.
The worst part was the driver of the Jeep was just minding his own business, driving along to wherever he was going. All because some kids decided to be idiots, his life was over in a split second."
"The worst was probably the time I was talking to a patient who we had been called to take in for a 24 hour psych evaluation by the local PD. He was a big guy and was holding a small 'Hello Kitty' flip phone and crying about his daughter. When I got to explaining what we would be doing, he pulled out a weapon and shot himself. I got a mouthful of brain and skull ricochet from the cargo container he was leaning against.
Before that, it was not as chaotic as most of my scenes. PD had two vehicles on scene, it was away from any busy streets, so no interfering with traffic. My partner was getting the gurney ready (taking O2 and medical bags off of it, finding where he tossed the soft restraints if we would need them), PD standing off to the side talking about interdepartmental drama, myself and social service near the patient.
I remember mostly the flip phone he had, and how many times it rang. The smell of the drinking-laden vomit on his plaid jacket. It was a cluster to begin with I guess, but yeah. It certainly ended up one."
"A paramedic friend of mine told me a story about a couple who were both handicapped and in electric wheelchairs. Neither could walk at all and they could barely move their arms.
One night, the guy was sitting in a woolen sweater and he was smoking. Before finishing his smoke, he got tired, and his head tilted down and ignited the sweater. When the medics arrived, he was dead and crispy as grilled pork skin.
The lady told the medics that she had, helplessly, rolled back and forth between the sink and him, getting a cup of water at a time and tossing it on him."
"My uncle was a paramedic in the 80s and after a few drinks at a family party, he told us his worst story.
He got a call that a guy got hit by a train near an old bridge in my town. When he and his partner arrived, they found the top half of him at about 15 feet away from the tracks and his lower half nowhere in sight.
It turns out the guy crawled a few feet before dying at the scene. They found his legs in the water a few hours later
My uncle doesn’t tell stories at family dinners anymore."
"When I was taking EMT training, a convertible had flipped and skidded down the road a ways. Both the woman who was driving and the child in the car seat had half their heads ground away by the sliding car. There were two very clear and distinct streaks of blood and brain down the road.
I'll never get a convertible because of this fear."
"I'm a former paramedic of 15 years.
The worst call I ever ran was a shaken baby. A mother couldn't get her 1-month-old baby to stop crying so she shook him, causing massive damage to his brain. The baby went into what we call status epilepticcus which is a non-stop seizure, then she called 911.
The filth of that trailer; the smell, human feces, old rotting pizza boxes, cat poop, that overwhelming cat urine/ammonia smell, dirty diapers, used needles, smoke butts; it still haunts me to this day. The little helpless infant writhing in this filth while Mom made a pop tart in the midst of the suffering that she caused. That call permanently changed me."
"I'm a former EMT. When I had less than 1 year as an on-call and 3 years as beach EMT/Lifeguard, this happened. This is the call that made me quit.
My unit gets called to a multi-car collision on the interstate. We arrive to a sedan on it's side in the right lane and an SUV in the median over top of the cable stop. Two men and one female adults are walking around with minor scrapes, the woman is hysterical though. Fire rescue was working on the SUV. When it rolled, it had landed on the post perfectly, squishing the child in the center car seat. The 5 y/o sister was pinned by the neck and waist to the seat, and the 7-year-old brother was decapitated with his head sitting on the roof, basically looking at his younger sister. I removed the head and talked to the little girl, who was the age of my daughter at the time, telling her she would be okay.
Fire rescue cut the cables to release her from the seat and because there was tension on the cables, they moved and basically sliced her in half. She didn't make it the 20 feet to the ambulance and literally died in my arms.
Funny enough, I never blamed myself. I laid a lot of blame on the people around me. My wife and daughter dealt with the worst of me. Biggest thing for me was to keep busy. I went back to school and earned a degree in IT. Now I work at a great company where I can indirectly improve the lives of others."
"Not the goriest, but maybe the most bizarre.
Guy wanted to commit suicide. He got his SUV, left the back window open, attached a metal cable around his neck in the driver seat and strung it out the back window and wrapped it around a tree. He hit the gas, the truck lurched forward and decapitated him.
Probably one of the more inventive ways to kill one's self."
"I'm a cop.
I responded to a wreck where a guy was doing donuts in a gravel parking lot. He was showing his son around in his Jeep. He hit a bump and rolled the Jeep onto the roof. Neither were wearing their seat belts.
The kid had to sit there with his leg pinned under the roll bar, next to his dad whose head was crushed under the dash. He was there at least 20 minutes. I still remember that kid asking me in the back of the ambulance if his dad was dead. It was weird because this maybe 13-year-old kid was so calm. He asked, 'Is my dad dead? I hope he's not dead, because that'd be my worst nightmare.'
All I could say is we're going to do everything we can. Had to go notify the guys parents after. That was just as rough."
"I've had a couple of patients who, we'll say, just gave up on life, and have a particular presentation. The first patient I encountered like this sticks most poignantly in my mind.
We were called by family for a vague complaint of 'she just needs to be checked out.' The son had been bringing her some food, leaving it by her on her recliner for going on months now. He hadn't seen her in a different spot in all those months. She had a maid that came in and cleaned.
Anyway. She was oriented and with it, in an aging kind of way. The place had a certain smell, in a UTI possessing kind of way. She had her lap covered with blankets, as oldies do. After a long conversation with her refusing most assessments, we determine she is basically committing suicide by refusing to move or take care of herself. After talking with doctors and police, we move to take her onto our stretcher and into the hospital.
That's when it becomes very obvious the extent of her non-involvement with the world. She has been sitting in her own wastes for months. The smell that was released was the worst I've ever encountered, then or since. And as we picked her up, maggots fell away and onto the ground. Upon investigation under her skirt, you could see exposed hip bone and maggots eating away at the ulcerated site.
She died three days later at hospital. The doctor said the maggots were probably what were keeping her alive. Impossible to amputate at that location, being at her pelvis."
"I’m the Navy’s version of Military Police.
My former partner got sent to patrols and I got sent to a different division. I get a text saying 'get home asap,' so as soon as I can, I head over to his house. He’s not ok, so I sit him down with a cup of coffee, and let him talk.
He had to take photographs of a little girl who got mauled by a dog the day before. It had bitten her from her diaper area to her armpit. Just grabbed and shook her like a rag doll, dropped her, bit down again and shook. Over and over again. This little girl was just playing outside and this aggressive dog had attacked someone before but due to the owners hiding the dog, or doing some sort of Jedi mind tricking, they had never talked to animal control.
This time he gone nuts and waited 6 freaking hours for animal control to show up and take the dog. His new partner whined the whole time, made jokes about the little girl, and was just rude to the victim's family. He said the whole time he was taking pictures, he kept seeing my son, who is pretty much his son, and his precious little body. He said he kept imagining his birthmark and everything. That he saw my face in her mom's, and just had to try to stay professional to the folks who kept this dog around to attack yet another person.
This dude is my rock. I’m some jerk who just fell off the turnip truck, spending my entire career as a electrician. He’d done this stuff for 12 years, in various different areas. He’s pretty much been there done that. Yet he just became unglued. I’d never seen him cry like that. He looked like he’d aged 10 years or something.
I calmed him down, wiped his tears, and sent him off to pick up his 11-year-old. He begged me to bring my kid over for a family home evening that night. He needed to make sure my toddler was ok.
People 'see' their kids in the victim sometimes. I can’t even watch tv shows or movies that have an 11-year-old boy hurt or dying. To me, I always see his son."
This summer I was first on scene for a missing toddler. I located her, she had wandered off from her family. All day, she had just wanted to swim in the lake but her parents said no. I found her about 15 feet out from the shore, in the lake, face down. I don't know how I walked through the water as seamlessly as I did that day, but I cleared those 15 feet out and back faster than if I was on land. I immediately began compressions on the beach. She had black, curly hair and just the cutest little face.
I can remember pushing her grieving mother off as she tried to get between me and her daughter (I still carry a lot of guilt from that). After what felt like hours, EMS arrived. I had gotten her a heartbeat but it was weak. They were taking her to our local hospital and I was leading them there, clearing traffic. In the two moments I spoke with the driver, he assured me that he didn't care what trouble he got in, he was breaking their limits just to keep up with me.
We get to the hospital, the doctors are working away. They get a little better heartbeat but we needed to get her to a city children's hospital quickly. Of course it is Saturday night and to get to the hospital we have to go through the bar district. We are racing into the city about to dial it way back when eight city cruisers rip out in front of us and clear the street of all the early drinkers. It was a great show of teamwork.
We get to the hospital, she still has a faint pulse. The nurses keep working their butts off, saying she's not dead until she's dead and col. So they start heating her up. Blankets and some sort of inflatable blanket thing I've never seen. I was so sure they'd bring her back around.
When they pronounced her dead at about 3 am, I lost my freaking mind. I was so sure we'd saved her. She didn't do anything wrong. Her parents really didn't even do anything wrong. She was this harmless little kid who wanted to swim on a summer day. I held it together in the outside, as you do. I left the hospital telling myself when I got to my Tahoe, I'll cry.
Nope, just felt numb. Maybe I just needed that little walk out to process everything, I don't know. So I drive back to my county. I'm stopped by a city copper. I say, 'She didn't make it, aw well.' I finish my shift, go home. Put it out of my mind.
Flash forward a couple months, I stop by an old buddy's house and his daughter runs out from the back yard to give me a hug, she had been swimming in the pool. She was a couple years older than the girl that drowned, but looked just like her. I had an attack of some kind. I started crying and I slunk down. Little Alexis was a trooper about it and gave me more hugs.
My wife, who was there and witnessed all this, promptly asked me what was up? I finally told her the story. She asked if maybe that's why I hadn't been sleeping much anymore.
We got me in to see a psychiatrist who specializes in first responders. I have been doing better. I encourage all first responders to please talk about your day. Even if you don't think anything is affecting you, it may be and your loved ones will notice."
A guy fell onto a toilet roll holder, pierced his eye straight into the back of his skull. Even carefully moving him you could hear it scraping the inside of his skull.
Another time, this time it was a woman giving birth to a stillborn. She had special needs and didn’t know she was pregnant. She had visited the doctor four times for abdominal pain, but no pregnancy test was done. She was about 26 weeks along, but the baby had been dead for a few days at least. He was beetroot in color. The woman had sepsis and pre-eclampsia. I will never forget handling a floppy stillborn who’s head just felt like a bag of broken crockery."
"My dad was the only licensed paramedic in our tri-county area for many years, his area covered two interstates and numerous major highways in Ohio. He is undoubtedly the toughest person I've ever known, just based on the stories I've heard him recounting when he didn't know I could hear him, coupled with some of the things that I know have happened to him, and second-hand stories from other first responders who have worked for him.
His Paramedic stories:
He's been the first man on scene for numerous accidents with high school age kids, one of which happened about 8 miles from our home, which is important. Two teenage girls lost control and hit a power line, which collapsed on them, pinning them in the car. Apparently there were serious injuries, they were conscious and coherent, but the power line was live, and the power company couldn't cut off power, so the first responders were forbidden from attempting to help. My dad was having none of this, and drove home to get his backhoe to remove the pole himself, but both girls died before he could successfully free them, more or less in front of his eyes while he tried to reassure them.
Another time, we were out eating lunch together and he got a call to respond to a vehicle/train accident. We got there, me still with my small soda in hand, and the cop on-scene looks at me, then my dad, and says he might want someone to come pick me up, because it was going to take awhile. The driver of the truck that got hit by the train had 'coughed his lungs out of his mouth, and was going to need a few bags.' That image stuck with me for a good while.
Yet another time, this time a motorcycle accident on the interstate. A group of four bikers riding in loose formation went to pass an 18-wheeler, but they stayed two-wide the whole way. My dad had taught me long before that this was a cardinal no-no, you stay as far away from big rigs as possible, because the winds near them get strong and unpredictable. Well, these folks failed to heed that warning, and one of the front inside riders got drawn in towards the truck, overcompensated the other way, and ran into his friend. He was then thrown off his bike, and while falling, got caught (for lack of a better word) on either a foot peg, or the brake lever, and was, and I quote, 'unzipped from his ankle to his armpit like a halloween costume.'
The straw that broke the camel's back, why he finally called it quits on being a paramedic, was an 8-year-old boy that had drowned in the family pond. My dad was first one there, pulled the boy out, and immediately started resuscitation efforts. He stayed unresponsive during the ambulance ride and passed away while my dad kept working on him. When I got older, he admitted that he kind of lost it on that call, because all he could see lying on that gurney was me."
"I have a few horrible stories as an EMT.
Some adult dipped a toddler in boiling water. This kid was Pacific Islander from the waist up, and pasty white skin slough from the waist down. It was horrifying
A mentally disabled woman was assaulted by another resident of their group home, who shaved her head and then beat her. We convinced her to go to the hospital. The hospital sent her back to the same facility. Before she went back, she caught me dropping off another patient and was screaming that now he will be worse to the victim because she 'told.'
A woman miscarried her child because she had decided to smoke crack to celebrate her most recent prenatal checkup where the baby was still alive.
An elderly woman descended into dementia and relived an assault from decades prior. This occurred fairly regularly, and she would hide in the facility and call the cops each time. She couldn't understand why nobody would help her.
I'll stop here. Thank goodness for therapy and a new career."
"I showed up first on a trouble run and it turned out to be a shooting. Dude was hit straight in the center of his chest. He was in such a state of shock that he was probably dead but he just didn't realize it yet.
He was grey and lifeless and trying to move; it reminded me of a marionette clawing at the ground without power to move himself. He couldn't speak and was expressionless.
I did a blood sweep and found he had been shot two times, once in the forearm and once in the side (I would find the 3rd later). There was very little blood loss (externally) but internally all of his organs were minced. His chances of survival were basically zero. He had fallen between a car and a pole so I had them move the car to try and work him a little.
We started CPR but with the first compression a volcano like spurt of foamy blood erupted from his mouth, caking his open eyes. He was technically still alive but so far gone he couldn't blink away the blood. There were small chunks of flesh mixed in with the blood which were the pieces of his heart and lungs. It was at this time we discovered a bullet hole in the dead center of his sternum.
We worked him for a very short period of time and then they threw him in the ambulance and left. He was probably dead before the ambulance even made it off the scene. Dude was only 17, but was the suspect in a homicide that had occurred a week earlier. I'll never forget it but what sticks with me is just the sheer loss of potential. This kid could have done great things with his life but he died in a stranger's arms after retaliatory violence. I feel sad for him sometimes when I think about the incident."