About 7:45 AM on Tuesday, January 14, 2004, at the Rickover Street Commuter Rail Station in South Boston, Mr. Matthew Simons, a life-long epileptic, suffered a seizure and fell into the track area, causing him to be struck by the train entering the station.
Mr. Timothy Chambers, a certified EMT, ran up the platform and started searching under the train for the victim. He located the victim lying in the gravel between the concrete platform and the nearest rail, and saw that the victim’s left leg had been raggedly severed halfway between the knee and ankle.
Tim and I were there when Enron finally got busted for running a Ponzi scheme.
We worked at the same place: a niche commodity-trading company in Boston’s financial district. Our outfit had many trading counterparties, but Enron was the largest, and its traders were truly the smartest guys in the room. Or were they? Because when Enron got taken down, its creditworthiness and damn nearly the entire energy trading industry got taken down with it.
Owe the bank a hundred bucks and they own you. Owe the bank a million, and you own it. Right? That’s what I mean by creditworthiness.
Enron owned the energy trading industry because it owed billions of dollars all over the planet, such that its bankruptcy left a lot of companies suddenly having to write off huge receivables. This in turn imperiled their creditworthiness, and so on down the line, until everybody threw on their collective brakes to avoid further bad debt exposure. Nobody wanted to trade with anybody until it got sorted out who’d be looking to discharge their obligations under Chapter Seven and who wouldn’t.
Since we were one of the little guys, our survival was especially in question. Nobody would trade with us for nine months. But our CEO determined it’d be most cost-effective to keep everybody on board rather than laying them off and having to re-hire and re-train other people later, so as the senior director of operations I told my front-line managers that nobody was gonna sit around idle. I wanted people growing their skills, learning each other’s jobs, networking elsewhere in the industry, et cetera…and if anybody wanted to take college classes on the company tab, now would be time.
Tim decided he wanted to go to EMT school during the day. He got some shit for this, but not from me. It kept him busy, after all, and we had a severe asthmatic and couple of heart patients on staff. You never know when an EMT might come in handy.
A woman who was also on the platform, later identified as Mrs. Janet Lyle, volunteered to help. Mr. Chambers showed her how to maintain the open airway and support the victim’s neck. He then crawled to the area of the victim’s injured leg and immediately applied pressure to the femoral artery to prevent any further loss of blood.
Every week or so I’d ask Tim how class was going. At one point he told me that his EMT instructor, an old burnout named John but whom everybody called Zane Grey because he liked westerns, had retired from Boston EMS and taught like a Marine Corps drill instructor. “The nicest asshole you’ll ever meet,” were I think his exact words. A lot of Zane’s students took his demeanor personally, but Tim recognized the technique.
Zane had said 99% of the “emergencies” he worked ended up being bullshit…but for the 1% you had to be on your game, and if you weren’t, people would die and you’d go home traumatized. Zane knew pressure and chaos in the classroom would make dealing with pressure and chaos in the streets automatic and hence easier, so that’s how he taught. He treated people like shit because he cared about them. And by extension, their patients.
Throughout the rest of the incident, Mr. Chambers showed tremendous composure maintaining the victim’s airway and directing other patrons to assist by searching for the severed limb. Additionally, he provided responding EMS personnel with a complete briefing as to the victim’s condition and assisted them during the stabilizing and boarding process prior to emergency transport.
When Tim finished the classes and got his license, he took an evening hobby job for a private ambulance company in Quincy, MA. Most of it was “dialysis wagon”—shuttling people with end-stage renal disease back and forth to clinics—and the remainder tended to be psychiatric emergencies and nursing home patients. Nothing traumatic, nothing “exciting.” But it was enough action to keep his skills up.
And then one morning Tim was at his commuter rail station and—well, you’ve read the above excerpts. Those are direct quotes from the narrative read by the chief of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police during the commendation ceremony at which he presented Tim with a Distinguished Service Award—the highest honor the MBTA could bestow on a civilian.
The chief also presented a Certificate of Commendation to Janet Lyle for her action, as well as to a gentleman named Hans Miller who at Tim’s direction stood by to provide CPR if necessary, worked to keep bystanders from interfering (however good their intentions may have been), and served as a witness for the police reports after the accident.
During an incident where time was a critical factor, Mr. Chambers, Mrs. Lyle, and Mr. Miller responded in a courageous and selfless manner, initiating the actions necessary to save the life of a fellow commuter. Their actions are deserving of recognition and thanks of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the MBTA Transit Police Department.
And for damn sure deserving of my recognition and thanks too, and for damn sure that of everybody else.
Tim went back home after the train hit Simons. “I had blood all over me,” he told me later. But when he got back to work the next day he was still shaken up and everybody in the office wanted to know what happened. There had been a report on TV, and although Tim wasn’t named, several of his coworkers knew which train stop he rode in from, and an article on page three of the Globe had said something like, “A local EMT did so-and-so at the Rickover Street commuter rail station this morning,” etc. So Tim had to spend the day explaining the incident to them, even though he was already doing his best to shut it out of his mind.
Fast-forward fourteen years. When I asked Tim a few weeks ago if I could use his story in my blog, he was super-awkward about it. I told him no worries, because if he still wanted to keep the thing private I understood and totally respected his choice.
A few days later, though, he sent me back an email with scans of his award certificate and the chief’s narrative and the pictures the photographer took during the ceremony. I asked him if he was sure if he was OK with me doing this, and why had he changed his mind?
He said that A) he’d long since processed it, B) I had to change all the places and dates and names, and C) he wanted me to end with a pitch for my readers to go get at the very least CPR certified. No need to go to EMT school, but a Red Cross emergency medical response (EMR) certification would be even better than CPR so people would know how to help instead of milling around in a panic like so many of those at his train station in 2004 had done.
So, yeah, I’m ending with the pitch Tim asked for, except I’m gonna do it a little more forcefully. TAKE YOUR ASS TO THE RED CROSS AND GET CPR CERTIFIED. Learn to use the defibrillators that now hang in every public space. You and friend or two go to night EMR classes for a couple of weeks instead of going to the bar or gaming.
Because these situations are unpredictable. You need to know how to handle them.
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