On Dec. 21, 1981, Dad and my brother Jim were delivering Christmas gifts to business associates. Plans for the coming holidays filled the car with excitement. Just north of Kokomo, with a drastic change in the weather and road conditions, that all changed quickly. In a moment’s notice, an oncoming car made its way into their lane. Dad instinctively leaned over to shield Jim. And then they were hit head on going 50 miles an hour.
Dad took the brunt of the impact. His face hit the steering wheel. His glasses broke, causing several facial contusions. His chest was crushed, breaking his sternum and several ribs. Both his legs were pushed under his seat and shattered. His pelvis and back were broken. My brother suffered a broken nose.
The first responders were volunteer firemen. They quickly surveyed the situation and requested assistance. During this time, one fireman held Jim’s hand. A state trooper joined them and laid his body over Dad’s to protect him and to provide warmth. The condition of the car required an extrication tool that they simply did not have. So they waited.
At Dad's request, Jim was the first to be removed from the wreckage. Even in his compromised position, he remained in control. The most painful part was his request to have Jim sent to the nearest hospital so he could be seen by a doctor quickly. The volunteer firefighter jumped in the ambulance with Jim, accompanying him to the hospital, and assured Dad that he would stay with him.
It took longer to remove Dad. The pain was numbed by shock and the cold. When he was in the ambulance, he requested to return to Valparaiso, not the closest hospital. A disabled veteran of World War II, he had a distrust for many medical professionals, but trusted his hometown doctor with his life. Again, his request was honored.
Dad remained in the hospital until April of the following year, the first of five hospitalizations. He was in a wheelchair for 30 months, another 12 months with a walker, and finally, he graduated to a cane that he used for the balance of his life. Dad lived almost 28 more years in which he was productive, serving others until the very end.
One of his first outings after the accident was to the Fourth of July parade in LaPorte. As the firetrucks passed by, one stopped right in the middle of the road, and the driver came running over to us. “Are you Mr. Carr?” the firefighter asked. Dad responded affirmatively. The firefighter said, “Because of your accident, our fire department held fundraisers, and we now have our own jaws of life.” Dad was overwhelmed with emotion and could only respond, “Thank you for saving me and my boy.”
What do volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel mean to me? That’s easy. Everything! They saved our family. And every day since then, they save others.
I am grateful to the McMillan Family Foundation for the creation of the Multi-Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC) Training Center. This remarkable facility provides a true to life environment for firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and law enforcement officers to train. Whether a small volunteer fire department or a larger city or county entity, the MAAC is there to ensure vital education and training is available to all our responders. I encourage every citizen to schedule a tour and to support this essential training.
Next time, that moment’s notice might just be your family. Don’t you want the most highly trained to be attending to your family?