Saturday, November 12, 2011

What People Say

I've heard a number of interesting things in the past 24 hours.
Observations by people who don't understand the subject at hand.

I'm not saying they are stupid (although sometimes, that is also true) but that it is common for people to find themselves needing to talk about things they don't yet understand, even if only to ask questions so that they CAN understand.

Some samples:

1. After witnessing a fairly large structure fire, in the home of friends of his, a man asked me "Do they give firefighters any training for how to talk to someone whose house has burned down?"

The answer is no, not that I'm aware of.
Seems like that would be more likely to be an EMS skill than a firefighter skill, dealing as it does with a person having a rough time and in emotional distress, but I haven't seen any EMS training for such a thing, either. Not really, anyway. A mention or two about being "sensitive" or "understanding." But mostly, it comes down to "I'm sorry for your loss."

An instructor I know once told a story about way back when he was new, and went to his first ambulance call where the patient was already deceased. He had no idea what to do. Didn't know what the SOPs were, who to call, should he stay or go, who calls the coroner, etc. Didn't know what he was supposed to say to the family. Barely knew how to tell if the guy was dead or not.

Since then, he has designed a class for dealing with this situation, hoping to help others not have to go through what he went through, and so that people will be better prepared to help the family members at their very worst moment.

But I haven't heard of any class for firefighters, specifically, dealing with how to talk to family members after a disaster of any kind. Maybe firefighters aren't expected to talk to people in those situations. Many don't.

2. Had a kid (around 12) ask me the following question. Paraphrased, because I never can recall exactly how this kid asks questions. He tends to be verbose.  "If someone is in a fire, and they breathe in a lot of smoke and they manage to crawl out of the house, would the air right there, assuming that nothing falls on them and crushes them, would the air there be breathable?"

It is difficult sometimes to figure out what this kid is really asking.
Does he want to know how much smoke is still in the air right next to a burning house?
Is he trying to figure out how far out of a house you'd have to get to save yourself?

The answer is a little more complex than that.
Would the air be breathable, as in "Does the air in that location contain enough oxygen to support life?"
Yes. Most likely, it would.
Would that be able to save a person who has just crawled out of a burning building, having inhaled a large amount of hot, toxic smoke?
Depends. How much? How hot? What all was burning?
Just making it to fresh air might not be enough to "save" someone.

3. I saw a couple of people commenting on a facebook thread about a fire, about getting tankers to a scene for water supply in an area that does not have hydrants. They were very concerned about what might happen if they had a fire, because they knew that their WELL could not provide water at a rate or in a quantity to put out a fire.

??? Do they really think that is where firefighters get water?  From someone's well?
Highly unlikely.

These same people thought that asking for tankers meant that the fire was particularly big, and appeared to believe that a smaller fire wouldn't require any tankers, that there would be "enough water available." In an area that has no hydrants, at all, those tankers ARE the "water supply." We always have to ask for tankers. It's no big deal, or at least, it's not out of the ordinary.

This is, by far, not the only thing I've heard bystanders (or newspaper reporters!) say about what they overhear at a fire, where they extrapolate from what they have heard, based on no understanding whatsoever of what is typical. But this one- some variation of "There wasn't enough water available to fight the fire! They had to ask for tankers to come in so they'd have water!" is one of the most common, and one that people get the most upset about.

4. A distant family member of mine has recently fallen ill. I don't know her personally at all, and don't really know the also-distant family members who are sharing this information. All I know is what has come to me third-hand or so. She has apparently been diagnosed as having "a squiggly thing in her cranium." And they were unable to do the procedure (first described as surgery, and then as "not surgery, a procedure") because she was "too resistant."

Haven't untangled this one yet.
When getting medical information from non-medical people, first, you have to figure out whether this is the information they heard, or the information they thought they heard and can't quite remember. And is it what the doctor said because they wouldn't understand the medical terminology, or is it their interpretation of the medical terminology.
Then you have to look at regional dialects and accents, and possible mispronunciations or homonyms.

Any guesses would be appreciated.
I can't ask for clarification on this one, because I don't have any way to contact these people, and they'd find it very odd if I asked.
But I really want to know!

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