Florian Breitenbach

Rettungsdienst und mehr

A Decade – Teil Eins

Ten years. Looking back it is still pretty fresh in my mind, yet so long ago at the same time. Ten years ago I got a first proper insight in to the world of being a paramedic.

It began rather…well, decide for yourself. I had completed my mandatory 10 months of Zivildienst (civilian service instead of going to the Bundeswehr, the German Army – at the time Germany still had conscription) as a patient transport driver, and had six weeks or so to kill before starting my Ausbildung (vocational training) in IT. I had been pretty much a wheelchair and stretcher taxi driver, driving disabled kids to and from school, disabled adults to and from work, taking the less mobile to outpatient appointments and hospital discharges. The driveway where we parked our vans to access the hospital was a shared one with the driveway to the local Emergency Department…and with Emergency Departments come ambulances. I’d long had an (some would say unhealthy) interest in vehicles with flashing blue lights, but this was the first time I could actually look inside one for a decent amount of time. Interesting stuff! I’d see the staff milling about, mainly smiling, chatting. One image I will never forget is of a female paramedic sitting on the rear bumper of her ambulance, head in hands, with that powerful yet empty expression on her face – sad, uncomfortable, numb. I wanted to sit down beside her, ask her how she was feeling, what had happened…but one doesn’t do that as a shy 21 year old. I wanted to know what she had just been through, what had caused her so much grief, I wanted to offer any help – but most of all I wanted to do what she did, wear what she did (a paramedic uniform, not women’s clothing).

This desire was not a subtle one (come to think of it, that is one part of my life I’ve never held back. I once used up an entire 36 shot film within fifteen minutes trying to take pictures of emergency vehicles from a helicopter over NYC at the tender age of 7).  The head of the station I worked out of, which was also an ambulance station, offered me a two week work experience, shadowing paramedics on an ambulance after I had finished my Zivildienst. Hell Yeah!

First day. Poor sleep. Excited as a pig in mud, I get my whites (uniform consisting of white polo shirt, white tactical pants, white boots, hi-vis red jacket), and get shown briefly around the station. Every now and again the radio would crackle to life, and the crew would speak some codewords who they were, where they were going to, with the sirens blaring in the background – it all seemed really exciting! (Even today, hearing someone talk through the radio with the sirens going in the background adds a certain drama to the whole transmission). The crew was lounging around, reading, doing stuff on the computer, eating, whatever. I sat down, waiting for the first call.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After five hours, I got excited, a call! No, it was for the other crew. So I kept waiting.

And waited.

And waited.

And whinged that nothing was happening. One of the crew told me that they will definitely be called out in the afternoon, rush hour means work. But I was sick of waiting! But had no choice, so waited a bit longer.


Finally! A job! I am hyperaware and hyperawake, yet have no idea whats going on. I rush downstairs following the other two, and hop in the back of the van:

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The engine roars in to life, I’m strapped in the back of the box, and have no idea whats going on, where we’re heading, what will happen, what to do. I hear the crew talking on the radio. The attendant turns around, and informs me (shouting over the sirens) that there has been a motorcycle crash.

I still remember vividly that fear of panic and fear rising up through my body, up through my neck, in to my head. What the hell have I let myself in to? What in my right mind was I thinking when I signed up? What will I encounter at the crash sight? What do I do? Where do I look?

There was no way around it – I was scared. Really scared. If it was possible, I would have run away back to my car and driven myself home.

The response took ages. Windy roads, lots of accelerating hard, wild corners, sirens blaring, cars not giving way. I was completely lost. Finally, we arrive; all I can see is a small crowd of bystanders whilst I peered through the cubbyhole from the back of the ambulance. My colleague opens the door, I step out. Bright light shines upon me, in a kind of sun-dazed fashion I nervously hop out of the vehicle, and look around: a few people, a motorbike on its side with a few scratches. No mangled metal. No blood. No bones. No screams. The crew are tied up trying to find out what is happening. A bystander grabs me and points me towards something, asking me questions I have no idea what to answer to. I am an untrained observer, but am wearing the same clothes as that of the crew. They realise, and come to my rescue, one deals with the bystander, the other one tells me that the motorcyclist couldn’t bother waiting for us, so he hopped in another bystanders car who drove him to hospital.

Apparently he waved at us as he passed us going the other way.

to be continued…