I Watched the Boardwalk Open Up and Swallow the Driver

By Tamar Wisemon, Documentation Manager, Carbyne

boardwalk open up and swallow the driver

A pillar of gray smoke rose from the gaping hole in the boardwalk. All that could be seen of the driver was his bloody, balding head. “Send help immediately!” I cried into my mobile phone, “I think the car is going to blow up!”

Just minutes earlier, I had been walking down the boardwalk of a nearby coastal city, enjoying a rare winter day off with a couple of my adult kids. The heavy rain of the past day had finally eased up, and the air was clean, tinged with the aroma of sea salt. No-one else was around, kept away by cloudy skies and occasional rain showers. Beside the boardwalk, a wide cement canal channeled a torrent of water sweeping out from a drainage tunnel into the sea.

A small maintenance vehicle, resembling a mini-jeep, came slowly trundling towards us. The driver looked to be nearing retirement age, his weathered face concentrating on his route. Suddenly, just like a horror movie, the solid paving slabs of the boardwalk collapsed beneath him, tipping the entire vehicle sideways into a sinkhole barely larger than the cart!

We ran to the edge of the hole, peering down to try to locate the driver who had disappeared from view. The sound of rushing water below made it clear that an escaping tide of water had caused the foundations of this section to collapse. Was the rest of the boardwalk as unstable? Was it going to collapse under us?

The vehicle trapped in the hole was making an ominous hissing noise from the engine, accompanied by billowing clouds of smoke or steam.

But the driver was thankfully alive, slumped dazed in the driver’s seat, drooped down into the hole, with blood pouring down his head. But alive.

In his injured state, the driver reverted to his native language when I tried to understand how badly he was hurt, which made communication even more difficult.

“Stand back!” my kids yelled at me as I leaned forward to try to extricate him from the car.

So while my son, an army combat photographer with a far stronger physique than I, lay down on the edge of the hole to try to help pull the driver up, I dialed the emergency services.

“Send help immediately!” I cried.

“What is your location?” came the response.

“I’m on the boardwalk”, I replied, “Near a public beach”

“Can you be more specific?” asked the call taker.

I was in shock and panicking. “I don’t know the address. This isn’t a street. It’s a boardwalk. Near the harbor shopping mall. There are tall buildings here. Can’t you see where I am from my phone?”

I’m never great with directions at the best of times. Our family jokes that if I recommend we turn right, it’s a safe bet we should turn left. But at this moment, I would have given anything to be able to provide an accurate location to the rescue services.

“Send an ambulance!” I begged, “The driver has a head injury. He’s bleeding! He’s stuck in the hole! There’s water down there! The car may collapse into it! And there’s smoke, the car may explode”

Again the call taker encouraged me to be more specific. He asked me to try to communicate with the injured driver, and I explained that we spoke different languages and I couldn’t communicate with him. To this day I don’t even know the man’s name.

I am a writer, description is my forte. But at this moment, shocked by seeing a car swallowed up by the ground, terrified that the car would erupt in a ball of fire before the driver escaped, or that it would collapse further into the raging water below, my vocabulary failed me. I could only keep repeating that I had no idea of the closest street, that the driver had a head injury, that the car may explode, that they needed to send help now!

My son, meanwhile, had managed to grab and hoist the man up and out to the edge of the hole, and together we half-dragged him to what we thought would be a safe distance from the ominous, smoking vehicle. He sat, head in hands, on a nearby patch of lawn, bloodied and confused, while we waited for help to arrive. I tried to ask his name, and a number I could call for him to alert his family, but he didn’t understand me.

My kids and I also warned away curious onlookers who had begun to arrive, attracted by the plume of smoke.

Fortunately, my daughter proved far more capable than I – she too had dialed for help, but she managed to provide a good enough description that a few minutes later a dozen police officers came running up. It turned out that the local police station was literally down the block so everyone came out to help.

They set to work sealing off the area while the fire department arrived to deal with the vehicle, and finally two ambulances arrived to take care of the injured maintenance man (I was so frantic in my pleas that they sent a special ambulance in addition to a regular ambulance because they weren’t sure how badly he was injured).

We were sent on our way, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the what-ifs – what if my son hadn’t been able to pull out the injured man, what if the hole had widened, or the vehicle had fallen further into the water, what if my daughter hadn’t been able to direct them to the scene…..

A few weeks after this event took place, I saw a job opening at Carbyne and leapt at the opportunity to help provide the emergency location and video technology that I had needed so desperately.

Since joining the company, I have seen just how valuable are the location services we provide – using multiple sources of data to pinpoint the caller location, including their height to identify the floor of an apartment building and their speed if they are in a moving vehicle. When I was panicking on the boardwalk, I wish my emergency service had been able to send me a Carbyne Link, so I could simply share my location without wasting precious minutes, from two callers, struggling to explain.

A Carbyne Link would also have enabled me to immediately send them live video from my mobile phone. I could have shown the call taker the position of the vehicle, the clouds of smoke and the state of the injured man. They could have shared that video with the police, fire and ambulance medics, and offered advice or reassurance as the responders sped to the scene.

And Carbyne’s latest addition of language translation would have been an enormous help to bridge the communication gap. If the call taker had been able to understand the injured driver’s pleas for help, he could have triaged the ambulances more effectively, avoiding the wasted resources of two ambulances for a single patient. And the agitated man would definitely have been calmer if he felt that someone understood him.

I consider it a privilege to work for a company that has helped locate and rescue migrants lost in the parched desert, teenagers trapped in a car speeding towards a dangerous future, students stranded during floods and boaters adrift in the sea.

We are so used to living in a connected 24/7 world, that we assume that our emergency services have that same technology at their fingertips. But sadly, in the majority of locations around the world, that is just not the case.

All of us at Carbyne, even those of us who have never felt as helpless as I did while trying to save a man’s life, recognize that our work can shave hours, minutes and seconds off emergency response time. And that can make the difference between life and death.

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