Drew Diaz says that in an emergency you need to make a conscious choice: either walk towards it or walk away.
Last week I wrote a piece—What Are You Prepared to Do?— in which I talked about my first real boss, who had as much influence on me as any Scout Master, teacher or coach. He taught me to drive, run machines, and sell the sizzle, not the steak. He was retired from the US Coast Guard and he taught me, actually drilled into me, that in an emergency you either walk towards it or away from trouble.
He taught me this because I ran after a tag line that had slipped from another worker’s grasp during a tree trimming operation, tripped luckily and didn’t get crushed by a few hundred pounds of arbor falling 50 feet.
His explanation was that if you can’t reach out and grab the problem you will have to move to deal with it.
If you are walking towards the problem you will have time to analyze what is going on without having to worry about your footing. If you are walking away you have the footing advantage and the benefit of not running into someone or something while glancing back over your shoulder.
But you have to move: Lead, Follow or Get the F*** out of the way. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
This advice has served me well in a lifetime spent around construction sites and other sketchy situations.
I have rudimentary First Aid, conflict, fire fighting and structural problem skills, I’ve had to deal with dangerous wild animals that walk and crawl, killed some, scared some off and walked away from others. I’ve worked on these skills when the chance arose. I’m not a survivalist, but post 9/11 I kept a flat bar, mask, gloves, parachute cord, and duct tape in my bag for a few years.
When I post a picture of a road kill I’ve picked up and people ask me why, I’ll sometimes explain that it is to practice for when I have to pick up something dead. Similarly, I’ve put down various domestic and wild animals injured by cars, in addition to the game I’ve taken. I recently opted to crazy glue a wound on my hand closed rather than go get sutures—mostly to see if I could—and I posted those pics on FB, too.
I don’t know what it is I would have done at the Boston Marathon.
I do know what I did in a dorm fire, at various auto accidents, when I was involved in a scaffold collapse, and on the site of building collapse. I know what I did to a purse snatcher, and to an armed robber with his back to me.
Three summers ago, on the Monday after July 4th, a man dropped dead on the platform of the #1 train. I saw him go down like a puppet with his strings cut, just as I’ve seen deer and dogs fall when shot through the head. I started making my way towards him as a man stepped up and announced, “I am a fireman and I am certified in CPR,” and as a woman walked over and stated, “I am a registered nurse and I will assist.” Another woman said aloud, “I am going up stairs to the token booth and then to the street to call the cops.” I watched this drama unfolding for a few moments—one of the two shook her head at the other and noticed that the victim’s legs were hanging over the edge of the platform.
I walked over and announced “I am nothing, but his legs are hanging over the platform and it is going to suck if a train pulls in.” The fireman at his head looks at me, nods his head, the nurse leans back from his chest and I grab the poor guy by the shoulders of his blazer, pull him to the center of the platform as the heroes knee walk after us, stand up, and step back. A few minutes later the cops come barreling down the stairs with a stretcher board and I walked away to the next exit. There was nothing more that I could add to the situation than morbid curiosity.
The time to decide what you’re able to do—what you can do, what you’re willing to do—is before the question needs answering. That being said, none of us really know what we can do until we have to do it. As an old Irish man once said, “It’s a hard world, and on occasion, we are called upon to prove that.”
Read Breaking Stories of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Image credit: Helga’s Lobster Stew/Flickr