News and Events

Close Call: Response to Snowmobiler with No Pulse

A few hours after bar time our volunteer squad was paged out for a snowmobile rider that had hit a tree. As I left my house for the station I grabbed my parka, ski pants, and a headlamp. It was snowing lightly and the temperature was a little below zero (fahrenheit). We responded to the station and once we had a crew we left for the scene. I don’t remember the time since the page when we left or our response time. While on the way to the scene we were told a deputy had started CPR. I was never sure how he was able to drive his squad down a half mile of snowmobile trail in the middle of winter, but he did.

When we arrived at the trail head a single snowmobiler was waiting for us. He was frantically waving and yelling for us to ride with him. The senior EMT grabbed a jump kit and disappeared into the darkness. I waited next to the ambulance watching the snowflakes pass through the flash of the still rotating red lights. The sudden transition from chaos to tranquility was jolting and relaxing.

A few minutes later the same snowmobiler raced out of the dark woods and yelled and waved for me to get on the snowmobile. CPR was still in progress. Our department rescue sled was just starting to unload. I obliged the driver and sat on the back of the snowmobile driven by the companion of our patient. Before I could even bring my feet on to the sideboards the driver gunned the engine. The sudden accelaration nearly threw me off of the back of the snowmobile. I clutched at his jacket.

I yelled in his ear, “SLOW DOWN.”

When the driver turned around I almost fell of a second time as the stench of alcohol on the driver’s breath rushed into my face.

As he yelled, “it’s my buddy.” I could see the speedometer pushing past 50, 60, and then 70 miles per hour.

I was overwhelmed by the dreadful realization that I had just accepted a ride from a highly intoxicated snowmobile rider and we were hurtling through the dark northwoods at 70+ miles per hour.

At that speed we covered the distance in seconds. Suddenly I was stabilizing the patient’s head while compressing the bag valve mask every 5 seconds. My partner continued compressions. As we moved to the patient to the rescue sled I was sure I had some of the patient’s brain matter on my pant legs. This was still in the time of working and transporting every cardiac arrest. Despite the overwhelming evidence that this patient was really dead from a high speed collision with a white pine at a high rate of speed secondary to alcohol intoxication the patient was aggressively treated and then transported 20 miles to the nearest hospital.

CPR continued enroute. Seconds after arriving at the ER – probably about the same amount of time I spent on the back of the snowmobile – the doctor called a halt to resuscitation efforts.

One of my first and most memorable close calls. Your safety is always number one. Don’t ever forget that. Nobody cares about you as much as you care about you.

Author note: this is my submission to the November edition of the Handover Blog carnival hosted by the Happy Medic. This month’s theme was close calls. He will be compiling all submissions for a November 27 blog post. Thanks to the Happy Medic for hosting and I am looking forward to reading about others close calls.

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.