Road Rescue

This taxi driver was one of the rare few who stopped to lend a hand to an accident victim.

THE STAR, April 30

Last July 18, a man and a woman were found bruised and bloodied on the road in Jalan Damansara in Petaling Jaya. They were apparent victim of a road accident.

Within minutes, a crowd had gathered to gawk at the victims, in their 20s, who were lying several meters from their fallen motorcycle.

Traffic was reduced to a crawl on both sides of the road as motorists slowed down to satisfy their morbid curiosity; some even got down from their vehicles for a closed look.

In the crowd was a father with three children tugging at his pants. Obviously they weren't enjoying the spectacle like their dad was.

Two men claimed they saw how the accident happened, and pronounced that the victims deserved their fate, for flouting traffic rules.

"Is he dead?" "Who knocked them down?" "Whose fault was it?" The crowd was anxious to know. "Must been a hit-and-run," one guy volunteered. "Happens all the time," another responded.

And so it went on, and all this while, no one in the crowd went near the victims.

Before you cover an accident victim with a raincoat or newspaper, it would help to check the person's pulse.

Finally, one tall man walked over and covered the woman with his raincoat. A first-aider who happened to be present asked him to check her pulse, so he did but couldn't find any.

After much persuasion and hollering, the first-aider managed to get several of the onlookers to help the victims. Now that the people had started to get moving, they tried to flag down passing cars.

Not so easy. The motorists picked up speed and drove off when it became apparent to them that their service was being sought. One unabashedly said he didn't want blood on his seat.

Finally, a couple of cars and vans stopped to send the victims to the nearest hospital.

Did the victims survive? Yes, they did, but the story did not end there.

A couple of days later, the motorists who stopped to hell received calls from the Federal Territory Fire And Rescue Association, congratulating them on their good deed.

The association representatives met the good Samaritans and presented them certificates for their courage and kindness. And told them that the accident was staged to test public reaction.

From studies and scenes staged like the one above, it was founded that 90% of people who gather around accidents are of no use, and that it can take as long as an hour before someone actually calls for an ambulance.

"People want to help, but they are either ignorant or afraid of doing something wrong," says K. Balasupramaniam, the association's founder and chairman.

Most of people want to help at an accident scene, but are either ignorant of afraid of doing something wrong, so they'd rather keep their distance.

So Balasupramaniam initiated a Road Rescue Riders programme that teaches the public basic skills to help road victims, for he too almost became road statistics once.

"It was a rainy day and I was riding my bike behind a car," he recalls. "The car braked suddenly and I couldn't stop in time."

Balasupramaniam's bike crashed into the back of the car and he sailed through the rear windscreen - his head landed on the back seat while his feet stuck out of the smashed windscreen.

"A few cars stopped and some guys dragged me out and put me on the roadside. They covered me with a newspaper, placing rocks around it to hold it in place.

Balasupramaniam was conscious of what was happening but was too weak to speak up. people just stood around him and no one summoned an ambulance.

'Fortunately, a journalist friend of mine came to my rescue. he saw me lying there and sent me to the hospital."

Balasupramaniam reckons he would have bled to death if it hadn't been for his friend, that's how the Road Rescue Riders programme came into being so others wouldn't die unnecessarily.

On the Road
The people who gather at any accident scene can be divided into four groups, says Balasupramaniam.

"Firstly, those who are willing to help but are unable, due to lack of knowledge. Most of the time they crowd around the victim not realizing that he or she needs room to breathe.

"Secondly, the motivators - those who get the crowd organized, divide the work and get people to help out.

"Thirdly, the first-aiders who are medically trained and are brave enough to give their assistance.

"Finally, there are the merchandised who capitalize on the situation: coffin sellers, florists, people who buy four-digit numbers."

The first three groups are the one Balasupramaniam is targeting. The four-hour course, to be conducted by the association's members who are trained in first-aid, is open to anyone above 16.

Balasupramaniam stresses that the course teaches volunteers basic skills such as first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques to help road victims, pending the arrival of professional help.

"The Road Rescue Riders programme is not a paramedic service," he says, adding that the importance of calling for emergency services - ambulance, police, fire department - as  a first step would be drummed into course participants.

The course teaches people to use items found at the accident scene to aid the victim.

"You don't necessarily need a complete first-aid kit to help victims. You can use material available at the accident site." Balasupramaniam gave such examples as T-shirts that can be fashioned into slings, shoes as collar bands to support a broken collar bone, mineral water bottles as support for broken arms, and umbrellas to support broken leg.

"People must not only be taught how to drive carefully and take care of themselves, they must learn to stop and assist others in trouble as well.

"There will come a time when we all need the help of another. Can you imagine if no one stops to help?"

Balasupramaniam says there are procedures to observes when one helps out at he site of a road accident.

"Those who wish to help should park their vehicles in front of the accident site. By parking behind the site, road users might cause another accident," he says.

The next step is to reduce all possible hazards. This includes switching off  the car engine and stopping all onlookers from smoking. The course also teaches motorists how to disconnect car batteries, to prevent sparks that may lead to an explosion should there be fuel leakage.

The course also offers tips on avoiding road rage. "Use your hand and lips - when you overtake, wave and smile at the other driver. Most times, even if the other drive is irritated at being overtaken, he cools down upon seeing your friendly gestures," says Balasupramaniam.


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