July 2015

By Bronwen “Bea” Raff
DR Program Director

Emergency medical services are the name of the game, which inevitably means car wrecks and traumatic injuries happen. And in our small corner of the Dominican Republic, when something big happens, it’s the talk of the town. Our community medics have made us proud in their response to a string of recent events like these, and word has gotten out that we’re responsible, efficient, and professional. And that reputation hasn’t come from us sitting around — we’ve been busy here! Take a look at just one story from our first responders in the field and an emergency call on July 4th.

It was a Saturday and it was a busy night. Our first responders were providing first aid coverage at the first game of the season in a community-wide basketball tournament. The night kicked off and a cramp or two was attended to. Our first responders went home when crowd-favorite Pueblo Nuevo beat Los Barroncones in a shocking final quarter.

Not half an hour after the game ended and everyone dispersed, our first responders were called to the hospital; a Haitian victim who had been shot in the calf by a border patrolman. With the bullet in his calf, hospital staff determined the victim needed to be transported to the provincial hospital in Montecristi. Two of our first responders, a nurse and the driver were off with the patient and the border patrol on board as a witness.

monte cristi prrovince map
Monte Cristi province, Dominican Republic

View of the Rivière du Massacre (“Massacre River”), the Haitian-Dominican border, as seen from Manzanillo, D.R.

Fifteen minutes into the early morning transport, the driver lost control of the ambulance and over-corrected on the highway. As one of our paramedics, Victor, told me, “It all happened so fast. I didn’t even have time to think.” The ambulance drifted to the right and the driver swerved back to the left, but it was too late. The ambulance rolled onto its right side and slid 25 meters along the highway.

More injuries.

The nurse had badly cut her forearm. The border patrolman was badly injured and complaining about his neck, hip and back. The driver yelled that his chest hurt from hitting the steering wheel. The Haitian patient was still bleeding from his leg. And Victor felt pain in his abdomen, but knew what he had to do. He activated Beacon to call more first responders.

Border Skirmish in D.R.: July ’15
Foto: Thomas Freteur,

Meanwhile, back in Manzanillo, first responders Anny, Niko and Ronand and the local fire chief, Ramoncito, reunited and prepared another response vehicle with backboards, cervical collars and a first aid kit. Within half an hour, they were on scene. I asked Ronand if he felt scared. He said, “Yes, I felt very scared because we didn’t know who was hurt and who was not.” It’s the first time I’ve heard a Dominican man say he was scared…ever.

But by the time the second team arrived on scene, they found their partners already in full-fledged “go” mode. Victor had stabilized the border patrol official’s neck to prevent any possible exacerbation of the trauma, and despite their own injuries, the others were calm, taking care of the patients, and managing an always confusing and hectic scene. By this point, the Montecristi hospital had also been called and the Haitian patient with the bullet in his leg had was transported to the provincial hospital. Leaving the disabled ambulance behind, Ramoncito sent for a tow truck and the remaining responders set off in the second ambulance to transport the newly injured nurse and border patrol to the hospital in Montecristi.

Muertos por Accidente de Moto-Concho -República Dominicana
Two teenagers died in motorcycle accident in Manzanillo earlier in June 2015. PEM transferred two others with one death en route and one surviving. The D.R. is known as the worlds most dangerous country for drivers.

In debriefing the accident, an interesting fact stood out to me. When we dissect the facts and see that when transporting patients from the flipped ambulance, the Haitian patient was transported before the Dominican border patrolman. In deciding who needed to be taken first to the hospital, nationality and race were not taken into account, which may be surprising to people who have been reading about renewed tensions between the two nations lately. As we continue to forge ahead with EMS services on a border town in the Dominican Republic, we did not let politics or personal feelings about the current tensions affect our work. Our responders made the decision that the gunshot victim was in greater need of urgent care than the border patrolman. We did the right thing, whether consciously or not, but I am glad our team understands that their role is to extend and save lives, regardless of background, class, race, gender, or history.

A week after the accident, we’ve been busy training new groups of first responders in neighboring communities, citing this incident as only one example of a need for our services. And internally, we are working on our own team’s training. We are learning how to digest and analyze each emergency call we respond to, extracting information and creating a report immediately after. We’re also supporting each other better, understanding that motor vehicle collisions and emergencies can be traumatizing for even the most macho Dominican responder. With each emergency we respond to, we become a better and stronger team.

Transporte de Emergencia - República Dominicana
A man carrying a sick Haitian woman from across the border flags down the nearest ambulance in Manzanillo. Foto: Dr. Steve Nicholas
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