Rain, maybe even a thunderstorm, was on the way, but it looked like Matt Deicher would get the steaks grilled before the downpour hit. His wife, Melissa, was in the house, their two kids nearby.
Matt and Melissa were EMTs for Mosinee Area EMS in Mosinee, WI. They loved it. Predictably, the steaks would get abandoned by a page for an ambulance call. "Do you want to go?" Matt would ask. The service had a crew roster, but until 6 p.m. on this Thursday evening, anyone could take the call. Melissa stayed back to finish grilling, while Matt hopped in his truck and sped away.
The patient had been transported by the crew before. Like several times in the past, he was complaining of hip pain. They started off for the hospital. Matt was in back with the patient, along with another EMT, Mary Beth Lingl. Jason Tobeyek, who Matt had met in EMS school, was driving. The transport was progressing normally, as was the thunderstorm.
With a few miles yet to go to the hospital, the patient's condition appeared to change. No one is sure what actually happened, but both Matt and Mary Beth observed a loss of consciousness. They decided to activate the ambulance's lights and siren and upgrade to an emergency transport. "All I heard from the back was 'Let's run hot,'" says Jason. By this time it had started to rain, and he had the windshield wipers on.
All of a sudden it happened.
"I felt something in the rear, a jerk or a buck," says Jason. "Then we slid into the center median. I yelled back for them to hang on."
The ambulance rolled over, coming to rest on its wheels, lights still flashing and siren still wailing.
"It seemed like we rolled forever," says Jason. "The engine was still running, and the ambulance was still in gear."
Matt doesn't remember anything. In fact, it would be weeks before he would be able to communicate.
Melissa heard the frantic calls over the radio. Jason was reporting that the ambulance had rolled over. "We have two 10-7," he said, meaning two people in the crash were critically injured or worse. Then Melissa heard Mary Beth's voice. A process of elimination would lead her to her next conclusion: She knew there were only four people in the ambulance, and her husband was one of them.
Back on the scene, Jason got out of his seat belt and ran to the rear of the ambulance, where he found Matt up against the rear doors. He still had a pulse, but was barely breathing.
"Hang on!" Jason told his friend. "You have two kids to take care of!"
The hip patient lay motionless, still strapped to the cot. He would later be pronounced dead at the scene of massive head injuries.
Jason's wife, who had been only a mile or two behind the ambulance, came upon the scene. Members of the Mosinee ambulance service were also in the area and arrived in less than a minute. After pagers for neighboring departments began sounding, it was only a matter of minutes before the scene was full of responders. The thunderstorm was in full bloom.
By this time, a Combitube was in place, and Matt's ventilations were being assisted. He wasn't breathing on his own, but he had a pulse.
Back at home, Melissa told the children that their father had been in a bad accident. She called Matt's father and asked him to meet them at the hospital. The next message she heard, however, was that "All of our people are OK." Perhaps it wasn't as bad as she first thought. Maybe, with all of the chaos, all that was going on, Matt was all right after all.
Now thinking her husband was only slightly injured, if at all, she slowed her pace a bit. She was on her way to the hospital, but was no longer frantic.
A telephone call asking her where she was and if she was coming to the hospital shattered any sense of calm. She knew they couldn't tell her the details on the telephone, but she could sense the urgency.
"Honey, it's bad," an emergency department nurse said when she saw Melissa. Because Melissa worked part-time at the hospital as an ED tech, she knew, and had worked with, the nurse. The hospital's halls were already lined with EMTs and firefighters from the local services.