Saturday, August 19, 2006

How I got an orange safety vest

 My routine drive home from work was a little less routine today.

I finished my work a little after 3 pm, 48 miles from (and 2.6 miles above) home. Started down the hill, and wound up right behind another vehicle that was heading to the same office as me in town. At the intersection with Saddle Road, they were a little way ahead of me, and managed to pull out in front of a couple pickup trucks, which I then wound up behind. It was drizzly and foggy, and Saddle Road is narrow, winding and sometimes steep, so nobody was eager to exceed the speed limit by much. Within a few miles, we had caught up with another truck, and a couple other vehicles weren't far behind me.

After milepost 22 (counting down to 0 in Hilo), there's a curve to the right, a short uphill, curve to the left, downhill, curve to the right, uphill, curve to the left, downhill. I came up the first hill, curved to the left, and as I went downhill and around the curve to the right, noticed the vehicle behind me - a small pickup truck, "lifted," with big off-road tires - go rapidly across the road toward the inside of that left-hand curve.

When I first started driving "Official Use Only" government vehicles as a volunteer, I was told to never pass an accident without stopping to at least ask whether everyone was all right, and that's stuck with me, especially given the isolated and tricky nature of Saddle Road. It took me a minute or two to find a turnaround, make use of it, get back up there and find a safe off-road place to park, since the scenery along the upper reaches of the road is mostly lava fields. By the time I got there, three other vehicles had stopped. The pickup truck was completely off the road - and completely upside-down. I called 9-1-1 and gave the operator some information on the location, what had happened, etc. I told her we were midway between Hilo and the Army's Pohakuloa Training Area, both of which have fire trucks and ambulances, and that I wasn't sure who would have the best response time. She asked me to check on the people in the truck, so I jogged up. Both the driver and the passenger had some minor cuts on their arms or hands, but they said they were okay. They must have had their seat belts on, since the truck was thoroughly smashed.

Another fellow had pulled on an orange safety vest, and headed down the road a bit to the west, to flag down people who were coming downhill from the saddle. I headed east to catch the uphill crowd, but I was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. Fortunately, one of the first folks to drive slowly through the area downhill after I decided this pulled up and handed me an orange safety vest! He wasn't an EMT or anything, as far as I know - just had one with him. A lot of people who work up that way have "safety" somewhere in their job title or description - heck, even I do - so it wasn'tthat much of a surprise, but it was a very nice gesture. Suitably attired, I flagged down all uphill traffic and warned drivers of the need to proceed slowly through the area.

Pohakuloa's ambulance arrived first, followed by its fire truck, followed by a Hilo ambulance, a fire department SUV and a fire truck from the Kaumana station in Hilo, and - finally! - two policemen. By the time the policemen set flares out, the fire trucks and ambulances had left, and after identifying myself as the primary caller and giving one of them my contact information in case it was needed for any reason, I was happy to be on my way again.

I followed a slow-moving tree-service truck (with wood-chipping trailer) down toward town, but shortly after milepost 11, I stopped again, when I came across the Kaumana firefighters keeping an eye on an old Honda that had spun out and gone backwards into the bushes. It was right-side-up, and no one seemed hurt, but I guess they were just waiting for the ambulance to come back up and check on everyone, or for someone to come pull the car back onto the road. I said to one of the firefighters that I'd just seen him at the other accident scene, and he laughed. I guess it's not every day they come across an accident on their way home from an accident.

And now, boys and girls, you know why we don't go 90mph on Saddle Road in the rain!

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