Saturday, March 3, 2012

The stories grow bigger with each telling: Urban Legends

How do urban legends begin? Actually, simple enough. An incident happens. Through words of mouth, the retelling of the event is embellished until what started out as no big deal becomes a major happening.

For example, this past week a fire was reported in Berkeley, California. No biggie. Berkeley Fire responded to the location. Now, normally once the fire department is dispatched and arrives, unless there is a fatality, that's the end of it. For this one particular fire,somehow word came out that an airplane was involved, and reports found their way to the media of a plane's tail sticking out of a house's roof. Despite the panic, there was no plane crash at all. There WAS a plane's end half jutting out of a house - and the house WAS on fire. Turns out the end half of the airplane (the tail) was a decoration attached to the house's roof. A call to the local media went national.

Some Urban Legends have been around for what seems like forever. Take the story of the abandoned house in the average American neighborhood. "Every" kid knows a house to avoid, one that 'something' bad happened long before their parents were born. The home can be identified by an unkempt yard full of crabgrass & weeds. The windows are broken or boarded up. Kids dare one another to sneak on to the property on Halloween night, teasing those who refuse. Is the house haunted, or is it just an abandoned property?

Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, has been terrorizing folks in the forests of the USA for decades. Film footage, photographs, and and plastic casts of foot prints turn up often enough to keep up hope that one day a live creature will be caught. Area 51 aficionados continue to watch the night skies, certain one day an alien ship will be spotted landing in the Nevada desert. More likely, a test craft will go down before ET crash lands in the same place.

Public Safety has an urban legend of its own. The tale usually is told to rookies after a long shift. The way the story goes, a crew is dispatched to an accident on a freeway or road (this can be changed to fit the storyteller's need). Arriving on scene, the law enforcement is directing traffic around a (fill in the number of vehicles involved) wreck. Fire is cutting in to a crushed vehicle, one body already covered up on the pavement. Walking to the firefighters, the crew discovers two patients in the twisted wrecked of the car the fire personnel are working on. One is obviously dead, the head separated from it's body; the other barely alive, waiting to be cut out and transported. Cars drive in the one lane open, waved along by the law enforcement personnel.

Curiosity is a strong component in people. and nothing brings it out like a tragedy. It's always a long shift. The accident comes near the end of a shift, on the last day of the crew's week - or an overtime shift. One bad day...fed up with the 'lookeeloos" slowing down at the scene, the medic (or EMT) goes nuts. He grabs the decapitated head and flings it at a car which slows down to stare at the horrific scene. The severed head bounces off the vehicle's hood, the terrified driver takes off, the EMT (or medic) is taken away for a 72 hour paid break at a local hospital....

Has this ever happened? I doubt it, yet 'everyone' in EMS seems to know this story. Below are links to various "Urban Legends" sites and the Darwin Awards. The last two links are for the City of Berkeley and a Berkeley travel site.

Stay safe out there, and don't be a lookee-loo.

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