Forget what's playing in the movie theaters. First responders are real heroes who have witnessed some of the most terrifying scenes beyond imagination. It is up to them to react swiftly and take action. Sometimes, those heroes never recover emotionally and mentally from the horror. Read all about these nightmares and learn why they have stayed with these people for decades after occurring. This content has been edited for clarity.
Truly The Biggest Pain In The Butt
“My very first trauma happened when I was a fresh nurse straight out of college.
I heard the call come in over our radio at the nurse’s station. It was a level 1 trauma, bullet wound. I was all excited and I gowned up and went to wait in the trauma bay. The guy came in stomach-down on the gurney, screaming, along with his extremely pregnant wife in handcuffs behind him. He’s screaming, ‘I know you didn’t mean to but AAGGH!’ and she’s screaming, ‘Please let me stay with him!’
He’d apparently been teaching her how to load a weapon. With armor-piercing ammo. In their kitchen. While she was pregnant. And she somehow shot him in the butt.
It was a great learning experience, but he went through a lot more trouble over the next several months. He came back several times for small bowel obstructions since he’d had to have extensive surgery on his gut from the armor-busting ammo and the way it spreads, so he was not only my first trauma, but the first person I inserted a naso-gastric tube on as well. He also missed the birth of his first child since he was still in intensive care at the time. I’ve seen a lot of horrific traumas since then, but that one will forever stick with me.”
Tiniest Silver Lining
“This poor guy died in his home. No family, no job, and he had even been sickly for a while. Sadly, no one found him until three months later, in the summer. Not too bad, but there were two horrifying details.
Firstly he had used needles EVERYWHERE. Stabbed in the ceiling, all in the walls, in the bedding, everywhere. Secondly, ALL toilets were clogged and had been throughout the house for what looked like the better part of six months. The food in the stocked refrigerator had been rotting since he passed, and there was about two feet tall towers of trash, food, and soiled messes throughout the home. Except the bedroom, which had towers that were about three feet. They went up to my hips. But the worst part was that he had a dog. The dog had been locked inside for four months before someone figured out the owner was dead.
Luckily, since there was so much trash everywhere, the dog was able to survive by eating what was left in the numerous discarded soup cans.
Small silver lining.”
He’ll Never Forget The Child’s Devastating Words
“I responded to a single vehicle involved with a moose. The caller was the driver, and she had her young (6-year-old) son in the back. They were both okay, but they were deathly afraid and trapped in the car. The moose was lodged into the windshield.
We quickly arrived, and when we did, the moose woke up and kicked the mother to death trying to get itself dislodged. The boy had to watch the whole thing. We were removing him from the back seat, and he said, ‘My mommy’s dead isn’t she?’
It was heartbreaking. We had no method of killing the moose. Also, it started kicking her the second our truck showed up, so even if we did have the means to do so, it would likely have been too late. It’s been so difficult.
I felt responsible for a long time and I know I wasn’t the only one. All the guys that responded to the call went through this process together though, and that helped.”
Not The Children!
“My ex-husband was a first responder. He was working outside and heard a car crash along the road he happened to be on. He ran to the scene to find a large 4×4 vehicle that was trying to exit a junction onto a busier road. The junction was on a corner, so the car had to pull into the road to be able to see if it was safe to pull out. Unfortunately, the vehicle that was coming along was an industrial rubbish removal vehicle that had the spikes sticking out the front to pick up the large rubbish bins. The spikes had gone straight through the front of the 4×4, through the side windows and through the mom sitting in the front seat, killing her instantly.
My ex was the first person on the scene, but he could do nothing for the casualty. He had to take care of the two children sitting in the back seat, who were thankfully physically unharmed, but they had just witnessed their mum be impaled on the spike. He assessed them before removing them from the vehicle, while another witness called the emergency service. He sat with them while they waited. My ex was always a stickler for speed limits after that.”
He Carried The Heaviest Burden
“My friend has two stories that stuck out. Literally.
They got a call for an elderly man. The usual ‘Died From Old Age’ case. Nothing particularly interesting, other than the massive bulge he had sticking out of his boxers. He had been found days after his death and the body had become rigid. Apparently it’s not too uncommon for a corpse to ‘pop a stiffy’ while going through rigor mortis.
The other involved a call from a caretaker of an old man. She had found him dead about a day postmortem. She let the local police know that he had passed, and the police requested a first response team immediately after receiving the call from the caretaker. The police and crew arrive to the home at the same time. The only knowledge they had was that the old man had died. They didn’t know where or how. So they ended up searching for a dead body for about 20 minutes with no luck. The body wasn’t decomposing because he had only passed within the last day or so, meaning that they couldn’t smell him out to find him. After another 10 or 15 minutes, the officer found the old man.
He had fallen behind the headboard of his bed. The dead man weighed around 400lbs. He was unable to get himself up, and he suffocated from his own weight crushing his lungs. The kicker? He was on the second floor. My brother’s friend had to haul out all of that dead weight down the stairs with a new apprentice to the job.”
That’s Where I Know Him From
“A couple of my coworkers had to respond to a dude that locked himself up inside a Motel 6. He broke the lock, so the police department had to break the door in. He had been in there for sixteen days before anyone questioned anything. The dude was found face down in the bathroom, and he was so far into decomposition that he looked charcoal black. My coworker also added that he looked like someone had mixed BBQ sauce with Karo syrup and smeared it everywhere.
So I clock in and find out that I have to drive him 40 miles to the morgue. It was the most god awful smell I’ve ever encountered, and this was with him double bagged by the hospital with industrial grade odor neutralizer in my ambulance. After I got the paperwork from the hospital, but before we took him to the morgue, I realized that I had graduated with this guy. We weren’t friends or anything in high school, but even with him being the same age as me, it really made me question my own mortality.”
Seatbelts Are A Must
“My dad is a first responder. It seemed like a normal night, and I was really happy for no reason until my dad received a call for a car accident. Normally, they aren’t bad around here, so we were joking around about it. Well he was gone for a long time. Normally, these cases only last between 30 minutes to two hours, but he had been gone for over five hours. When we got up the next morning, he was home, but he wasn’t leaving for work. I thought that was a little strange. My friend’s dad is also a first responder who was on that call, and he is the one who has finally told me about that crash after all these years.
There was a group of teens that were driving up and down a hill that was fun to go on. Well on the last time up, they thought it was a good idea to unbuckle, except for the driver. The road was gravel, so when they went up the hill at 60-80 mph, they spun out and flipped the car. When the driver looked back after they were done rolling, no one was in the car.
All three of the passengers were thrown out immediately. One passenger landed head first on the road, killing him instantly. One of the other ones got brain damage and still struggles with the symptoms. The third guy got lucky and had minor injuries along with the driver. My dad and my friend’s dad were on the scene first along with other first responders. They all saw the male laying on the ground in a pool of blood. It terrified everyone, even me, who wasn’t even there. No one on the department talked about what happened there until one day when a film crew came in to recreate the crash for the documentary. Half the responders that were there that dark day never showed up to that filming.”
Don’t Go Near The Goo
“It was mid-summer in Florida, when I arrived at a call in this middle class neighborhood. The two cops were standing outside, a middle-aged man and a young female. They both immediately started apologizing for having to call us. They advised us to don whatever protective gear we had in preparation. The house was a little dilapidated, with an unkempt yard. Nothing we hadn’t seen before, but law enforcement kept saying how sorry they were about what we were about to enter. There was the deceased male, last seen six weeks prior. He was a hoarder. A severe hoarder. He kept five gallon buckets of bodily fluids lined in the hallway, which we had to go through to get to the master bedroom.
Halfway down the hall, my eyes start watering despite the full-face respirator I was wearing. We then had to pass through the bathroom to get to the bedroom (where the deceased passed), but the bathroom had been clogged with waste material. It was no longer usable. This man died in his bed at least six weeks prior, if not earlier. Beside his bed, between it and the wall, stood a four-foot high pile of napkins, covered in fecal matter. He was in his bed in a fetal position, and he had obviously not left the bed in months. There was nothing left of him but goo and bones. He was just forgotten. The neighbors told us he had children, or at least said he did. He died alone, suffocated by his own waste.”
No Way Out
“A family of five burned to death in their SUV. They were traveling down the interstate when a vehicle going the opposite direction crossed the median. The vehicle t-boned them, smashing them into the car that was on their right side as they were passing. This caused their vehicle to go up in flames. No way out except the back hatch, as their left doors were crushed from the guy who crossed the median, and their right side crushed from the car they were trying to pass.
The driver, the dad, died on impact. The mom died from smoke inhalation. She would most have likely lived had she been able to get out. The oldest daughter and youngest daughter were found in the hatch area of the SUV, with the oldest daughter’s hand on the release. Both daughters died from smoke inhalation. The mom was found as if she had just aided in getting the youngest daughter into the hatch area of the SUV. The son, who was sitting up front, died from smoke inhalation but most likely would have died anyways due to blunt force trauma and the burns.
This may not be the most disgusting thing I have had to deal with, but it is for sure the most traumatizing thing that I hopefully never have to see again. I was really messed up for a while after that.
One of the worst parts was how this family was on their way to the local university to see their oldest son that they hadn’t seen in a few months. They were two miles from their exit. I volunteered to go with the Chaplin and give their son the notice.
This college kid lost his whole family in a split-second. He said that the last thing he said to his mom was, ‘Don’t come down here, none of my friend’s family visits them, and you will just embarrass me.’
He was devastated. After all these years, I still keep in constant contact with him, and he is practically another son to my own family.
Folks, your life or family’s life can be over in a blink of a second. No matter the fight, always let them know you love them. I have seen it too much. You just never know when that might be the last time you see them, or they see you. Don’t take them for granted.”
Damp And Squidgy Twist
There’s a story my dad has told me a few times, from when he was a policeman back in the early 80s. He was called out to the house of an elderly gentleman who hadn’t been seen by his neighbors for about a week, I think. My dad and a colleague knocked on the door a few times, but there was no response. They both went around to the back of the house, to see if they could enter that way. Everything back there was locked. They decided to break a window at the rear of the house and climb in.
As the colleague climbed through the window, he landed on something that he could feel collapsing. It was damp and squidgy. It turned out that the elderly guy had collapsed and died by the back window. My dad’s colleague had landed on the elderly guy’s decomposing chest.”
Worst Time To Make Eye Contact
“I would go out to where the body was and bag them, then I would transport them back to the morgue or funeral home. Sometimes this involved pulling them out of vehicle wrecks, or collecting chunks of brains off of walls. Occasionally I would do overnight road trips with a body to a bigger city for the autopsy. We used a discreet vehicle, just a Ford Expedition with the back seats removed. I thought it was funny how some nights, I would stop for gas and have someone strike up conversation with me at the gas pump, not realizing they were about six feet from a dead guy. I always hoped a cop would pull me over, just so I could say I’ve got a dead body in the back.
My 2nd ever call was a highway head-on collision double fatality. Two pickup trucks collided, and both of the drivers died. The younger guy’s truck had to be cut up by the firefighters in order to get to the body. I got the stretcher up to the drivers side of the truck while they were cutting the door off, and I proceeded to grab the guy and try to pull him out. I grabbed under his armpits and started, and as I was getting him out, his abdomen revealed to have a huge gaping wound. His intestines fell out onto my leg. The fire chief who was standing beside me immediately let go and walked away, I assume to puke. I looked inside this guy’s open chest/abdomen and noticed that his key fob was hanging off one of the rib bones. Half of his face was kinda missing, but his other eye was wide open and it looked like he was making eye contact with me. For a split-second I got the shivers.
He Has Seen Literally Everything
“First week on the job, I got called to assist in the morgue. I was told during orientation that sometimes they just needed a little help lifting, so I thought I knew what to expect. ‘You just need a little extra muscle, right?’ “
‘No, he was shot in the chest. We need you to hold him together while we move him, so he doesn’t split in two.’
I helped them out, walked to the nearest bathroom, and threw up for 10 minutes. I never had a problem dealing with a dead body after that.
I was in the ER when they brought in a man who had tangled with some high voltage lines. He smelled just like fried chicken.
I had to deal with the same guy every weekend for a whole summer. His beverage of choice was carburetor cleaner. He’d spray it into a cup and drink it on down. The methanol in it does get you wasted, but is about 100 times more toxic to the body than ethanol. The cure for methanol poisoning is massive doses of ethanol, so that the body metabolizes it instead. The guy eventually stopped showing up. I hope that means he quit.
I had a similar experience with a guy who liked to huff spray paint. He’d brag about how cheap it was (according to him, $1.49 will keep you high all weekend), complain that the police made him throw away his can when they picked him up, and then deny he ever huffed paint in his life while his goatee was covered in gold or silver (those colors had the best fumes). I heard he died in a fire when his homemade kerosene heater exploded.
A guy who fell face-first into a powered lift on the back of a truck just as it was closing up. When he tried to talk, the left and right sides of his bottom jaw moved independently.
A mental patient escaped from a facility where I worked (I was not on duty at the time) and killed a police officer less than a block away from where I parked my truck every day.
I got beat up by a 70-year-old man. I was told that he had just come out of back surgery, so under no circumstances was I to manhandle him. When I entered the room, he was beating a nurse with his walker. He ripped the phone off the wall and tangled my partner up with the cord, hit me with drawers from the bedside table, and pulled the side rail completely off his bed. They told me later he had served as a first scout in WWII, one tour in Korea, two tours in Vietnam, taught unarmed combat until he retired, and he ran 2 miles every morning until just a few months before when his back started bothering him. Put this information in an envelope marked, ‘Things the doctor should tell you before you are sent into a room to calm down a patient.’
Along those lines, even with all my training and natural ability, I can’t take down a demon-possessed olympic-level kick boxer half my age on my own, but I can at least tangle him up long enough for help to arrive. Not entirely kidding about the demon possession. He had the vomit on command, levitating off the bed thing down.”
The Most Heartbreaking Encounter
“I’m going to relate this story from my father, who was a first responder on several bad scenes during his career as a lieutenant and detective in a police force. This happened in the mid-1990’s.
The first scene involves a 4 year old boy riding a tricycle (low to the ground and plastic) in the road, as well as on the sidewalk in his neighborhood. The mother was on the porch doing housework, so not far away. A robbery had just taken place, and the police were in pursuit of a large Lincoln sedan that was now speeding through the neighborhood at 60mph. Police right behind him. The mother heard engines roaring, but couldn’t get to the street fast enough.
She heard the impact on the tricycle and then saw it. She said time slowed down. She saw the bike fly over 150ft in different pieces and said, ‘It was like watching the scene for several minute.’
She was just frozen watching her sons tricycle in slow motion. She knew he would be dead, but it didn’t fully register yet. After seeing the accident, my dad and his partner showed up. They were in an unmarked crown Victoria, the commander’s car. They were trailing the pursuit from a safer speed and distance. Apparently, the kid was on the road about 80 feet from the Lincoln, which had then swerved and slammed into a tree in the neighbor’s yard, killing the robber.
The child was in the middle of the road, legs kicking and arms flailing, reaching for his head, which was crushed. His eyes were fluttering and open, blinking and going out of focus. I guess severe nerve damage can do that to you. He was dead, but his body was still reacting. His brain matter and crushed skull were on the road in bits and also brain matter found underneath the tires. The screaming of the mother ‘shook the body to the core.’
All of this going on while the child was still moving/convulsing on the street. About a minute after, all the movement stopped. The cops that were there stood still. The mothers shrieking was all that could be heard.
My dad has this image burned in his brain. He is now estranged from my family and some do believe it was his job that took such a major toll on him. I would have to agree. He tried to share his feelings, but they left him feeling too vulnerable, so he chased everyone out of his life. I haven’t talked to him for 10 years, but I remember these and other stories very well.
My dad said that, ‘He didn’t know why the lives of that robber and the young boy were linked, but they apparently had some sort of karmic connection to each other.’
That’s the only way he could rationalize this. He had a blank stare and couldn’t look at anyone while telling this story. This experience really, really, messed him up. I was about 6 years old when this happened, so I guess he put himself in the parent’s shoes. I am his only son.”