Featured Member, John Burgess, Certified Road Guardian

Featured Member, John Burgess, Certified Road Guardian

My riding history starts over 50 years ago.  I started out riding old beaters through the farm fields and then purchased my first “road” motorcycle (a WW II surplus Indian, in 1959).  That bike didn’t have a headlight or much of any kind of brakes, modern electronics, etc. but it was mine and I rode it everywhere.  I paid the man I bought it from $35 which was a princely sum in those days – I paid him back at  $5.00 per week and he let me take it with me from day one.  I had to figure out where to hide it from my parents and my girlfriend’s parents etc. but that’s a story for another time.

In those days we didn’t wear helmets unless it was one of the leather flight helmets the WW II pilots wore.  Nobody knew the difference, and nobody cared.  Motorcycle clubs of the day wore matching uniforms when they were on group rides, and they were quite a sight to see.  As you know, times changed and so did the average citizen’s perspective of motorcycle riders.  The biggest damage that was done to us is when Life Magazine, the “Bible of middle America”, published a staged photo of some sloppy-looking fellow sitting on a bike with broken beer bottles all around him to simulate the alleged “riot” that the motorcycle riders had perpetrated in the city of Hollister, CA.  After Hollister, the image of motorcycle riders changed in two camps:  Those who rode with respect for the public  and the sheer joy of being in the wind and leaning into the corners vs. those who relished in their “bad boy” image and rode for the comradeship they couldn’t find with anyone else.  These are the groups that slowly began to lean toward a criminal lifestyle.

Over the years I saw a lot of motorcycle accidents take place and often arrived on the scene of an accident before the ambulance.  By the way, the ambulances were mostly hearses owned by local funeral directors who got double use from the vehicles.  I had the benefit of a couple of Red Cross first aid classes by virtue of my summertime job as a lifeguard and I had received a little more extensive first aid training during my time in the Marine Corps.  I couldn’t call myself a first responder by any stretch of the imagination, but I was usually the only person at the scene who know how to wrap a bandage and apply pressure to stop the bleeding, etc.  I took basic first aid courses a couple more times over the next 25 – 30 years and realized along the way that it was very important to stay calm and try to render aid in an orderly fashion.

In the early 1970’s I fell into another course that was a step higher on the ladder quite by accident.  I began to hang around a firehouse where some of the firefighters had received a little more advanced training.  I can’t recall the dates, but sometime in the 1970’s I was reintroduced to artificial respiration through these firefighters and realized that the techniques had changed and become substantially better.  I continued to take the occasional class on CPR and first aid just as a precautionary measure for my own education.  I had occasion to use the first aid and CPR techniques several times over the years at auto and motorcycle accident scenes, once with a gentleman who had a heart attack at a family reunion and once with an infant who had stopped breathing.  His mother just basically threw the baby at me and one of my friends drove us all to the hospital where the ER personnel picked up for me on the CPR.  The baby did live with no damage done to his heart or lungs and I consider that to be one of the most satisfying days of my life.

In the mid 1990’s I joined the Charlotte, NC Chapter of HOG (Harley Owners Group) and a couple years later became one of the road captains.  The following year I found myself appointed to the Head Road Captain’s job.   I took that job very seriously and attended Harley Officer Training sessions as well as a myriad of first aid and safe driving courses.  Over the next year we developed a job description that required road captains to be certified in first aid, and to take advanced riding courses every other year as part of the requirements to remain a road captain.  I also discovered that some years earlier the club had sponsored a course called Accident Scene Management.  In fact, as I dug into it, I found that we had a certified ASM instructor in our club, Colleen Vetere.  We added ASM to our road captain’s agenda and made it available for anyone else in the club who wanted to take the course.  It was very popular, and several road captains and I have taken the course every year since it was introduced to us.  I like the ASM course because it encourages people to stay calm, direct traffic, call 911 and do all the other things that need to be done at the scene of a minor or major accident to protect life and stabilize those who need priority help until the professional first responders arrive.  We always offer our services to those paramedics – sometimes they jump right in with us and sometimes they prefer to take charge themselves because they don’t know what kind of background we have.  Regardless, we can still assist with traffic, gather witness statements, take photos (confidentially) of the scene, etc.

Three summers ago I had occasion to use my ASM training to save the life of a friend.  That friend and his wife, who was also injured, are much more than friends now.  Here’s the synopsis:  Our club was on a previously scheduled ride, the day was beautiful and we had a very large turn-out.  As is our habit when we have a large group to manage, the other road captains and I split the large group into two separate groups with about a quarter mile gap in between so cars that wanted to pass us could get around without a whole lot of trouble.  We were on a narrow 2 lane country road and traffic was very heavy.  I was riding in the “sweep” or last position in the first group.

As we were riding, I noticed a pick-up truck pulling a very large camper coming toward me in the opposite lane.  The trailer was too heavy for the truck and it was swaying back and forth a little.  When the truck went by me the trailer was swaying and I had to move way over to the edge of my lane to avoid being hit.  As we continued up the highway, I noticed in my rear view mirrors that one of our members from the second group was coming up behind me at a high rate of speed with his lights flashing.  I slowed down and he told me that the second group was in an accident and several people were down.  I immediately did a U-Turn and instructed the other rider to catch up to the leader of the group I was in and ask him to come back too.  We sent the other riders on to the next scheduled rest stop to wait for additional information.

As I returned to the scene of the accident the first thing I noticed was that a member who had been riding on the back of her husband’s Ultra was laying in the very middle of the road with a compound fracture  of her left femur bone.  Looking beyond her, I could see another rider laying at the side of the road, who turned out to be her husband and then I noticed the same pick-up truck and trailer mentioned earlier.  The truck was at a 45 degree angle across the highway and his front end was buried in the back end of another car and that another car was imbedded in the rear of an older, large Pontiac.  I also noted that the Pontiac had a completely smashed windshield.

I parked my bike, grabbed my first aid bag and ran to the woman on the ground with the compound fracture.  She was conscious and there was very little bleeding around the wound.  She was asking for her husband.  I asked some of our club members who were just standing around to go up the line of cars and ask people for towels, blankets, etc because this  road is known as a common shortcut to Myrtle Beach, SC.  The scene was very grizzly and I noticed that a lot of our riders where kind of in shock or starting to panic.  I tried to give each one an assignment and I stayed as clam as I possibly could (a tactic I learned in ASM).  As the towels and blankets started to arrive a woman came to me and identified herself as a Registered Nurse.  I asked her to supervise getting the victim with the compound fracture up off the road surface, which was very hot, and get her stabilized on the blankets and towels.  I asked if she had called 911 and she indicated she had.

I next turned my attention to the first victim’s husband who was still laying deadly still on the side of the road where I had first seen him.  I bent down to check him for any breathing or bleeding issues.  He had no cuts, but he respiration was very shallow and weak.  While I was doing that a young man walked up to me and asked me if the man laying on the side of the road was dead.  I told him I didn’t know yet and asked him to call 911.  He said he wife had called and then he said “what are you going to do about them people down there?”.   I asked what people and he pointed to my left.  It was then that I realized we were on a culvert that had a small stream running through it under the highway.  As I looked down at the water I could see six (6) more of our riders in the water and on the side of the bank.  One woman was face down in the water with her husband’s motorcycle on top of her.

I asked another road captain to get down there and get anyone he could to help him move the motorcycle off that woman and check her to see if she was still breathing before moving her in any major way.  Several men lifted the motorcycle off the woman and it turns out she had her head turned and, though unconscious, she was still breathing.  The other victims who were down in the water were being helped up the side of the bank to safety in short order.  I refocused all my attention on the man laying on the road.  He was still taking shallow breathes and was unconscious, but he was alive.  I did my best to get him stabilized and began talking to him telling him he was going to be OK and that we were not going to leave him.  Then I asked another rider to continue to talk to him in a soft and comfortable way.  I ran back over to check on his wife and though she was in tremendous pain, she was holding her own.  About that time I heard sirens in the distance and I knew we were going to get some help.  The first responder on the scene was a state highway patrol officer.  He asked me what happened and I told him as briefly as I could.  I also told him that I had a conversation with the driver of the pick-up truck and he did not appear to be either drunk or under the influence of any medications when I spoke to him.  He was clear eyed and clear headed and very upset that he had caused all this carnage.

About that time the ambulance with its volunteer firefighter attendants arrived on the scene.  I was back with the man laying on the road.  One of the firefighters pulled out a very large pocket knife and leaned over the victim.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he was going to cut the helmet chin strap so he could take the full face helmet off.  I told him that we would not be taking the helmet off along the side of the road – that only after a doctor had an opportunity to check him at a hospital would the helmet be removed – and then only by the doctor.  Another lesson from my ASM training.  The firefighter and his partner started to argue with me about that but I made it very clear that the helmet was staying where it was and I had plenty of people with me to confirm that decision.  I said I would be happy to help them roll him on to a backboard and tape his helmet in place and that’s how the stalemate ended.

As it turned out, the man in the pick-up had lost control of his truck and trailer and hit the car in front of him.  That car, in turn, hit the Pontiac which was traveling in front of him knocking it into oncoming traffic and the couple I have referred to were then struck by the Pontiac.  The husband had been knocked all the way over the top of the car and his wife was down at approximately the spot of impact.  I’m happy to report that all victims recovered with time, hospitalization and rehab.  Our female victim now walks with a very pronounced limp and her husband was unable to return to his job.  They have purchased another motorcycle and are continuing to play an active role in the life of our club.

I continued on as Head Road Captain until this year when I was appointed State Commander of the Coalition of Independent Riders.  Those duties have taken over so much of my time that I relinquished the role to the man who had been my assistant for the last couple of years and he is doing an excellent job.  I still take the ASM course every year and last year I also added in CPR/AED class which I found extremely useful and informative.  That enabled me to become a certified, charter member of the Road Guardians.  I have already signed up to take ASM and CPE/AED again this winter.

I cannot recommend these classes with enough enthusiasm to all of those who ride motorcycles, especially those who find themselves in a lead position from time to time.  Planning and preparation for all kinds of different scenarios can save a life – and it might be yours.

Respectfully submitted,

John Burgess

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