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The Middle Passage:  A Story of Survival

Dealing with Trauma

Sometimes Easier Said, Than Done

By Gregory Bearstop as it was told to him by Christopher Womack

 “Rescue Squad 17, we have four people trapped on the second floor of an apartment fire in the 2500 block of Southern Avenue (S.E. Washington, D.C.),” the emergency dispatcher announced.  Squad 17 responding, I replied.

In a burst of adrenaline, I suited up, grabbed my gear and with sirens blaring, I headed for the call.  I was driving Engine 17 that day, February 1, 1993.  Row houses streamed by in a blur as I maneuvered Engine 17 around parked cars, traffic and pedestrians; in our business, time means lives.  I pressed on.  Yet, without warning, as I headed across an intersection, a drunk driver slammed into the side of the fire truck with such force that my apparatus spun around, struck a tree and burst into flames.  Upon impact, I was knocked unconscious.  I lied slumped over the steering wheel while Engine 17 became engulfed in flames.  Due to the quick thinking of two bystanders, they managed to pull me from the wreckage and carry me to a safe distance; seconds later, the Engine exploded with a blast that literally shook the neighborhood. 

Christopher Womack tells his traumatic story of survival to Gregory Bearstop.

Paramedics transported me to D.C. General Hospital.  The accident had broken both of my legs and shattered my ankles.  I had cuts and bruises all over my body.  The doctors feared that I was bleeding internally.  Lying on a gurney in the emergency room, I gained consciousness for a brief moment.  I remember looking to my right, and to my amazement, I saw a man dressed in a long white robe standing there.  He stood in dazzling light; although the light was brighter than the sun, it did not hurt my eyes.  I recognized the man to be Jesus.  He came over to me, and placing two fingers on my forehead, He said, “Son, you are going to be all right.”  With that, he vanished from sight.  Shortly afterward, my doctor, in attempt to save my life, made an incision on my stomach.  I watched blood sore into the air.  Then, everything went dark. 

The doctors had me moved to Southern Maryland Hospital where I laid in a coma for three weeks.  When I regained consciousness, I did not recognize anyone, not even my mother.  It took another three weeks before my memory came into focus.  After numerous surgeries, the doctors were convinced that I would never walk again.  But, that changed when a co-worker came to the hospital and prayed over me.  As he prayed, I felt a surge of power run through me.  In that instant, my co-worker confidently proclaimed, “You will walk again.”  In time and after many hours of physical therapy, I realized a miracle.  I have been walking ever since. 

In the years following the accident, I struggled to overcome my fear of returning to the fire department.  I just couldn’t do it.  But, I knew that the day would come when I had to confront my fear.  That day was September 11, 2001.  When American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, my concern for the people affected by this tragedy outweighed my fear.  I mounted Engine 17 once again and joined in the rescue efforts.  However, the devastation and having to choose between who would live or die, brought back the trauma from my accident.  As a result, I have not returned to the fire department since.

Now, it has been eighteen years since my accident. The message that I want to give to everyone is:  Do not take one day of your life for granted; it could be your last.


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