Celebrating first responders and their quest to save lives

Sunday August 19 2018

Kenya Red Cross personnel led by Secretary General Abbas Gullet help an injured security officer at Westgate mall in Nairobi September 21, 2013. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Call it the day when rescuers became the rescued, or the day when Kenya Red Cross personnel and wananchi switched roles.

Wednesday June 6 will be remembered as the day with double breaking news, when an ambulance crashed while rushing to an accident scene.

The ambulance carrying seven Red Cross staff was accelerating towards an area believed to be the crash site of a FlySax passenger plane. In technical terms, the ambulance was cruising on code 2+, which means running with an emergency light but no siren.

Time was of the essence. It was more than 18 hours since the plane had gone missing and they hoped they could save someone. They were optimistic they could manoeuvre through the foggy, unforgiving conditions and lend a helping hand to the plane’s occupants wherever they would find them.

But at around 8am when they were about 10 kilometres from Ol Kalou, at a place called Kariamu, they all of a sudden found themselves in distress when their vehicle collided with a lorry.



The driver, said the survivors, had the option of swerving off the road but that would mean rolling numerous times. It was too late to change much and, bang! The collision happened.

When a vehicle crashes, such a small thing as getting out of the wreckage can mean the difference between life and death.

One of those in the ambulance was Erick Mwachia, a Red Cross ambulance paramedic based in Nyahururu, who was seated in the cabin with the driver and a Red Cross volunteer.

Mr Mwachia told the Nation that he is the only one who did not lose consciousness on impact.

But there was little time to count his blessings because he noticed that the vehicle started smouldering as soon as the impact happened.


He was relieved to hear the voice of Kenneth Nelson, the Nyandarua County Coordinator who was seated at the back cabin with other staff. He shouted to warn of an impending fire because the vehicle was smouldering from its mangled bonnet.

Mr Mwachia’s immediate mission was to get out of the vehicle. He attempted to open the door but could not, and he thus decided to smash the window.

“Goodness! People were running towards the vehicle, and I asked a Samaritan to disconnect the battery and help me through the window. He took a stone and helped break the window,” said Mr Mwachia.

“As I was helping myself through the window, that is the time I realised that my right leg was weak and I could not move it. I told the Samaritan how to lift my legs and I was out of the vehicle. By that time, a big crowd was there and Nelson had opened the back door and he was helping others out,” he added.

In the ambulance were Mr Nelson (Nyandarua Red Cross coordinator), Mr Mwachia (a paramedic), Mr Josiah Kinyua (ambulance driver), and Red Cross volunteers Ms Eunice Muya, Mr Steve Odera, Ms Linda Rotich and Mr David Mbatia. All are aged between 23 and 30.


The seven, who are all recuperating, will spend today’s World Humanitarian Day reflecting on the events of two months ago.

“I felt it happened so that I may up my game in caring for trauma patients,” said Mr Mwachia.

Mr Nelson chuckled: “I never knew that I could be in this predicament because we are used to assisting people involved in accidents. It was our turn that day.”

Mr Nelson’s account of the events shows how the personnel helped each other despite all having been hurt.

Mr Nelson recalls slipping in and out of consciousness after impact. In fact, when he opened the door of the back cabin to step out, he lost consciousness and fell on the road, face-first. But he was soon on his feet and he decided to help the volunteers out of the vehicle.

“Good Samaritans were there trying to assist. Then I saw the lorry that we hit. I went to the front and saw the driver was still stuck,” he narrated.


“I saw Good Samaritans trying to open the door the wrong way and I gave them an alternative,” he added.

Mr Nelson also called an ambulance crew that had gone ahead of them. Meanwhile, he decided to offer first aid to the injured volunteers. At that time, he said, his right wrist had dislocated and he had cuts on his face but somehow the pain did not register.

The other ambulance soon arrived and later took the victims to hospital.

The first stop for the injured personnel was the JM Kariuki Memorial Hospital before they were later taken to Mediheal Hospital in Nakuru, where some were operated on.

Mr Mwachia still has metal plates that were affixed to help his bones realign. Doctors told Mr Nelson during his last review on August 13 that he had four weeks for his left arm to fully function.


One of the volunteers, we were told, was taken to ICU for three days. He sustained a head injury, and had fractures on the collar bone and scapula.

The plane they were out to locate was not found until the day after, and it was discovered that all the 10 people in it had died on impact in the Aberdares. The Red Cross personnel were ready for such a long search, as they had been told to carry clothes to last them four days.

World Humanitarian Day is for celebrating aid workers who risk their lives to support people affected by crises, according to the United Nations.

It is also an observance for reflecting on the plight of humanitarian workers, and according to a newly-released report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, South Sudan topped the list of most violent countries for humanitarian workers in 2017, meaning it was the third year in a row that it was tops in the list of shame.