When I first heard about him, I was told he’s some sort of a superhero. But Hezbon Odhiambo doesn’t claim to be one. He doesn’t wear a spandex suit or jump from one city building rooftop to the next. He feels pain just like the rest of us, has his own fears and sometimes, even battles his own demons. See, Hezbon is Kenya Red Cross’ first responder – which means he’s probably one of the first faces you see in case of any emergency in the city centre, Valley Road, Waiyaki Way or Mombasa Road. And while he might be too modest to acknowledge it, he is a superhero in his own right. But don’t call him Hezbon or Bonny as many of you know him, just call him Rescue 001. His is a journey that started at a Kenya Red Cross warehouse in 2006. I could try and tell his story myself but that wouldn’t do him any justice. In his own words, Rescue 001 lets you into his world.
“In 2012, while at Nairobi branch, we received an emergency call from Bus Station that involved a gunshot incident. The victim was a passer-by who had been shot at point-blank range while walking by an M-PESA shop during an active robbery. His lower jaw had been dislocated by the bullet. When my team (two volunteers) who I had sent to assess the situation reported back, I had to find my way to Bus Station as quickly as I could.
At the time, the vehicle Rescue 001 was still new; it didn’t have much, I maneuvered to Bus Station using only the horn and vehicle lights. When I got there, with the help of my volunteers, we carried the victim to the vehicle. It was around mid-day so there was too much traffic along Haile Selassie Avenue. With no siren on Rescue 001, I kept on hooting to make way.
No ambulance available
Meanwhile, I kept radio calling the Emergency Operation Centre and E-Plus, “I need an ambulance, I need an ambulance.” But all the ambulances had been dispatched, so there was none available. E-Plus didn’t have a big fleet at the time, like now, so I decided to take the victim to Kenyatta National Hospital. My volunteers were with me in the vehicle to assist because it was not an easy situation for one person to deal with. Remember, the casualty’s jaw had been dislocated by the bullet; the volunteers were trying to pad him to control bleeding.
Massive traffic jam, no siren
Here I was with a critical gunshot casualty, stuck in heavy traffic and with no siren in the vehicle. Fortunately, I had spotted an army vehicle just ahead near Easy Coach so I ran to it and told the guy inside that I needed his siren because I was rushing a critical casualty to Kenyatta. He didn’t believe me so he came back with me to the vehicle and saw the bloody scene inside Rescue 001. Immediately, he ran back to his vehicle and turned on the siren. As we were heading towards Kenyatta, I kept on sending a distress call to our ambulance operators. They could hear me but no one could help because they all had patients or were handing over patients to other medical facilities. Finally, the first person who managed to be done with his patient was a guy called Jamal Abdi, he radioed me and told me he was on his way.
The army guy was able to help me manoeuvre through traffic until Uhuru Highway where he diverted as I headed towards Kenyatta. Just as I was getting to Kenyatta, Jamal arrived with the ambulance. He looked at the casualty and said to me, “I don’t even know how you’ve managed this. This person could have died. From today, I think you need to have a siren.” And that’s how Rescue 001 got its first siren.
“From now on, you are our Rescue 001”
We became so vibrant as responders since E-Plus did not have enough ambulances at the time. We were called to assist in emergency cases in the city centre, Valley Road, Waiyaki Way and Mombasa Road. In December, one of our biggest emergencies happened. It involved a bus from Meru carrying about 30 people that overturned near Airtel. We were the first ones to arrive at the scene, we assisted the E-Plus team in managing the casualties and evacuating some to the hospital. That’s when Jamal said to me, “We don’t need to be calling you Bonny, Bonny. You are our rescue guy; you are the one who helps around so you are going to become our Rescue 001.”
That’s how the name Rescue 001 came about.”
In our next episode of Rescue 001: Confessions of a first responder, Bonny shares how in 2007, he was thrown in the middle of a post-election violence emergency response that plunged him into four months of depression. Catch it all here!
To support the work that Bonny and other Kenya Red Cross responders and volunteers do, you can donate to the Kenya Red Cross by clicking here: http://bit.ly/krcsdonate
By Jennifer Ochieng; Kenya Red Cross.