It was late one evening when the pagers go off. The chimes indicated an Ambulance Assist. The dispatcher sent out the address. Most fireman do not go to an ambulance assist. It usually is the EMS crew needs help retrieving a body. I had to go. I was an officer.
We grab the Engine and take off to the address. The house was old. When we went in we found it belonged to an elderly man who was an obvious pack rat. There was stuff pile up in every room of the house from floor to ceiling. There were paths through the junk so you could walk. We couldn't negotiate the paths with slipping and falling. We figured it would be hard to move the stretcher through all that stuff.
The man was in the living room. He couldn't afford to heat the whole house so he cordoned off the living room and had one hell of a space heater going in there. It was hot enough to make you sweat in the middle of a Pennsylvania winter, which is where we were.
The living room had stuff pile from floor to ceiling, a TV, a couch, reading materials and a handicrapper. The old man was in the sitting position on the couch with his pants around his ankles. We assumed he made his way to the porta-shitter and when he got back on the couch he simply passed away. We guesstimated that he died 6-8 days before he was found. The smell in the room was foul. We opened the doors and busted a window to ventilate. We also decided to extricate through the busted window.
The EMS crew wanted help putting the body in a body bag. We told them that was "Their Job", we were here to help haul the body out. They couldn't manipulate the body very well and asked for suggestions. Our fearless Captain told them " Lay the body straight out on the couch. Put the body bag on the floor beside the couch and roll the body into the bag". A few of us looked at each other like they were crazy. As you know a body bag will not lie open on a floor. Some how two of us was made to hold the bag open at each end. The Paramedic reaches over and rolls the body off the couch. Worst mistake of my life.
When the body hit the floor it busted open spilling all the inside stuff to the outside. It spilled out of the bag and the smell is indescribable. We got sick and puked right there in the living room. We were all scrambling try to navigate the little paths to get out of the house. The stinch would overtake us and someone would puke in the path. It seemed like it took forever to get out of that house. I have never experienced anything like that in my life.
We are all gathered around the fire truck with a decomposing body in a little house with no one wanting to go back in there. It took the Chief to threaten us with blackmail to get us back in that house. The guys were putting Vicks and everything else under their noses to help kill the smell. They are going back in the house and i ain't moved. They asked if i was coming. I said hell no. Chief can call my wife, I'm clean.
After about 5 minutes and them boys gagging their asses off, me and a buddy don our SCBA and walk into the living room like nothing happened. When the other guys saw us you could see them get mad for not thinking about the airpaks. The looks on their faces was worth it.
We extricated the body and went home. It took days to get that smell out of my head and to wash it off my body. I never want to go through that again.