A packed interstate in Lakewood, in the middle of rush hour traffic, became a day that will live with paramedic and firefighter Nick Zeman forever.
“As we were driving toward the scene, we started reading call notes. Five vehicles, ten vehicles, 20 vehicles, explosions, cars on fire,” Zeman remembered. “That’s when you get that knot in your stomach and you realize this is the call that you never want to go on but this what you always train for.”
A semi-truck, unable to stop, had just crashed into multiple vehicles. Many drivers and passengers were trapped in their cars.
Zeman and his partner were on triage. They said a prayer, and got to work.
“When you’re in that work mode, it helps," Zeman said. "And then the decompression afterward, that’s when the emotions come back and it hits you.”
Four people died, six others were seriously injured.
It’s been three months, and Zeman said those emotions are still there. Support from family, friends, and coworkers has been a tremendous help.
He knows, despite the awful memories, there’s still important work that needs to be done.
“This might be a call that you go on once or twice in your career, but you better know what you’re doing, because if it was my family in the back of that car, I would want the firefighter to know exactly what he or she is doing," Zeman said.
For the first time, West Metro Fire crews are beginning to use a new prop for training. The machine, that was being built before the I-70 crash, is meant to replicate a similar incident on a major interstate involving a semi.
It’s made up of a what looks like a semi-truck that another firefighter can ignite with the touch of a button. A minivan is crashed into it, with two dummies trapped inside.
“Our command staff recognized this was an area we wanted and needed to train on because we have I-70 and 285 which are pretty big thoroughfares," Zeman said.
Firefighters practice for these types of crashes about once a year, but nothing has been quite this specialized.
Zeman said it’s all about going over the balance of putting out a fuel fire with the correct balance of water to foam, while also rescuing victims; All while Zeman continues to remember the horrors of that day.
“Each time you’re dispatched, you’re thinking what if it’s just like last time? What if it’s just as big? What if as many people are involved?”
The West Metro Fire Department has offered Zeman and other firefighters help in dealing with trauma following the crash on I-70.
>WATCH BELOW: West Metro Firefighters show us how they reduce their risk of getting cancer on the job
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: I-70 fiery crash at Denver West