It’s been a while since my last post, family things have taken over my life recently but all’s well again so I can get back into my writing.
Tension relief alert: No one was seriously injured in this job.
This is about an incident which happened recently. I’ll write it to show that the way we receive details about an emergency is not always straightforward: sometimes information is drip-fed to us piece by piece as we approach and can be quite misleading and even dangerous.
It was late one evening; I was working a nightshift with my longstanding, faithful colleague Tony. We were sitting at a local hospital outside the Emergency Department after dropping a patient off. We had just finished our obligatory coffee when Tony tapped the keys on the vehicle data pad telling our dispatcher that we were available for the next emergency.
A job came through immediately. It was a category 1 (the highest priority) and the computer dispatch system automatically sent the address to us so we could set off while the call taker was still getting details of what was in store for us. The address was about 4 miles away from us. I switched on the emergency lights (blue lights) and set off. Our dispatcher opened up the radio to say that the details were still coming through but it appeared that we were going to an RTC – a car had hit a pedestrian. These jobs are unfortunately quite common on our busy roads.
Less than a minute later she voiced us again to say that multiple calls were coming in about this job. This is a sign that it was going to be chaotic on scene – when an accident in public happens, normally bystanders help the casualties until we arrive and are organised enough such that only one person rings for the ambulance. The bigger the emergency, the more chaos on scene and usually this means we get more than one call for the same job.
As she was speaking to us more information was arriving on her screen from the call taker: the scene was becoming ‘volatile’. A volatile scene is one where emotions are running high and can be quite dangerous for the ambulance staff as people’s fear, stress and frustration can boil over into violence against us. She suggested that we pull over and wait until the police arrived (who were also attending on a high priority) if we wanted. It still seemed to be a pedestrian RTC at this point.
We still had no idea of the severity of the casualty’s injuries so Tony and I decided to go straight to scene, normally we can tell the mood as we approach and we can usually diffuse a volatile situation by dealing promptly with the patient.
Just as we decided this radio bleeped again and she told us that the accident was outside a mosque and that the car had been driven deliberately into a crowd of pedestrians – potentially a terrorist attack. Possibly also weapons involved, armed police units were being mobilised. The decision was made for us: we were not to go to scene, we were to wait at a nearby area (Rendezvous point – RVP). We were told a second ambulance was also attending and a manager to oversee things. I parked at the RVP and Tony and I waited. All sorts of scenarios were going through my mind, thinking about similar recent types of jobs. A ‘major incident standby’ was declared, not actually a major incident but everyone was preparing for one if it was declared.
The second ambulance arrived shortly after this and parked next to me. Matt, a senior paramedic and the EMT he was crewed with got out to compare information with us.
We still had no idea of the number of casualties and severity of any injuries. As we were talking lots of police cars and vans were passing us, blue lights and sirens disrupting the evening, heading in the direction of the incident. It was frustrating beyond belief wanting to get there and assess and treat the casualties. We were told that the HAR Team (Hazardous Area Rescue Team – a section of ambulance staff with extra equipment for managing hazardous situations) would be joining us.
The first HART ambulance arrived at the RVP with us and parked next to us. People were starting to wonder what was happening at the RVP – 3 ambulances parked up and a constant flow of police vehicles streaming past us.
Finally a police car pulled up next to us and told us we were to go to scene, it was declared safe. Matt set off in the lead with us close behind. Our manager was still en-route to the RVP, he would have to follow on.
Within minutes, Matt and I arrived on scene and parked our ambulances as directed by the police officer in charge. Although there was a large police presence the scene was still chaotic. Emotions were understandably running high although thankfully no aggression was directed towards us. Luckily there were no serious injuries. We were directed to an elderly gentleman who had been caught on the leg as he jumped out of the way of the car. Matt was assessing him as I searched for any other injured parties. This can be surprisingly difficult, in the chaos injured people sometimes are hard to find, they don’t always make themselves known to us. The only other casualty was a young male who had punched through the side window of the car to try and stop the driver; he had several superficial cuts to his arm. The driver had driven away after running into the crowd.
It turned out that the incident had been caused by a family feud. Two children had earlier in the day had a disagreement while playing which ended in a fight. The older cousin of one of the fighters had driven the car to attack the family of the other as they were leaving the mosque after prayers. Although it was a terrible, irresponsible act it was not classed as a religiously motivated hate crime. Thankfully it was down to the police not us to resolve that one; I’ve no idea if they caught the driver. Hopefully the family feud ended there.