Friday, July 07, 2006

7/7 Remembered

On July 7th 2005, I was on a rest day.  I woke at around 8.30am, got up, showered, put the radio on, and settled down with a cup of coffee to check my e-mails.  I was listening to the radio station Heart 106.2.  At 9 o’clock, the breakfast show finished and the Time Tunnel began.  I hummed along to an old favourite of mine, and then they went to the newsroom for a news flash.  There were reports coming in of an incident on the underground.

I immediately switched off the radio, and turned the TV on to BBC News 24.  It’s a habit to go to the BBC – I’d worked freelance for them for 7 years as a broadcast assistant in local radio in Lincolnshire, with an occasional shift at Broadcasting House in London.  Work had dried up as they took on more staff positions, causing me to leave and become a bus driver before finally plucking up the courage to leave home and join the world’s busiest ambulance service.  Despite the criticism the BBC receives, and rightly so in some cases, I know the lengths that are gone to try and verify a story before it is broadcast.  But that’s a whole other post.

The newscaster said that London Underground was reporting a huge power surge which had caused a disruption in the power supply for trains.  However, it soon became clear that it was more than just a power surge.  Three stations were reporting problems, and people were appearing with blackened faces and burns.

I immediately picked up the phone and dialled the local resource centre.
“It’s Steve Gibbs here – I’ve seen what’s happening on the news, tell me where I can go to help.”
“What are you working today Steve?”
“I’m on rest day today, but I’m back in on days tomorrow.”
“We’ll keep you in mind Steve, but we can’t guarantee what time you’ll get back home, so we’re currently trying not to use people who are rostered to work tomorrow so that we have fresh staff ready, but please remain ready to come in if we find we need it.”

And home is where I stayed.  None of the chores got done – I spent the entire day in front of the TV watching my colleagues work their butts off.  Then the news that a bomb had gone off on a bus.  I expected the phone to ring at any moment asking me to go in to work. The call didn’t come.  I was grateful really.  I wasn’t sure I was prepared for what I might see if I was sent to one of the scenes.  

Then I felt guilty for thinking that.  My colleagues had been thrown into those scenes.  They’d had no warning.  They hadn’t seen what was being broadcast on the TV.

I recall a posting on the Big White Taxi Service forum from the FRU paramedic who came across the Aldgate bombing as a running call – he was driving past when he saw people, again with blackened faces and burns emerging from the station.

He described being the first paramedic on the train.  The carriage was a mess.  There were people laying everywhere – some with limbs missing, many bleeding.  He recalled having to stack bodies on top of one another just to be able to make progress through the carriage.  He could see a man alive further down, but he couldn’t get to him.  He made his way back down the carriage, got out, stumbled along the outside of the train and climbed in through another door.  When he reached the man who’d been trying to get up, he was dead.

Despite the criticism that the service has received in the last year since that awful day, our staff on the ground did an incredibly good job in the most difficult circumstances you could ever imagine.  It was the first time the LAS had to respond to four major incidents simultaneously, but they went about their duties calmly and effectively.

Yes there were mistakes made.  Some hard lessons have been learned, but the efforts of all our staff that day has made me proud to be able to say that I work for the London Ambulance Service.


Anonymous Michael T said...

No one has criticised the staff on the ground. Any criticism of 'the service' is levelled at the people who run it. People who go on TV and tell lies. They (and we) know who they are.

Dealing with major incidents, I know from experience, is always going to be a little shambolic. People panic, equipment is not available or doesn't work, roles within carefully constructed plans are ignored in the heat of the moment. Too many resources are despatched and every manager on the service just has to get involved. The old phrase, 'organised chaos', still applies, believe me. But we get there in the end and hopefully the lessons learned are applied next time, and although we'll never get it completely right, because we are but frail and fallible humans, we can at least strive to get it a little better each time.

And if we could just keep those managers away.

11:35 am  
Blogger Spike said...

Despite the criticism that the service has received in the last year since that awful day, our staff on the ground did an incredibly good job in the most difficult circumstances you could ever imagine.

Never doubted it. Anyone with half a brain could see that. However, certain newspapers and politicians are not burdened with that much brain.

2:57 am  

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