Snapshots

…We get the call to the RTA, a car has crashed into a bus, normally these things are 'nothing' jobs. We put on the blue lights and head towards the crash…

…The radio bursts into life, there is an officer who 'lucked' onto the scene – he tells Control that he needs a lot of ambulances, the fire service and the police. The injuries are all serious. We wonder if he is talking about the same crash we are going to…

…We crest the hill, with one look at the car and the bus we know it's going to be serious…

…I jump out of the ambulance and head to the car, I ask the officer what he wants us to do – He tells me that we can't wait for the fire service to arrive to cut out the first patient as his breathing is so ragged. We agree that he needs to be out of the car immediately and that a possible neck injury is a low priority…

…We get him out and I watch as he takes his last breath…

…We work on him, he is so young we have to make the attempt. The DSO and other FRUs work on the other people in the car…

…He is lying lifeless in my ambulance and the BASICS Doctor declares him dead – then we rush off to the next casualty…

…This one gets sedation – I write the dose and time on his chest so that the information doesn't get lost in the chaos. Another ambulance crew speed him to hospital…

…The next one is declared dead as the firefighters cut him out…

…The other dead man is left in the car, there is nothing to do for him, it will be some time before the firefighters are able to free him…

…I check on the people in the bus, there are some injuries that will need hospital treatment. I'm trying to keep them calm and relaxed. My crewmate and I move from our 'all-business' personalities to our 'reassurance' personalities in the time it takes us to walk to the bus. I deal with the multiple casualties one at a time, my crewmate helps me out…

…My ambulance becomes a mobile mortuary, the police are checking for identification. The blood is pooling on the floor…

…I'm sitting on the back step of the ambulance, two of the dead are in my ambulance, one, wrapped in a sheet, is at my feet. We are waiting for the undertaker…

…The police investigation team is chalking the outlines of vehicles and taking photographs of the scene…

…My paperwork is done. It seems like such little bit of writing for such a serious call where three men have been killed…

…Medical equipment and wrappers mix with the debris of the accident. There is the familiar 'tick-tick-tick' of our blues lights revolving in their housings…

…Back at the station I have a facemask on as I use the jetspray we use to clean the outside of the vehicles on the floor and trolley of my ambulance. My crewmate is doing the gentler job of cleaning the equipment. The blood comes off eventually…

…It's time for our next job.

There are jobs that stay with you. I'll always be able to remember this job, it won't cause flashbacks or have me waking in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. But I'll always remember it, and every time we drive past the scene we'll see those ghosts in our mind's eye.

28 thoughts on “Snapshots”

  1. Working for the fire sevice, only in a couple of years, and already my “mental map” of our patch is getting overlayed with a map of ghosts.Nobody tells you that's going to happen- that you'll be able to navigate by deaths/horrible injuries the way other people do by pubs.

  2. I am starting as a trainee technician in december and I have been nothing but excited since I found out, but reading this has given me a horrible thud back to reality and reminded me that things will not always going to go my way and that I am going to have to learn to cope with these kind of situations. Thanks for keeping it real.

  3. I've just read about this in bland terms on the BBC your description is to be honest far more real. I can now imagine it – not sure if that is a good thing. I have a horror of being hit by a bus while driving they are just such big lumps of metal. I think we all have a certain illusion of safety in our cars and forget that they can wreak such havoc. Personally I think part of the driving test should include as assessment of whether or not a driver understands. At 17 I certainly did not!I admire you for being able to cope with the consequences of those of us who lose concentration, are unlucky or simply over confident just once and do not get away, with it.

  4. (1) See previous post “Value for money”(2) You have to have “been there” in the sense of “been there, done that” to really appreciate what you're saying. The ghosts will always be there. There are places I will drive 100 miles around to avoid the ghosts. Sorry.

  5. I have just seen this on the ITV Evening News – I believe that the car hit the bus, which was actually stationary at the junction with the A13/Leamouth Rd.No idea how it happened but thoughts are with all concerned, esp my LAS colleagues who dealt.

  6. These are the calls that we remember for ever. Year after year of boring, routine shifts are occasionally punctuated with “The Bad One”.Flashbacks? PTSD? Nah, but they do become part of our career history and we never, ever forget them. Over the years, the bar gets higher, so we have fewer and fewer standout calls, but they still happen.

    This was a difficult call, but one in which you acquitted yourself well. The is the type of call where you realize that you can do this job and do it well.

    Don't dwell on the dead, rather think of the people who aren't dead because you were there and did a good job.

    Gary

  7. “I think we all have a certain illusion of safety in our cars and forget that they can wreak such havoc.”I do sort of wish that all drivers had to see the result of running over a human body, then maybe people would keep a better eye out for pedestrians and people crossing near blind corners, or unable to walk that fast across a crossing, while cars start rolling on amber….

  8. When reading this on the BBC site, my first thought was that car must have been doing some speed. It never crossed my mind you would be in attendance. You description says more than any news reporter could.

  9. I wanted to post and say “Thanks Reynolds” for this. For the quality of your writing. For the 'unexceptional compassion' you describe.Then I read other comments; by the firefighter, and the other ambulance/medical workers – and I want to say 'thank you' to you too.

    As a police officer, I clearly recognise so much of what you say. The switch in your 'mode' and you go from the car to the bus. The way you deal with cleaning out the ambulance – the extraordinary ordinariness of it.

    I don't see my jobs as 'ghosts' as some commenters do. That was a theme in that book about the New York ambulance driver, which I never managed to read all the way through (sorry, forgot the name of the book, too lazy to look it up 🙂 because it didn't really 'speak to me' in the way that your writing does.

    My 'thing' is a fatalistic feeling that it will be me one day. Either being worked on in a car I've crashed driving home on nights; or maybe having a colleague in uniform come to my door to tell me it is 'bad news' about my wife and kids.

    Seeing it happen, and delivering such news to others; knowing the poignant, intimate, inconsequential details of such tragedies, does affect one in deep ways.

    Such events are, as your blog title reminds us, random. What continues to motivate me – and I am sure all of you – is to be there for those who suffer, and to treat them as I would wish to be treated if (when?) I were in their shoes.

  10. I am a bus driver and yes they are large lumps of metal!seen the result of a few bus crashes two caused by bad car driving and one by by a driver falling asleep at the wheel due to breaking the drivers hours rules!

  11. I would have loved to have gone into more detail in this post, but *especially* as it is an easily identifiable job, I can't say any more than the BBC report about the patients or the accident.It's that fine line of patient confidentiality.

  12. Re: imagery: 50 odd years later the smell of burnt hair, still brings back violent images of a fiery crash and its gory details, similarly after witnessing a high speed impact of two cars so many eons ago, one rising & spinning like a whirligig ejecting bodies to all corners of the compass, and the other plowing into an old oak tree, is brought on every time there be the sqeal of burning rubber and metal inter reacting like a clash of a well known concerto. They do live on. I, having a bad memory for remembering educational items, can see in my minds eye the items of war and dangers, when certain audio sounds like an old Allison in-line engine be purring in the skies.When I be in that residence not remembering my name, may have that sad fault of giving every one in ear shot a dose of repetition every time I be prodded.It appears that all the senses do record the info, the problem is in the poor retrieval system. which if good if thee can select the the good and reject the bad.So Just remember, you did well in saving those that were in the position to be saved. And All those have had to use thy wonderful services including those of in blue and in red I dothe thank thee.

  13. well i,m not a nurse,or a docter,a fireman,or a paramedic,i,m just a mother but thankfully we have people like you guys to help when and if we ever need it,this report left alump in my throat and sobbing like a baby,while orthers just make me sob like a lunatic,thank-you for caringxxx

  14. I've been reading for ages but only just created an account to comment. Thank you so much for this. My 'not boyfriend' is a traffic copper. I'm there to listen whenever he needs but this helps me understand in a way I didn't previously.Rory, is the book you're thinking of Bringing out the Dead by Joe Connelly? It was a film too with Nicholas Cage.

    BendyGirl

  15. A couple of years ago, well four now actually, a very close friend of mine was hit by a car and died on scene. I've only driven past that spot four or five times since then, I avoid it as much as possible, but I can always see it in my mind, even though I wasn't there it's just in my head. I can't imagine having to cope with lots of these 'ghosts' across a city I work in day after day. People have already said this but this gave such a better more evocative description than any other reporting, thanks for sharing this, and thankyou so much for doing the job you do.

  16. If anyone wants to argue the value for money of the ambulance service, nursing, police etc etc all they have to do is do a few shifts like snapshots for the same pay, then they can argue, till then… no money is enough imho, speaking as a ex nurse

  17. That's just sick though. I do nothing of any use to the world in general and I get paid more than that! How can that be right? 🙁

  18. My husband is a police officer with the highway patrol/state trooper here in the United States (Arizona). I know he can point out the scene of every fatal he has responded to all these years. I can see in him how it never leaves him.Thank you for what you do for others.Sincerely,Keeshahttp://chiarian.blogspot.com

  19. ……and you will cope with them, we all do in our different ways. Tom has this medium to help (sorry to put words in your mouth Tom but I assume that this does help) and in a way, reading this blog helps out me too. I sit here after a bad shift, thinking why do i keep putting myself through this, then I read what Tom writes (some days he has had a worse one than me, sometimes a better one) and the comments that follow, and you realise that no matter what people say or do, there are people out there that appreciate you. And that helps. Yes things won't always go your way, but its not that often that you look back and think that you have had a bad situation to deal with, this job is still as rewarding as the day I joined, and even though there are ghosts at most corners now, there are just as many corners with living people there to remind me that I have done good on occassion too.

  20. Drivers in the USA do get to see the aftermath of accidents. In high school, when kids are 15, they can take driver's education and get their learner's permit. The class includes a couple of very scary films, called “Red Asphalt.” I think you can imagine what they show.

  21. When you see a report on the news it seems so bland and impersonal, it's not till someone describes it the way you have done here that you see it as real. Real people, real injuries and real families finding a policeman on the doorstep. I don't know how you and the other ambulance crews deal with it day after day but all credit to each and every one of you.

  22. It's funny, my crew mate can remember addresses and patients that we've been to before, I can too but only if they're frequent fliers, but I always remember the spots where I've been to RTC's.. mainly from the packets of dead flowers by the side of the road..Strange what sticks in different people's minds eh..?

  23. Fallen angel, I think we read so often about people dying in 'horrific accidents' that it just skims over us; it take detail like this to bring the truth of the situation in to focus.

  24. I think my dad's a bit the same with all the crime scenes he's been to (he works for the Forensic Science Service) He always sounds so detached and professional when he talks about blood spattering evidence, semen stains on knickers, etc, but he must have seen some really horrific things over the years. He does the same thing of navigating round an area by all the murders and rapes that have happened there – it spoils places for him because he always sees the seedy underbelly. I often feel the world is divided into the people who have seen death (like my dad, and my boyfriend who's a doctor), and those (like me) who haven't. We can't properly understand, I don't think.

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