Panic On The Streets Of London

When I'm at a 'job'. I don't panic, it's part of my job description to keep control of a situation and to stop other people from running around screaming like a headless chickens. Sometimes I will have to be forceful, or act quickly, but I never panic.
I got a job, '14 month child, floppy and lifeless'.

“Fuck”, I thought.

It was in a part of my patch I'm not very familiar with, new buildings on the isle of dogs. The address was given as 'Flat 1, Rose house, Starling road'.

This is obviously not the address I was given, I do respect patient confidentiality after all

I rushed to Starling road, a new estate, loads of buildings, none of which seemed to be marked.

“Fuck”, I thought.

If a child is floppy or lifeless, then the chances are it is either very ill, or is dead.

I sped up and down the road. I spotted some of the names of the flats in tiny writing, on little blue plaques many of them pointing away from the road. My pulse started to rise. It had taken me four minutes to reach the area, but how much longer would it take me to locate the potentially very sick child?

I found 'Lilac House', 'Lily House' and 'Tulip House', but I couldn't find 'Rose House'.

Now I was starting to panic. Was I being stupid? Had I driven past it? Was the baby dead, and if it was, was it because I couldn't find the fucking house?

I could feel the sweat soaking my back, without being able to get to the patient there was nothing I could do. I cursed the council, the builders, the architects, everyone who had thought that putting pretty, but bloody useless signs on the buildings was a good idea.

I got Control to ring the parents back, the mother came out to meet me. 'Rose House' was behind another block of flats, behind a road barrier. The name plaque had text around an inch high, pointing away from the road.

Luckily the baby only had a runny nose.

I hated it though, the utter feeling of helplessness that comes with being unable to find a patient, the sweating, the raised pulse and the vaguely sick feeling in the bottom of the stomach as you race up and down a street in the dark trying to find the right location.

Please. If any architects, builders, council planners or sign writers read this, make the signs bigger. Make them so I can read them at night. Make them so that if it is your relative that is critically ill, I can find them before it's too late.

Only 3,960 jobs today…

27 thoughts on “Panic On The Streets Of London”

  1. I used to live in a house in North London that was set back off the road and not easy to find. On the few occasions I had to call an ambulance (genuine ones that were worthy of an ambulance – honest!) I always made sure I told the nee-naw control exactly how to find us – but I learned from experience that message did not necessarily get passed on. I also made sure that if possible someone was sent out to wait for the ambulance on the road and show them where the emergency was.These days I have moved North and work at a GP practice in Cheshire, and have learned up here that ambulances don't always find us easily – even though we are on a main road and call an ambulance more often than the average household does.

    But I do feel for you rushing to find that child, and I do agree that signs should be bigger. Perhaps a letter should be sent to the letters page of a prominent architect's magazine if they have one . . . a copy of this blog would be a good example for them to print.

  2. The problem isnt allways the lack of mapping, the GPS on the vans is only accurate (at very best) to 10meters. oftern much less if its not got a good signal. With most streets becoming more and more crammed its not a supprise you get lost.

  3. I am an architect.. it is pretty rare that the actual architect will get any say over the sgnage of a building or especially a housing estate. it is usually the client themselves or their minions. not that we'd probably make it any better if it was us. Architects seem to get the blame for pretty much anything that is a problem with buildings, even though they have much less control than the general public seems to beleive.still if anyone wants to highlight this issue then this would be a good journal to do so in.

    isn't there a better argument for keeping online and live maps much better annotated and up to date?

  4. Now that's what I call service!Fair enough about it not particularly being architects fault (which is why I aimed a general scattershot of blame at pretty much everyone).

    As for the maps – they are pretty good, but the resolution isn't the world's best, and they don't resolve down to individual buildings (which is what we'd need), at the moment they can pinpoint a rough area on a road for an address. Once we get into estates all bets are off.

  5. totally agree with you! im a police officer and the amount of time you spend lookng for addresses on some estates is maddening! house names should be banned – whats wrong with using a number!! At least with my job there's not usually much urgency to get to houses – take your time going to a domestic and by the time you find it, they'll be talking again!!

  6. I don't know about LAS but up here in South Yorkshire they don't seem to update their maps that often. I live 100 yards as the crow flies from the nearest Ambo station but as the estate is newish (we've been here for about 3 years) it doesn't seem to show up on the maps. Whenever I've called for the ambo, after speaking to control I get a phone call asking for directions. That said the last call resulted in a RRU (with a very grumpy driver) in about 2 minutes and a van in 2 and a half (with a paramedic who chatted about this blog). Pretty good service really.Cheers


  7. I'm a Guider. As a Guide I was told, and now I'm a Guider, when we do activities about the emergency services, we always tell the Guides to give landmarks with the address. The explanation given is in case the help coming is from a different area because something major could be happening so coverage is shuffled along.We also got taught/teach that if we have enough people and it's a hard to find place, to post people to point the way in useful places (like the corner of a main and minor road or at corners in curvy twisty estates). It even got ingrained into me to know where the nearest hydrants were.

    Is that kind of help actually useful and do the landmarks get passed on to you?

  8. I'm surprised they don't have some more detailed map and ideally some way of annotating them, so that you can keep up to date and add usefull comments as you come accros new things (dead ends, short-cuts renamed buildings)Islinton council has these rediculously detailed maps online (taken from the OS 1:1250 series) to show all their cycle stands, listed buildings and even abandoned vehicles. I'm surprised the LAS don't have access to the same level of detail.


    (draw a box on the map to zoom right in) or see this screenshot

  9. Our maps are pretty useless too. In particular, callers in Thamesmead and Enfield Island Village cause us a real headache, because they live somewhere that doesn't exist according to us. It's quite funny watching the cartoon ambulances on the mapping — when they go to one of these places it appears that they're driving into some kind of abyss, never to return.

  10. This website was launched a while back by Avon Ambulance Service – it talks about just the problem you've encountered.

    Regards, WMM

  11. Landmarks are extremely useful, and yes, they do often get passed on to us as there is capacity for the call-taker to enter free-text in the address box, which is where they'll put landmark details.And posting people out to flag us down really does help save time getting to the patient. We can often get some idea of how bad a patient is based on whether there is actually someone to flag us down. Of course, that does tend to be over-egged sometimes.


    The World Through The Eyes Of An EMT

  12. All the First Aid trainers from our company teach exactly that whatever the level of First Aid, give clear, concise directions including landmarks. send someone out to meet and greet if it is an awkward location to find (good way of removing those who are panicing as well).In your humble opinion what would be better if you cant get a postcode for a location? OS Grid reference? Longtitude/Latitude nearest road junction or something else?


  13. When my Mum was seriously ill last year, the operator had my sister checkig her vitals every minute, but had to tell her to stop to go to the end of the road so the ambulance could see her – we live on a brand new estate, and the drivers had no idea where we were :-,

  14. Nikki, that's a big problem for us, as Tom will no doubt agree. They build these lovely new estates, but then fail to provide us, the police and the fire service with maps of the new estates, so we don't have a clue where we're going, and we don't recognise the road name either.Again, posting someone out at the main junction if possible would be great for us getting to the patient quickly


    The World Through The Eyes Of An EMT

  15. 18 months on, I don't think we're on the maps still – for Mum's follow ups where she had ambulance transport, we ended up with a regular driving team, as they knew where we were ;-)We badgered the estate managers for a map, but they said they simpley don't give them out…

  16. Hmm, apparently Holland isn't the only country were people like hidding their roadsign and/or housenumber.And you're right, is really does suck big time if you can't find the house when you've got a real emergency.

    By the way, I hope you/the LAS has a busy week coming up, i'm leaving for London tomorrow to go on a ride along as an (foreign emt) observer 😉


  17. As I said in comment above we are having the same problem over 3 years since moving in. What is most ironic is that the estate used to be a hospital and before they built a new GP's surgery I could see the ambulance station from the house!Cheers


  18. Jesus H. Your addresses drive me insane over there. “One and one half Hedgehog House, Privet, 15th Century, Before Printed Documents.”In the US, we used to have idiosyncratic addressing as well. But as 911 (our emergency number) comes into communities, everyone gets a new address. Number Consisting of Only Digits, Unique Street Name, Apartment or Suite. That's it, and that's always it, sea to shining sea.

    Granted it was weird – and not cheap – getting an entirely new address when 911 came to our town. The town even renamed whole streets, so that there would not be, for instance, noncontinguous Knight Roads. But it does mean that, for instance, you see 133 Knight Road, you're going to 148, well, it's definitely on the other side of the street and not too many down. (Road signs? Standard size, near-universal placement, municipal or county service even in apartment complexes, fancier dos will sometimes buy their own, but again, every intersection, reflective signs at a specified height and size.)

    Maybe it is culturally important to keep being able to refer to individual buildings by their individual names, but couldn't you just layer on an address? Hedgehog House (17 Privet Row), etc.? You don't *have* to use it if you're swanning about your prestigious place to your friends, but you teach it to your kids to call the ambulance with, you know?

    Man. We have plenty of screwed up things in our own EMS system, but at least they mostly start once you're already on scene. Getting to an unfamiliar address is eff terrible and stressful even *with* the system we've got, why have they not rationalized and geocoded street addressing for you? (And how do things like online mapping work when any address could be nonsequential free text, to add another redneck Yank question?)

  19. Franklyl that's bloody awful. I worked for the Ordnance Survey recently (I'm a contractor) and their maps are very rarely more than three months behind, and customers can download the update data as often as they like. As (IIRC) government agencies are part of a blanket agreement, there's little or no excuse for not having information about anywhere that's been there more than three months.Shout at your IT department, next time you get chance.


  20. For a start, houses with only a name and not a number in this country are rare, usually rural and distant from other properties. There are however many who like to use their house name over their house number. This is pure snobbery.Our cities (and London in particular) were not designed around nice neat block schemes. The street layout is ancient. That means if you look at an A-Z map of London you will see something that looks like a bowl of Spagetti. New buildings intersperced with old buildings etc. The British public are very fond of this. Any attempt to change it would be met with fierce resistance.

    New developments are switching from straight streets to windy messes to discourage on street parking, speeding, and for the nicer appearance. So you would still have to find margret thatcher cul de sac at the end of john prescot drive, off david blunkett avenue. (One of my pet peeves. streets named after politicians)

  21. I love the delicious irony of explaining about making things more visible, then putting the links at the bottom in bright blue on bright red.

  22. True enough, and our cities are quite a mess in places as well, (witness here Boston,) but check *this* out, though it's only in one county…When you build or expand an apartment complex, part of your zoning approval / permitting is that you send a packet to the first – due fire stations (in our county, fire and ambulance are a joint service,) with an updated box map, and a few copies of keys to any gates, etc.Even the addition and alteration of numbers can be handled if you do them sequential-but-not-immediately-so (e.g. using the property tax map parcels to space them out, so that neighboring suburuban houses might be, e.g. 241 and 247.) That will give you room for concievable additions / deletions.

    But what it seems you're saying is that generally, in London, a given address *will* in general have a street number, but that people just don't use it? (And that the places without are in communities where, generally, people would know what it was?) In that case, perhaps just the improved signage (and dispatching by street number) could be a help…

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