So, after the assessment, the training and the first time racing around the streets of London being sworn at, you finally end up on your own, in a new part of town where you are expected to get to emergency calls in eight minutes.
I got posted to Newham, which is a ten minute drive from where I live; but unfortunately I'd never driven there and my navigation was awful. When I told my new workmates where I lived they thought (after, 'If he lives there I wonder if he'll steal my car?'), 'Good someone who knows the area'. This was before the days of satellite tracking where you just have to follow the dulcet tones of the computer (Sometimes in Danish if some bright sparks has reprogrammed the computer); in those days you had a mapbook and were expected to get on with it.
Gradually you get to know the streets, where the regulars live, the pubs that are 'trouble' and where the 6'6″ width restrictions are. You then have to counter every threat the 'natives' throw at you.
For instance, I might be driving a big white (or bright yellow) van, covered with flashing lights and 'ambulance' written on the side, occasionally – if I feel like pushing out the boat, I'll even have the sirens going. You might expect people to get out of the way; instead pedestrians will be drawn to run out in front of you, like a particularly dimwitted moth to a flame. People in cars will suddenly develop selective blindness, and idiots with Drum 'n 'Bass pounding out stereos worth more than their car will argue that I should make way for them.
Drivers will pull out from side turnings in front of you, and as for the bizarre ideas some people have as to the best way to clear a path for us (jump on the brakes, swerve in front of us, sit there and panic), well, it's a good job we often don't have far to travel.
However there are benefits to driving an ambulance; driving on the wrong side of the road (at a top speed of 20mph mind you) still makes me happy, driving over kerbs is often a giggle, and lets face it, who wouldn't like to treat red lights as a 'Give Way'?
Despite popular belief, we don't actually go that fast – we can't, we never know when some young mother is going to push her baby buggy out in front of us. At best I think we have a maximum speed of 40mph, not only for our safety and the safety of other people, but purely because the worn out ambulances that we drive have an acceleration that would embarrass a milk float, and a top speed of..oh…about 42mph.
I once got on a motorway and 'opened her up', we got up to 70mph (downhill naturally) before the front of the ambulance started lifting up and the steering became a trifle 'unresponsive', luckily I managed to stop screaming in sheer terror enough to regain control.
Most of our accidents (as a firm) come from reversing, I've *cough* occasionally reversed into pillars and lampposts; one person I worked with managed to reverse into a low-flying balcony. I have on at least two occasions gotten stuck in a width restriction (I swear, one day I'll get our 7'2″ ambulance through a 6'6″ restriction – I just need to get up a decent head of speed before tackling it). Thankfully our ambulances are so old and battered that small amounts of damage just add to the character of the vehicle.
Of course all that has changed with the new yellow Mercedes Sprinters. Or at least it would if they haven't all started getting faults around the 5,000 mile mark. Our station had three of the new ambulances, now we have none. They are all either being patched up, or shipped back to Germany to have major repairs done. Current reports are that the fibreglass back is splitting from the metal chassis – possibly due to the number of speed-bumps we have to contend with.
Speed-bumps – Good idea in theory, but in practice they slow us down by a hell of a lot, wreck the ambulances, and in five years time I intend to go on permanent sick leave because my kidneys have been shaken out through my mouth. My plan to get local councillors thinking a little more sensibly about speed-bumps would be to strap them down on a spinal board and drive them through the streets – I think they would be begging for mercy after five minutes.
Parking is a nightmare in Newham as well, we often have a line of traffic parked on either side of the road, making side streets effectively single track routes. When we get a call for a 'Chest pain' (you know, the sort of thing that could be a heart attack), then we have no choice but to park in the middle of the road, blocking any other traffic. At no point do we engage in the 'how much traffic can I stop' game – we don't like confrontation at all, we like a nice quiet life, so we aren't trying to wind people up on purpose.
Unfortunately some people don't see it like that and will sit there honking their horn at us to get a hurry on. To be fair I tend to spend a maximum of 10 minutes on scene, and if you honk your horn at me, I'll then change my working speed to 'go slow' (patient condition willing obviously).
I think it's incredibly rude to think that your journey is more important than that of an emergency ambulance.
I'm off to work now to drive around those selfsame streets…wish me luck, and if you see me in your rear view mirror, please get out of the way by pulling over and stopping on the left of the road.