The emergency services’ profession needs to be in your blood. Emergency services staff chose to do this work. After all, action, stress, working under pressure, clout and helpfulness, are the main criteria for the serving officers. Ideally, there should always be a happy ending, but it often does not turn out that way.
One early Thursday morning we received a call-out regarding an injury-accident in the Rotterdam region. I will not reveal any details in order to protect the relatives’ privacy. The point of this story is the (in)credible reaction by the public.
At the scene of the accident the casualty was in a serious condition, in fact so critical that it was decided not to free the casualty from the wreckage (who was still able to communicate at this stage), but to call in the close relatives to enable them to say their good-byes at the scene of the accident. The medical team were concerned that the casualty would not survive after having been freed from the wreckage.
As I was on my motorbike and huge tail backs had formed, causing the roads to be blocked, I was tasked with contacting the family in a village some 15 km distance from the scene of the accident. I got to the address fairly quickly without too many hold-ups, where colleagues of the emergency services were waiting for my arrival, and who had meanwhile informed the relatives. Both parents were home and it was agreed I would ride in front, if necessary using blues and two’s but with suitable speed so as not to cause any danger to the traffic. It was agreed that they would use their hazard lights, so it would be clear to the public that their car was following my police bike. Fairly quickly we approached the tail backs, and this is where I really had to work at the job.
I tried to manoeuvre the car behind me through the traffic, which for me on the bike was not too much of a challenge, but for the car following me this was much more of a problem. On the provincial road we managed at first to pass a large part of the tail back, but then were continually blocked by cars who were trying to U-turn across the central line markings. Several drivers, who were standing next to their cars, threw dirty looks to the car driven by the parents, and used language not to be repeated. We were hardly able to move. One U-turn driver got out of his car and insisted on expressing his opinion on the long queues and that the police were not doing anything about it. I was not in the mood to enter into a discussion with him and demanded he move his vehicle out of our way immediately. Initially he refused and demanded to know why this particular vehicle was able to pass, and if by any chance the passengers in the car were family of mine and I just wanted to give them a quick pass-through. I felt very angry and several things went through my mind, would I spray pepper spray in his eyes, push him aside, push his car into the grass verge, and carry on? One would be quite capable of abuse in such circumstances but I restrained myself and told him once more to move over, to enable the relatives to get to the scene of the accident with utmost urgency. Purposely slowly he walked back to his car, still moaning, saying “yeah, yeah, whatever”! We were finally able to move on, only to be confronted once again by an oncoming vehicle. I did not feel like going through the whole thing again and continued – this being possible in this particular location – across the verge onto the cycle path, with the car following. Unfortunately the cycle path was also very busy. And again..there was no sympathy. You cannot imagine the commentary regarding the following car, that it was not allowed on the cycle path, how dangerous it was, etc. etc. As if I was not aware of this! I then left my blues and two’s on continually so as not to have to listen to any further comments.
We finally arrived safely at the scene of the accident, and the awful scene I then witnessed I will never forget. The parents had to say good-bye to their child, who was still communicating, but they knew it would be over soon after release. So many questions were fired at the rescue team, to establish if there was absolutely no other way. As emergency services personnel you feel so uneasy and defeated. The fire crew started their horrible task, the release from the wreckage. After having been freed, the casualty was taken to hospital by ambulance and despite the urgent transport and immediate care, we later learned that the casualty had passed away. I stayed behind at the scene of the accident. The fire brigade packed up their gear in silence. The medical team packed up their stuff in silence. A member of the highway services collected his traffic cones in silence. The man from the Waterworks stood there in silence. The recovery vehicle driver started his work in silence. Everyone had their own thoughts about the terrible job they had to do.
We had done our best but if I may speak on behalf of all the emergency services, we all felt defeated on that day.
I only hope those members of the public who made their comments will be sorry when they learn the truth. The tough cowboys in their red fire truck, in their yellow ambulance, and in their striped police vehicle overtaking with a lot of commotion, were silenced.
Fortunately there is a lot of support available from the BOT teams, The Services Support Team, made up by colleagues, where you can get it off your chest, when necessary. That day this was certainly needed in my case.