The reason most Emergency Medical Dispatchers fear the West Desk is because it contains London Heathrow Airport. And London Heathrow Airport contains the possibility of plane crashes. A plane crash is the ultimate major incident of major incidents which would entail us using all our training – and not just the bits we use every day and know off by heart. Some of the procedures are things we have only learned theoretically, and if the worst happens, we have to remember them and get them right because with something like a plane crash, there’s no room for error or slowness.
Since my promotion to Allocator, I’ve been slightly nervous that I might have to move to the West Desk, so it was therefore ironic that on my last weekend on the North East Desk, there was a plane crash at London City Airport. London City actually comes under the East Central, not my sector, but several of the nearest ambulances and officers came from the North East. The call we’d received from the airport just said “Aircraft Accident” so we had no idea if we were going to be facing hundreds of casualties, hundreds of deaths even. Our hearts were in our mouths as we waited for the report from the first ambulance on scene. Just how awful was it going to be?
“EC60 reporting. We’ve got four casualties, all minor injuries. The plane has skidded whilst taxiing and the passengers had to evacuate by emergency chute, which is what caused the injuries.”
The immediate reaction was a huge PHEW all round. We’d already sent more than enough ambulances to cover the four casualties, so our work was done. There would be no donning of luminous jackets and running out to the Major Incident room, no frantic dispatch of ambulances from all over London, no deaths, no horror, no headlines dominating the news for the next month.
The second reaction was one of anticlimax. This always brings up the question – by feeling a sense of anticlimax, was it that I wanted people to die? Am I a horrible, mercenary gore hunter who wishes tragedy on others to brighten up my shifts? My answer to this is no, of course I’m not. I wish we could somehow rid the world of plane crashes and other disasters and that everyone would die peacefully at home in bed at the age of 90, if they have to die at all. I wish no one would ever get hurt. But they do, and the fact that this plane crash turned out not to be a major disaster does not mean there will be no major disaster today, tomorrow, or next week. Sooner or later, we’ll be sitting there again waiting for that report, and this time, it’ll be worse than we all imagined. And when that day comes, I don’t want to be tucked up in bed or watching it on the news – I want to be at work, dealing with it, using my training, doing something to help. That is, after all, one of the reasons why I do this job.
The ambulance crews were stood down a few hours after this incident and carried on with their everyday work of heart attacks and broken legs. But for one, there was one last job at City Airport. A woman, not involved in the crash, having a panic attack. Well, quite frankly, I don’t blame her!