A week ago, you may well have noticed some rather small scale rioting going on London’s financial districts. Had you been anywhere near the London Ambulance Control room, you might have also noticed some small scale panicking coming from the East Central Allocator (me) too. The area of the protests was slap bang in the middle of the area I cover, and if it all kicked off, it was going to be a very busy day.
When a major incident occurs, we open up another, smaller, control room (known as ICR – Incident Control Room) next to the main control room. It has its own allocators, radio operators, etc. Any call related to the incident is transferred out there. Because we had prior knowledge that the G20 protests were happening, the room was already set up and ready to go, with the computer system automatically transferring any calls within the relevant areas to ICR. Control staff and ambulance crews were in on overtime to cover it. The ambulances had special callsigns starting with a V to distinguish them from the “ordinary” ambulances. ICR set up several rendezvous points, ie, safe areas to which casualties could be taken for the ambulances to pick them up. If anyone was injured, they had to be taken there as it was impossible to reach most areas.
Although I wasn’t dealing with the protests directly, I knew that if anything serious happened it would have a huge impact on my sector. Road closures, full hospitals, extra ambulances needed for large numbers of casualties – any of these things could have catastrophic implications for those ordinary people who inconsiderately decided to have heart attacks and strokes on such a busy day! I kept my fingers crossed and kept checking my two sources of information. The first was the log being kept in ICR of all noteworthy events related to the protests. Fortunately, the majority of the entries were something like “Sandwiches failed to be delivered to base this morning. St John Ambulance sent on service run to Tesco’s to replenish supplies” and “Hippies seen dancing to sound system near Trafalgar Square. (Ten minutes later). Hippies disbanded to pub.” The second was the plasma screen showing Sky News above my head. I must admit that every time I saw a surge in the crowd, my heart beat a little faster. Was this going to turn into a huge riot?
Fortunately, as you know, the majority of the protests were peaceful and ICR were well equipped to deal with the small number of casualties they received. The only problem for me was the road closures, which meant that I had to think carefully about which crews I dispatched to my calls – sending the nearest ambulance is not a lot of good when it has to take a five mile detour! Another minor problem was that of Rubbernecking Crews. Having heard something exciting was possibly occurring, several crews mysteriously drifted towards the city presumably in hope of being called upon to deal with serious calls (and get a good look at the riots). I took to sending “urgent messages”, which send a loud, unpleasant bleeping noise into the cab of the ambulance, saying “Please leave the city area immediately!” to which the crews would invariably call up apologetically, saying they had taken a wrong turn. I felt rather like I was chiding naughty schoolchildren!
The day passed, and I was relieved to find that the protests never escalated beyond the odd skirmish. Looking at the rows of ambulances parked outside Control, ready to deal with a much larger incident, it was clear it could have been a lot worse. Of course, the day will inevitably come when I have a great big humungous major incident kick off in the middle of my sector. But I can wait a bit longer for that.