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.

Published Apr 08, 2009 - 19 Comments and counting

19 Comments on “G20 Protests”
  1. William D Says:

    Shame about the bloke walking home from work…

    I’d be interest to see if you feel that the ambulance service would have done anything different..

  2. Suzi Brent Says:

    It was terrible what happened to that poor man. However, I didn’t mention him in my post because I only know what happened second hand, and most of that was from the media. What do you think the ambulance service could/should have done differently?

  3. dave m Says:

    well at least SJ was good for something, even if it was the sandwich run. :D

  4. Always Tired Says:

    I think under the circumstances and the possible cover up that may or may not have occurred by the Met Police I don’t think there was anything different the ambulance service could have done for the gent.

    It is certinally an area for Resilience to look at in the future and plan accordingly. but then how can you plan an incident like that.

  5. Dave W Says:

    I’m glad things didn’t get out of hand. Having been around some of the shananigans at the Republican National Convention here on the other side of the pond I know how nasty these sort of things can get.

  6. Suzi Brent Says:

    Matt: afraid I don’t know, sorry. It all happened after I’d gone home…

  7. Lewis Says:

    hi there,
    I’m glad things didn’t get out of hand and may i also take this chance to say fanatastic blog, and i cant wait for the book :)

    on another note. could you explain to me what the precudure is for a major incident. i want to be a paramedic, and ive always wondered what the plans were. do control staff also go to the incident ?, as i swear ive seen a few, ‘incident control centre’ trucks. what are they used for ?

    kind regards
    lewis

  8. Sophia Says:

    I was one of the first aiders at the climate camp and I can say for certain that the only reason you didn’t have many casualties is because the police refused to allow them to leave the ‘kettles’ or cordons they placed indiscriminately around groups of protesters. There were LOADS of people injured; broken bones, head wounds and concussions, many many baton injuries.

  9. Suzi Brent Says:

    Why didn’t they call 999 themselves?

  10. Andrew Says:

    may I just say a big thank you to LAS controal for all the good food over the G20 stiff and hello to all the friendly people there oh and sorry to al the poor bus drivers who we upset parking loads of ambulances and treatment centres in the bus lane

  11. Sophia Says:

    @Suzi Brent

    Rightly or wrongly, there are quite a few factors which prevent people calling 999 in that situation. With some people it is a macho culture or not wanting to cause a fuss/be a nuisance, sometimes adrenaline, and horrifyingly, for some it is the expectation that serious injury is not a big deal/to be expected. Many people don’t realise how serious their injuries are.

    Also, I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it is thought that riot police are likely to escort ambulance workers/extract casualties (which would increase tensions) or that they would seek to clear the area (which would cause more injuries).

  12. Duck Says:

    Thanks for your blog, I read it regularly, but haven’t been on the ‘receiving end’ before.

    I was first-aiding someone with very heavy bleeding from a head injury and rapidly losing consciousness, near Liverpool Street station just outside a police kettle, around ?11pm? Obviously the first thing I did was to call 999, the ambulance dispatcher said there was an ambulance on the way. Approx ?20 minutes? later the casualty was fully unconscious and still bleeding very very heavily (spurting blood), I phoned again, was told ‘we are getting a lot of calls from there’ but that an ambulance would still come.

    Shortly after that I had to run away and leave the casualty as the street was being cleared with baton-charges and dogs. I don’t know what happened to Unconscious Bloke after that, but I didn’t see any ambulances get in the street where he was for ~10 mins after that until I was forced to run away again & leave area completely.

    Were there really ambulances going to the area of the kettles at the time? Were they being let through the police cordons? Would / did an ambulance ever turn up? Why did the dispatcher say an ambulance was coming when it didn’t?

    Sorry for all the questions, keep seeing Unconscious Bloke lying where I left him on the pavement in a puddle of blood and wondering if he ever got help and what I should have done. I guess I’ll never find out about Unconscious Bloke himself, but I’d really like to know what was actually happening with the ambulances.

  13. Suzi Brent Says:

    Okay, I can answer some of your questions but please bear in mind that I wasn’t call taking or dispatching the ambulances in that area that day (and had long gone home at 11pm) so this is just my POV and not an official statement…

    There were some casualties that the crews were delayed reaching because they were in areas that had been deemed unsafe. The control room were trying to arrange to get these casualties taken to the safe RVPs. So, no, ambulances were not being let through the cordons as far as I know.

    I would be VERY surprised if a call taker told you the ambulance was on its way. This is a forbidden phrase that we are taught from Day 1 never to say. Do you think you could have misinterpreted a phrase like “Help is being arranged for you?” A lot of people do.

    I don’t know if he ever got an ambulance but I would be very surprised if he didn’t. Twenty minutes is well over what an unconscious person would usually wait, but given the context and the safety implications it really isn’t that long at all.

    I hope that helps – I am happy to answer any questions on this but need to stress that I will can so only as someone not directly involved and my answers will therefore be a bit speculative!

  14. Duck Says:

    Thanks so much for replying :)

    ‘On the way’ isn’t a direct quote, can’t remember the exact words, being a bit distracted at the time! I’m sure they did tell me I would be getting help though, because they told me to look out for an ambulance to flag down.

    I particularly asked about getting us out of the area and was told not to. It looked like the police were lining up to charge soon, but I didn’t want to move Unconscious Bloke again in case of spinal injury if I could help it (he’d obv been beaten up badly), and anyway he was bigger than me & difficult+++ to move. Wasn’t told to take Unconscious Bloke anywhere else for collection, though expect the street I was on wasn’t ‘safe’ and was inside outer cordons.

    I wonder if I just answered questions in the wrong way or something – after all I did say ‘yes’ to ‘is the assailant still in the area’ and ‘do they still have the weapon’, I don’t expect your computer has a box for ‘yes but assailant is police and I’m surrounded by them already, waiting for a police escort might be redundant’.

    Oh well, I hope one of your lot found him and got him to hospital safely :) at least I’m sure he’s not dead, that’d definitely have been reported. Thanks :)

  15. helen-louise Says:

    Just thought I’d let you know that one of your older posts appears to be breeding spam. So far there are 4 comments which seem to have more to do with, hrm, selling “products” than to do with your blog.

  16. Mark Myers Says:

    Duck: Hopefully someone was along to move him soon! Don’t worry, I’m sure it was nothing to do with the answers you gave. We’d have known it was related to the protests and treated him the same whatever you’d said.

    helen-louise: Thanks! I do have a spam filter but some pesky spams still get through and I have to delete them manually – was a bit busy writing earlier so forgot!

  17. neenaw Says:

    Test comment!

  18. sam Says:

    @Sohpia

    Rightly or wrongly, there are quite a few factors which prevent people calling 999 in that situation. With some people it is a macho culture or not wanting to cause a fuss/be a nuisance, sometimes adrenaline, and horrifyingly, for some it is the expectation that serious injury is not a big deal/to be expected. Many people don't realise how serious their injuries are.

    Did you not call 999 yourself on their behalf??

  19. Jaxx Betting Says:

    that is very true sam

    Nee Naw
    Nee Naw was a blog about life in the London Ambulance Service control room. It was written by Suzi Brent from 2005 to 2010. The blog is no longer being updated, but the archives will remain here.
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