A few weeks ago, a two-year-old boy was killed when he was hit by a rollercoaster after accidentally wandering on to the tracks. You may have heard about it in the media. This didn’t happen in my sector, but on the desk opposite, so while I was getting on with my work, I kept picking up snippets of information across the room.
“It sounded awful,” said one of the call takers. “Everyone was screaming. I couldn’t get any sense out of anyone.”
“DSO’s on the phone,” announced the radio op. “He says HEMS are working on him but it’s not looking good. Crews are going to have to go off the road afterwards. The FRU paramedic is really upset. Sounds like a really awful call.”
Seconds later, I had my own call to worry about. A tipsy teenage boy had fallen down a river embankment. His friends couldn’t reach him, but they could see that he was unconscious and had blood trickling from his ear. They couldn’t tell if he was breathing.
As we sent the crew, we asked them to report for HEMS, even though we knew HEMS were the other side of London, dealing with a critically ill toddler. We hoped they’d say HEMS weren’t needed, because there is only one HEMS team and they can’t be in two places at once.
“Perhaps it’s not as bad as it sounds,” said the radio operator dubiously. “He could just be drunk and it could be a scratch on his face. It could turn out to be nothing. Do we know how far he fell?”
I fired up the new “street view” thing on Google maps to get a better look at the river bank in question. Of course, Google probably didn’t intend their map system to be used for this purpose, and there wasn’t a good close up of the riverbank, but I could clearly make out that the river was well below street level and that there was a set of stairs leading down to it. It looked to me that it could be at least a fifteen-foot drop.
The crew arrived and found the stairs we’d seen on the map. As they arrived, the boy was coming round but was extremely confused and cerebrally irritated, lashing out at anyone who tried to come near him. This kind of behaviour (which is sometimes hard to distinguish from alcohol induced aggression) is indicative of a life threatening brain injury. The crew called up for assistance. They needed someone, anyone, down there to help them restrain the boy in order to treat him, and they really needed the help of the HEMS doctor. We sent the police and another ambulance crew…
The phone rang. It was the DSO.
“We heard the crew on the radio. HEMS have done all they can here; the toddler’s on his way to hospital, so they’re coming to you now. Where exactly is the call?”
I told him, and the HEMS team got in the car (the helicopter does not fly at night) and belted it across London. They were at the riverbank in fifteen minutes. They were able to sedate the boy and get him on board the ambulance.
As they got him to hospital, he went into respiratory arrest. The A+E staff all battled to save him, but it was no good. It’s likely he had fractured his skull and had a serious bleed into his brain, and if this was the case, nothing anyone did would have saved him.
Now both the toddler and the teenager were dead.
The next morning the papers were full of stories about the tragedy of the toddler and the fairground ride. Not one mentioned the teenager or the river bank.