Sunday, March 12, 2006

Waiting For Ambulances

In other news, I have done an interview for BBC London Tonight. They called up about how long it took for ambulances to arrive at Kings Cross and Russell Square on July 7th. It will be shown next week. The interviewer heard my story, then showed me the ambulance call sheets and L.U records of calling for help - turned my account of when the ambulances came ( based on my experience and talking later to LU staff and other survivors) matched the timeline the BBC's had. It was chilling reading what must have been increasingly desperate calls for '' five ambulances, then ten, then fifteen, then - everything you have got, there are hundreds of casualties''. But the requested ambulances did not appear for a long time.

Let us be in no doubt of the bravery and compassion of the emergency services individual staff members on July 7th. They were ordinary people, doing their absolute best. But the emergency services are only as good as their communications systems. And it seems the systems failed us.The Piccadilly line bomb went off between 8.50am and 8.55am, ( latest thoughts are that it was 8.53am) : the ambulances did not arrive at Russell Square, where the most deperately injured were taken from carriage one, the bombed carriage, until almost 11am.

That is over two hours of heroic LU staff and commuters and passers-by and bombed passengers trying to care for badly injured, frightened people, amongst chaos and dreadful scenes, without ambulances. People were bleeding, frightened, deafened, with torn clothes and shrapnel wounds and severe injuries. Lying on the floor of the ticket hall. Waiting for ambulances for two hours.

It's not good enough. University College hospital is five minutes away from Russell Square.

And yet, they say ''we had planned for this''. After the simulataneous attacks on the Madrid subway at rush hour, after the Met instigating a shoot-to-kill policy in secrecy four years ago, to deal with suicide bombers in urban areas, after the Joint Intelligence Committee warning that Iraq would increase the threat of terrorism before they invaded Iraq- they still relied, for a start, on contacting ambulance emergency services personnel via their mobile phones? For crying out loud. Anyone who has ever been to a music festival or a big sporting event can tell you what happens when everyone uses their phones at once; the network crashes. Two days after July 7th, they issued pagers to key personnel. Tells you it all, really, dosn't it? If that was a funding issue, or an management issue, I hope the person responsible can sleep at night...Watch BBC London News for the full report. Not sure when, probably Tuesday or Wednesday.Hmmm, no wonder they don't want a public enquiry.

UPDATE: Report here ( choose Wednesday's bulletin)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ask them if they have Iridium phones - it's a satellite system. While, like all satellite systems, it doesn't work too well in building, it has the advantage of requiring no functioning infrastructure on the ground. Rescue and aid organisations use them alot in disaster areas because of this. In addition beacus they are not generally used by the public, the system is not likely to suffer an overload.

The Anon

March 13, 2006 9:28 am  
Blogger Mitch said...

Best of luck Rachel. It's very strange to think of the ambulances taking so long. My experience is different as I was down there for at least an hour and half and then looked after above ground at Kings Cross, but it is obvious that the emergency services were not scrambled as quickly as they should have been.


March 13, 2006 10:50 am  
Anonymous seth said...

hi rachel,

did your interview make it to the BBC site? i would have like to have seen it.


March 13, 2006 8:43 pm  
Blogger Aidan said...

It's certainly not nitpicking or unappreciative to raise certain concerns about the deployment of the emergency services, no matter how exemplary a job many individual members obviously did.
Obviously I can't comment myself, but did find it intriguing to talk recently at length with a survivor on the Aldgate train, who balanced his admiration for the paramedics'/firefighters' commitment with a certain frustration and disbelief at some signs of delay and hesitation - though this also sparked some defensive reaction, which I regret...
All very humbling and so-so-shocking yet there-but-for-the-grace-etc-etc for a mere hearer and unobserver such as myself...

March 14, 2006 2:45 am  
Anonymous Mark Myers said...

I work in the ambulance control room and was on duty on July 7th. I was taking calls, rather than sending out ambulances, so I didn't see how long they took to arrive on scene, but I strongly suspect that they were held back by police or other authorities. Usually, if someone has a long wait for an ambulance, people keep ringing back saying "where is the ambulance?" This didn't happen once on July 7th, so I strongly suspect that they were being kept round the corner waiting for the go ahead to enter -- perhaps after it had been ensured that there were no bombs around waiting to go off? There was an incident in Spain where terrorist planted a second bomb which went off just after the emergency services arrived. As soon as we knew about the bombs (the first call came in at 8.53 - a major incident was declared about half an hour later) all the ambulances were dispatched to the scenes, and only the most serious calls elsewhere received an ambulance. It is extremely rare for it to take two hours to reach *any* call, let alone a major incident.

I didn't see what was happening dispatch-wise as I was busy taking calls, but from the talk in the room there didn't seem to be any problem getting ambulances to the scene -- only with covering the unrelated calls elsewhere.

Also, there's no ambulance station at UCH. There are, however, several ambulance stations in Central London. At 9am I would expect there to be about five ambulances free to attend the call immediately, and several more with patients on board that could come along later (the average job takes 1 hour).

Have you spoken to the ambulance service's enquiries office about this? Maybe they'd be able to give you some more information...

March 26, 2006 10:28 pm  

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