The dangers of being a paramedic have been highlighted recently, some for all the wrong reasons. The hazards we face are all too common, from abuse, to threats, to illness to violence. Sometimes, however, the biggest risk we face is before we've even met the patient. It's a risk that is borne out of carelessness, lack of respect, lack of skill, and especially selfishness. It's a threat to every ambulance, be it on six wheels or two, or anything in between. It's the menace of the non-attention-paying other road users. Sometimes it seems that there are certain people who will do all in their power not to let the ambulance through. Take for example the following cases:
1) We were driving down a road with two lanes in each direction, coming up to a cross-road with a set of traffic lights. Ahead of us was a car in each lane, waiting for the lights to change. Lights and sirens on, about 100 metres before we reach the lights, they change to green. The car in lane 1 takes off in a hurry and disappears up the road. The car in lane 2 conveniently moves out the way into lane 1. We look at each other in awe at the fact that there actually seems to be a sensible driver about at last. At that point, my entire life flashes before my eyes, the ambulance rocks from side to side, the brakes scream and both my driving crewmate and I swear loudly. I almost never swear. He never fails to remind me of that fact... The supposedly sensible driver has waited until we are within millimetres of him, and then performs a tyre-shrieking U-turn in front of us. To say that we missed by a hair's-breadth is no exaggeration. Had we have hit that car, I have no doubt that he'd have died. And possibly we would have as well.
2) Again, on lights and sirens, driving down a three-lane highway. I'm in lane 3, the fast lane, there's a car about 200 metres ahead, and almost no-one else on the road. I'm impressed at the fact that he seems to realise relatively early that I'm behind him, as he indicates to move over into lane 2. He indicates, but doesn't move. I'm getting closer, he still looks as though he's going to be helpful, but at the last possible moment he slams on his brakes. Leaving me almost no room for manoeuvre, I end up swerving round him and only just keep control of the vehicle. As I go past I see the reason for him indicating. He's got his phone to his ear, and his elbow resting on what must be the indicator control. He had no idea at all that I was behind him.
I know it can be unnerving having an emergency vehicle suddenly appear in your rear-view mirror. I remember that I had that experience on my very first driving lesson, with a police car behind me, and my very first time driving an ambulance, when two fire-trucks appeared opposite as we both tried to fit through a narrow tunnel. We don't go out of our way to scare or intimidate you. We don't try to run you off the road. We don't abuse the powers that we are given We're here to help the public, not harass them. We just ask for your help and co-operation.
So PLEASE! Think a little.
Pay a little more attention to your surroundings.
Stay off your phone and concentrate.
Turn down the music, just a little.
If there's no safe place for you to pull over, don't panic, keep driving until you can find somewhere safe.
Don't be scared to move into a bus lane, as long as you pull back out again after we've passed.
More than anything else, don't be selfish. It's probably what causes the most accidents.
And while I'm on the subject of driving, please, Please, PLEASE, strap your children in. It's one of the most loving and caring things you can do for them.
I hope that it's not your friend or relative we're on the way to, or are transporting, but just imagine, and act, as if it were. It could be your life-saving, good deed of the day.