Sunday, 1 May 2011

Central Locking

Before the old ambulances could be completely replaced, we were treated to a smattering of new vehicles. Shiny yellow, with a trendy battenberg design all the way round, and as an extra confusion, diesel engines rather than the lawn-mower type petrol ones. Many a medic would be caught out in the first few months by feeding the engines with the wrong fuel.

They were hardly loved, those old LDV's. Nothing more than vans that had been given blue flashing lights for the roof and the front grill. Meat wagons. Loud, growling engines that would wake an entire street at three in the morning, but which you had no choice sometimes but to leave running, just to make sure that you still had some battery power by the time the patient had been recovered from the scene and placed on board. The three battery lights on the front would give the cab a disco feeling as they would all start off a tired red, change through slumbering amber and on their way to eager green, each individually, each moving backwards and forwards through the sequences depending on what the driver tried to get out of the engine.

At least the temperature control was reliable. The heating would completely fail in the winter, and work whether you liked it or not on the hottest days of summer. The air-conditioning never worked - there simply wasn't any. Anything that broke, fell apart or went missing was fixed with tape, a staple of any medic's armoury, along with all the medical stuff, and in fact probably higher on the priority list than most of the real kit.

In their final days, as they sensed the day of judgement and their own demise, they mounted a rebellion. They had a knack for trying to poison the occupants by filling the cab with noxious gases that would leave crews needing oxygen therapy themselves. Finally, not so long ago, and at least five years past their best, the last of the old fleet were mothballed.

In the early days of the new Mercedes ambulances there would be fights as to which crew would have the privilege of owning it for the shift. Those on the longest shift thought they were entitled to it, or those who were taking the longest transfer. The lure of the softer suspension, gentler ride, and most importantly the ability to control the internal temperature were cause for more than one disagreement. Yet, as the younger members of staff would argue over the newest, shiniest ambulances, the old guard would reminisce about the wondrous days of sliding doors, scoop-and-run, and were often mocked about their memories of the horse-and-cart. Finally, after several weeks of watching others enjoy the pleasures of the new arrival, it was my turn, and as I tried to climb in the passenger side door, I discovered one more novelty that the old trucks lacked - central locking.

Dean took the keys and control of the vehicle for the day, I never even got a look-in, not that I minded particularly. Even from the earliest days in this job I've preferred to attend rather than drive. Dean, however, was like a kid in a sweet shop who'd been given free run of the shelves, and loved every minute of finally driving a vehicle that responded as an emergency ambulance should. After a few routine calls, we were tasked to a call given as a man with a serious laceration to his arm caused by broken glass.

Arriving at the call a few minutes later, we took out the normal bags, as well as an extra bag of bandages. A trail of blood stretched across the pavement by where we'd parked, down the paved driveway and into the house that was about thirty metres away. Dean locked the ambulance. We started to walk towards the house and as we opened the porch door, a figure started to run towards us and stopped us in our tracks. As he came nearer, we saw that he wasn't alone, but carrying what looked to be a knife behind his back. We could just see the handle and a glint of metal, but that was enough. 

We stepped back out, backpedalling at speed, and Dean had the presence of mind to slide the porch door shut in a hurry. Still carrying all our kit, we ran back to the ambulance, and tried to climb back in, only to find that the doors, for the first time ever, were locked. Our "patient" had almost caught up with us, and now all I saw was the knife, which turned out to be a samurai sword being waved menacingly above his head and coming ever closer. I dropped the bags.

"Open the doors!" I screamed to Dean. 

"I can't! The bloody things won't open!"


Dean fumbled in his pocket for the unfamiliar key, whilst we both ran round and round the ambulance trying to avoid being sliced in half. Dean yelled to a neighbour to call the police, as this was before the days when we had personal radios, and our only means of communication were, like our safe haven, locked inside the ambulance. Eventually there was a standoff, where we stood at 180 degrees to each other - us on one side - and a sword wielding maniac on the other, but all three of us standing by doors. If we unlocked the ambulance, he could get inside just as quickly as we could. We worked out a plan where we could hold him away from an access for just long enough to unlock the doors, climb inside and re-lock the ambulance before he'd climb in. Another couple of circuits of the ambulance and we'd finally positioned ourselves as per the plan, and miraculously managed to pull it off. 

"Control, this is Z321, we need urgent police assistance!"

"Z321, received. Can you tell us what's happening?" 

As I tried to catch my breath, I told them in half sentences what had happened and they promised to arrange for the police to attend. Our sword-swinging friend had finally realised he couldn't get in, and instead took to trying to smash the windscreen, which thankfully held fast. Any interested bystanders had quickly seen sense and fled back into the safety of their own homes, and as he turned away to pick up one of our discarded pieces of kit, we had just enough time for Dean to beat a hasty retreat, far enough to be safe, but close enough to still see the scene. Ninety seconds later, the first of the police units arrived, closely followed by several more. 

We watched from afar as our patient was quickly bundled to the ground by half a dozen officers, the sword wrenched from his grip, and he was placed in the back of a police car. Not without a struggle, but it wasn't a very long one. Slowly, Dean turned the ambulance round and we headed back to the scene, safe in the knowledge that neither assailant nor weapon were now of any threat. Stopping alongside one of the officers, I wound down the window and briefly explained again what had happened. 

"We'll need a full statement," said the officer, "we can do it here or back at the nick." 

"Might as well do it here. At least we've got air-conditioning." I climbed through the door between the cab and the back of the ambulance as the officer tried to open the back door from the outside. 

"Can't open it!" he said, "Must be jammed!" 

"Oh. Yeah. That'll be the central locking..." 

Dean pressed the button that magically unlocked every door to the ambulance. 

"Must remember not to lock these in future, especially on samurai-sword calls. Too bloody dangerous!" 


burned-out medic said...

at least you didn't lock the keys inside...

Anonymous said...

We too up here in the wondrous and sunny northwest have mercs that seem to have a scrote sensor on them it self locks in dodgy areas and you have to fight with the key and some sort of frantic key pressing combination it unlocks good on some days but like your post not good on others stay safe ......

Anonymous said...

Our Mercs will relock themselves if you're not careful - and usually when you've left the keys inside. Got caught out once one winter night at 2am in the back end of nowhere - a passing copper was kind enough to smash the passenger window in for us!

Anonymous said...

Had me on the edge of my seat!

Gill said...

Years ago, donkey's years ago, (well the 1960's or early 1970s), my husband was a London Ambulance Driver in an earlier still model of ambulance the type that had concrete floors.

One day he was on a calll going down West Hill (Putney) when the brakes failed with a queue of traffic ahead of him and nowhere to go on the road.

All he could do was take it onto the (mercifully clear) pavement with all bells and horns going and slide it along the garden walls in an attempt to slow it down and avoid a collision with the cars ahead of him.

Somehow it came to a halt in a front garden having passed between two well established trees and stopped just short of a wall.

The rescue crew arrived and tried to extricate the ambulance, even raising it and trying to get it over the boles of the trees proved impossible because ot the shape of the trees and the weight of the floor.

Just before they cut one of the trees down to remove it, they realised that neither tree had a mark on it.