Tuesday, 19 July 2011


It's a strange setting for an ambulance crew. I remember the planning stages of operations from my military days, so sitting in a briefing for a raid brings with it a rare moment of nostalgia. The idea of missing a life in a very different uniform is alien to anyone who has never been there. Explaining how it is possible to enjoy a life that is inherently dangerous, even life-threatening, is an impossible task. But ask any ex-soldier, sailor or airman, however, and the vast majority will tell you that there's always a small part of their heart and mind that still belongs to the military. 

There were four of us in the room, a manager, a crew and me, along with dozens of police officers who were  to be involved in the raid. We looked totally out of place in a sea of riot and armed police, our green uniforms standing out amongst the dark blue and black. Some were already in balaclavas, their identities known only to themselves and their immediate peers. Side arms were strapped to their legs or hips depending on personal preference, and each had a semi-automatic rifle under their seat. Just for good measure, they each carried a Taser too.

There were three presentations by three senior officers, one by one introducing themselves by name, and then speaking about one part of the operation. Access, action and egress. After they have each explained what will be happening under their command, the highest ranking officer in the room spoke about what happens if it all goes wrong.

"You'll forgive me if I don't introduce myself, but the other officers here can confirm my identity if necessary." Nobody asked, but the three senior officers subtly nodded their heads. 

"There will almost certainly be gunshot wounds," he started, "and if there are any injuries, our men will bring them out to the ambulance crews." The first half of his sentence jolted us all into the seriousness of the action. 

"We know they're armed as well, our intelligence has warned us of handguns and cold weapons too." Cold weapons aren't as innocent as they sound, it just meant that they weren't firearms. He went on to explain that they were sure of samurai swords and machetes, and suspected other weapons too. 

"There will be snipers on the tops of buildings within sight of our target, and anyone trying to escape will be shot. Lethal force has been authorised but only as a last resort. Once all the targets have been apprehended and accounted for, and the area cleared, the ambulance staff will be called forwards to triage and treat any casualties and victims inside the building."

Victims. That's what this operation was all about. This was a hostage situation, and one that had turned very serious very quickly. The police had received a tip-off. A note had been posted through the door of a police station suggesting that one or two people were being held against their will in what was allegedly a community centre, but turned out to be so much more. And soon it would transpire that it was more than one or two people who were being held.

We drove in a convoy of more than twenty vehicles, cars, riot vans, some marked as armed response units, some undercover and right at the end were the three ambulances. A helicopter hovered high overhead. Police motorbikes leap-frogged each other to ensure all the junctions along the route were kept clear for long enough to allow everyone through at once. The blue flashing lights of so many vehicles in a row was an awesome sight, yet only a handful of people were awake in the dead of night to see it. One driver who had been stopped looked as if he was watching a long rally at a tennis match, following one car at a time from left to right, then looking back to see the next one coming along. Half a mile from the scene, as if on a single switch, all the lights went off at once and it was as if the world had suddenly been enveloped in the darkness of a total eclipse.


Wannabe Paramedic said...

What a day. Being a Paramedic really is one of those jobs where you really don't know what is round the corner... Hope it all went well and not too much blood loss.


Anonymous said...

Please continue this story!!! What happens??

Becca said...

Wow. Scary, amazing... I hope you're able to tell us more in your next posts.

What an incredible image! Shame that taking a picture would be out of the question.

Anonymous said...

So intense!! I'm on the edge of seat! The only plus side of playing "catch up" is that I know there is a part 2!