Monday, 7 April 2008

Controversial fire

Spring has sprung...not!

Two (yep, 2) emergency calls – one false alarm and one by ambulance.

The Capital was preparing itself for the arrival of that eternal fire, the Olympic Flame, amidst a crisis in the weather. Usually, I’m on standby at Trafalgar Square in the sunshine, with mobs of tourists and Sunday Londoners milling about on a day like this at this time of year. Today, I’m in the middle of a snow storm.

Just before the flakes began to fall in earnest, I was called to a collapsed 40 year-old who’d been seen lying on the pavement ‘not responding’. When I got on scene, he was sitting up against a wall, with a can of lager by his side and a paper bag around his neck.

I parked up and my update stated that he was ‘very grey’. I saw the caller on the ‘phone to Control across the road. He would be telling them, from a safe distance, that I was there. He promptly disappeared after a few seconds; I guess he had better things to do.

As soon as I got close enough to see his face, I realised why the caller had thought he was grey – he had a whitish stain across his nose and mouth and that could only mean one thing in these circumstances; he had been inhaling a solvent. The paper bag around his neck was the biggest clue.

He’d just had his ‘hit’ and now he wasn’t talking, so I asked him if he needed an ambulance. He shook his head and looked annoyed that I would suggest such a thing. I went back to my car but I couldn’t leave him there. He was on a residential street, it was starting to snow hard and it was freezing outside. His hands had felt like blocks of ice when I touched them. He needed to go to a place of safety (and shelter). He confirmed that when, as I looked at him in my rear-view mirror, he slid from the standing position I’d put him in, to a less than refined horizontal one. He fell down.

I gave him a blanket and no option; he was going to hospital. The ambulance arrived in the white flurry and he was whisked off. He’d never appreciate this act nor thank anyone involved and he may have died in the street, cold as it was but sometimes this job is all about knowing you did the right thing and feeling better for it, if only for a short time.

I sat on Trafalgar Square as they prepared for the coming of the Olympic Torch, in a veritable blizzard. Police officers began to show up for their stint of duty there and one of them chatted to me as he hid his frozen hands inside his coat (he’d forgotten his gloves). It was going to be a miserable day for them; at least I was inside a warm car. My colleagues were out on bicycles and motorbikes in this weather too, so I sympathised with all of them. I hope you got warm eventually Sarge!

Pop music drifted over from the sound system at the column and it mixed with the church bells, ringing for Sunday service. It was beautifully eclectic and just my thing because it’s not unusual for me to have classical music playing while my sirens are on – the clash of sounds works for me.

For the rest of the day I was mobile around the areas where the torch was travelling. After a few incidents, including one in which a protestor got close enough to handle the thing, nothing much happened and very few people even got a chance to see it for real because a tight cordon of Chinese security men, police officers and riot cops protected the bearers throughout. If the flame wasn’t obscured by security, it was hidden on the top deck of a bus. It all seemed pointless. Expensive and pointless. It meant nothing to me and the symbolism was lost.

I think it’s right to demonstrate opposition openly and vocally but when the enjoyment of what was supposed to be a real symbol of sport is taken away from thousands of people just because a few protestors like to be more 'active' – even to the point of potentially harming the torch-bearers, I think we’ve reached a low point in society. Go out and shout all you want about what you disagree with but keep your hands off people and property that doesn't belong to you - it detracts from your message and removes any sympathy for your cause. I only know about Falun Gong, for example because the protestors I've seen are visible, persistent and peaceful.

Before I went home, I attended a 35 year-old man who was in the custody of the police. The cells were full of people who’d been arrested as a result of today’s protests. They’ll all have criminal records and have made no difference to anything in politics. My patient wasn’t a protestor – he was drug addict who claimed he’d overdosed on heroin. He denied this when I arrived and refused any medical attention whatsoever. He had wasted everybody’s time and was probably the only one in that cell block who truly deserved to be there.

Be safe.


mrkester said...

good posts as always.

by the way, did you ever find out anymore re: the girl who got seriously injured by the falling sign.

morbid i know, but closure oftens helps

keep up the good work

AgainstADarkBackground said...

I am a regular reader of your blog and think that you do an excellent job of chronicling what you do, however I do think that you are mistaken in what you are saying about the Olympic Torch incident / incidents. Quiet, well hidden and well policed protests do little to bring a certain political situation to Joe Public's attention. Some forms of civil disobedience do. The active protests that happened on this day went a long way to increasing awareness of the political situation that you didn't mention, and draws international coverage that could never be attained from a herded, tucked away bunch of protesters. Sadly in this day and age it's headlines that polarize the public, and these just don't happen without engaging the 'Red Tops'.

Xf said...


Sorry, no...I try but often fail to get back to the receiving hospital, then things just get busy and I never do. I will ask my colleagues if they know anything.

Xf said...


I can't diasgree with you. The world's media and Mr. Public will be made more aware of the situation but - and this is where my argument stands - the aggressive nature of the 'attacks' on the flame (and incidentally those carrying it) became the news...NOT the political situation in Tibet or the deadly consequences of China's crushing policies in the region.

The average Joe was sitting on his settee laughing at the stupidity of the spectacle we had on our TV's - I'm willing to bet that few of them ran down to their local MP and protested about China.

My perspective on this is simply about the tactics deployed and the futility of it all - the Olympic Games, whether we want them or not, will now be tainted with this so-called 'ceremony' of harmony but it won't be the Chinese Government that most Brits will blame for it.

Noisy, peaceful protests all along the route would have served a better purpose in my mind but maybe you mean aggressive protestation is more effective because it attracts the attention of the less intelligent? If that's the case, what do they understand of politics anyway?

Anonymous said...

Do you ever see anyone that is actually sober?
Oh, and ill.

Xf said...


Occasionally :-)

Sarge said...

My hands did warm up eventually! What's more, the girls on the brass band were handing out free sweeties to us, so it wasn't all bad!

Keep up the good work!

NJ EMS said...

The the Olympic Flame is about to hit The USA...oh boy!