Sunday, 13 March 2011

Slow to act

It has been suggested that the emergency services (some of them) showed a little too much caution on 7/7; some, apparently, were slow to take ‘calculated risks’ in order to save lives.

I personally do not believe that any of us on that day stopped to think too long about whether our involvement was too risky and that the lives of others were not of paramount importance during the terrorist attacks but I would like to tender this reasonable presumption on behalf of those who are being seen as ‘slow to respond’ – maybe there were too many unknowns. We don’t get bombed every day (thankfully), so we don’t have the experience necessary to activate a train of thought that superintends our sense of caution for our own sakes. We are, however, reluctant to rush in without thinking because that too will cost lives.

Believe me, this is not an excuse for alleged delayed response but, from a human point of view and knowing how it all unfolded for real, I can see why people may think that too much caution was exercised. I’m sure that in the first few days of the Blitz, emergency services and ordinary folk were unexercised and slower about their decisions to commit themselves to immediate danger – I’m confident, without knowing for sure of course, that they began to get braver and more involved with the thick of it as they grew accustomed to the effects and aftermath of the German Luftwaffe actions. They’d be taking risks based on their experience and knowledge, gained over the period in which they managed to survive previous risk-taking activities, which would have been slower and more cautious. It would have been a learning process borne out of self-preservation.

Would we be criticising the response to 7/7 if it was carried out without caution and many emergency services personnel died as a result? How many of the brave Fire fighters in New York would have been ordered to stay in the Towers if their bosses (and the public) had known of their imminent collapse? I’ve actually received an email from someone stating that ‘paramedics should expect to risk death for their patients’.

I remember carrying out a mock exercise at university, the year before I graduated and qualified, where we were to respond to an explosion (a bomb) at an underground station – one of those that had, in fact, been targeted in 2005. I recall how unlikely it seemed that it would ever happen in reality but it did, only a year later. Everything in that mock exercise had to be planned precisely so that errors would not be made, or at least they could be reduced in number. Such calculating takes time.

If terrorists strike again and they put into place secondary devices and other traps, would we be foolish to exercise caution? Or would it be okay to lose ten or twenty members of the emergency services instead of the risk that we’d lose two or three victims who had to endure until they arrived? It’s a horrible balance to achieve but it is a regrettable function of mass casualty emergency medicine; saving the greatest number possible, without needlessly risking the lives of others.

I hope I made sense there.

I don’t tend to focus too much on what we did or did not do on that day because, although there needs to be a thorough inquiry for the sake of the victims’ families and I do appreciate that, I tend to look at the bigger picture. As long as we tolerate self-segregation by those who come to our shores, have families, create generations of new ‘Brits’ but, throughout the entire process, refuse to integrate and whilst loathing our systems and beliefs, teach their children the same poisonous stuff, we will be at risk from attack from within. We will see more photographs of smug, smiling men who believe they will get to heaven by murdering others on the say-so of their religion (a religion they tarnish by doing so) - men who hold small children and who will ultimately leave them with the shame of what they have done.

The 7/7 inquiry is important. I would want to know how and why my loved one died on that day, of course I would. Everything needs to be analysed because it’s how a civilised society behaves after disaster but let’s not overlook the fact that none of it would have happened if the young men being bred to do it were not here in the first place; if our civilised way of life did not extend to allowing them to attend hate classes and berate our soldiers on the streets as they bring home their dead.

The Inquiry has to hear the views of everyone with a voice and I guess the caution perceived on the day is a matter that has to be addressed. However, at the risk of sounding unreasonable, is the primary thinking here that emergency services personnel are, by merit of uniform, salary or rank, expected to take risks without thinking?

If I get to a call and there is a problem – there is smoke billowing from the entrance of a tube station – I will have a look and see how far I can get. If I see flames and know that entering further will get me burned and possible killed, I will back off and re-think my strategy; I’ll wait for the Fire Service to arrive. Members of the public will then recount my actions and say that I acted too cautiously or that I refused to act at all when people were dying below ground, although none of them would have ventured inside either – the one wearing the uniform is the expendable one.

I will gladly risk whatever I can to save someone else – we all would - but I challenge you to find many who would thoughtlessly give up their own lives, their families and loved ones, for a stranger.

Be safe.


Anonymous said...

I was stood on a beach in egypt when a storm was there. For some reason there was a girl playing in the sea and she got swept out.

One person out of 80 odd people went in to get her. While the rest watched her scream.

I think the only person who can comment on the actions of the other people there is that one person.
Even I don't fault them for not being that one, because it was instinct that sent me in.

You did what you thought was best at the time with the situation in front of you.

For the record, you did what was best from the evidence now also.

Elf said...

After all, it's not like one of the first rules of first aid is 'it's better to have one casualty that two'...

Fee said...

Sadly, like all such incidents beforehand, it's often easier to blame those still around to attend the inquest. The blame for every death and injury rests on the shoulders of those young men who carried the explosives and chose to detonate them.

I do not expect ANY of the emergency services to risk their lives on my behalf. It sounds horribly blunt, but dead heroes are no good to anyone.

BRC_Medic said...

I fully agree with you. We (in a wider sense medical services) are there to rescue people if it's reasonable safe.
Eventually it should be down to the individual to decide if he is prepared to risk his life.
This may vary for firefighters, soldiers or police bomb squad.

For my part, I stay clear of too hazardous situations, as I have a family to care for.

Surveyor said...

Oh! how easy it is to criticise with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge we have now. The person on the ground at the time has to take a decision based on the information he or she has at that moment and, using the knowledge they have gained through training and experience,they reach an informed decision. If circumstance means information is lacking at the time, the decision will always be open to criticism once further information comes to light. The importance of an enquiry such as this is that we learn what steps we should try and take to prevent a re-occurence.

Emergency Service personnel will take risks to help others, but it will be a calculated risk. If the input is incorrect the outcome is likely to be uncertain. It is a wonder and a reflection on the professionalism of all concerned that the 7/7 bombings did not result in worse casualties.

Mjolinir said...

Interesting? - (BBCNews website ) //Islington businesses to get life-saving training for terrorist attacks//
Sergeant Andrew Wadeson, who heads Islington Police’s counter terrorism unit, said: “At the moment the threat level from international terrorism is severe. That means an attack is highly likely.

“If an incident occurs it will take a few minutes for the first emergency services to respond. We will not be there when it happens. We are equipping people who will be there with the skills to react.

“Our aim is to make people aware of what to look for leading up to attack, and if an attack or major incident does take place, make sure they are better prepared to respond to it. This will make Islington and Camden safer.”

Mjolinir said...

** Apologies **

Re first line of my recent posting - I heard the story on BBC1 Regional news, but that link was to the "London24" website.

prudence entwhistle said...

I am full of admiration for paramedics, firefighters, and police who venture into potentially dangerous situations in their daily working lives. From what I've read, the dedication, bravery, and hardwork of the emergency services on 7/7 seem to be exemplary. Rather than comdemning people for 'slowness' or 'inaction' or 'caution', surely we 'civilians' should consider how *we* would behave in a similar situation.

The debate is similar to that which bubbled away during the Icelandic volcano 'crisis' in April last year, when airlines and airports were accused of taking an extreme approach to safety by grounding so many planes. While it was extremely irritating and disruptive for some many people not to be able to fly, I would prefer to spend 48 hours in an airport, or a few days in a B&B, than die in plane crash. My mother was due to fly back to NZ the day after the volcano erupted, and while the disruption was inconvenient for her (she had to stay an extra week - which suited me very well!) I felt much happier knowing that when she did fly, it was safer.

Think how the airlines and authorities would have been vilified if planes had taken off as normal, and hundreds had died or been injured in crashes! Of course, the exact effect of the ash on plane engines was not known exactly, but it wasn't a risk worth taking.

I digress hugely, but hopefully everybody gets the picture!

Private Ambulances said...

Have you read the article recently that paramedics are leaving the NHS to join private ambulance companies because of the substantial pay incentives.

What's your view as an NHS paramedic?

Xf said...

Private ambulances

Yes, I've heard and I say good luck to them. The NHS is a great employer but things are changing and if Medics need to keep their families in some degree of comfort by going out to the private sector, like doctors and nurses have been doing for decades, then it makes sense.