Wednesday, 3 March 2010

999 Who Ya Gonna Call? Read all relevant memos first

You pick up the phone and dial 999 you expect to have an emergency service that will do whatever it can to help you from that emergency.

So your mother falls down a 60 foot mineshaft* in Ayrshire who you going call?

Well you'll need the Ambulance Service to treat the injuries but you need to get her out first, so surely the local Fire Brigade will be the people to assist the ambulance crew in getting their patient to where she can be treated? Not so.

In July 2008 Alison Hume had done just that and her daughter Jane went looking for her when she failed to return. Finding her in a disused mineshaft 120 yards from her home.

Despite a firefighter volunteering to be lowered down on a rope to rescue her a little bit of paper from Strathclyde Fire and Rescue chiefs in March that year caused a quandary. The memo had banned the use of rope equipment from lifting members of the public to safety. It wasn't until six hours afterwards that Mrs Hume was eventually lifted to the surface when a mountain rescue team were in attendance. However, she died of a heart attack as she was being lifted up.

For those of you who don't know Ayrshire while it has some gorgeous hills it hardly necessitates a full time mountain rescue presence.

During the hearing into the incident a solicitor asking the first senior Fire Officer on the scene what happened that day:

"If Mrs Hume had fallen down the shaft on 13 March, instead of 26 July, you could have used a lowering line?"

He replied: "We could have."

There are too issues that Health and Safety have to deal with, obviously first is the health and safety of the workers who carry out the dangerous tasks. The second in the case of an emergency service is the health and safety of the members of the public that they are supposed to be helping. I'm not expecting firemen to be fearless, but to have control over the fear of the situation they are facing and take the calculated risks that they believe are necessary in every situation.

I'm not calling for reckless abandon of Health and Safety regulation but on the spot risk assessment which can be changed by those on the spot in the event of a crisis and not dictated by some pen pusher at a desk.

* Note not the one pictured.

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