Friday, 10 May 2013

Dates set in Stone

Richard Swan in his posting 'Dates set in stone' on Narrowboat World commented "In this particular incident, bearing in mind that I have no details of the precise circumstances, I was surprised that this poor chap was left on the towpath when there were evidently boats around which could have provided shelter and possibly transport to a more accessible spot."

Click Here to Read.

The Chesterfield Canal is shallow along much of its length. We had to proceed at tickover speed in many sections because of the risk of damage to the prop when dragging the bottom. At the location where we happened upon the casualty. We came to a sudden stop, the rest of the boats closed up behind. However the last boat was able to back up and got as close to the bank as possible by the simple expedient of ramming the front of their boat into the towpath side mud. Even then their plank would not reach the bank side.  They had to leap ashore and clamber up the bank.  This was a freezing cold day with a biting wind chill. 

We discussed amongst ourselves bringing the casualty onboard. The only way of bringing the casualty on a boat was by wading through water and mud. However, for many years I was a trained first aider and there is one over riding rule when dealing with casualties. No matter what the circumstances - never ever place yourself in danger. In this case anyone entering the water was a potential risk of doubling the number of casualties. You read about it every year people entering into the water to rescue pet dogs and the dogs often being the only survivor. 

If we had taken the casualty onboard, going ahead would have taken us further away from the nearest road. There was no possibility of going backwards. Boats had by now been pushed by the wind into the overhanging trees on the off side and were having difficulty in extracting themselves. I had summoned the ambulance and police using the 999 service. We were able to provide a nearby postcode. Some of our group were with the casualty and trying to assess his situation. One in the party went to the roadside to await the ambulance arriving and guided the paramedic to the location. 

On his arrival the paramedic was now clearly the man in charge. 

He said that he needed to get the locked access gate open. Mags had committed the CaRT "emergency number" to memory and she quoted it to the paramedic. After all we believed the number to be the fastest way in an emergency to get the gate open. I don't know why - but the number was apparently not being answered. The paramedic was agitated by the lack of response and went to plan B. He summoned the assistance of the fire brigade. The fire brigade were arriving on scene around the same time as the number was answered. The CaRT emergency number 'operator' who everyone thought was a member of CaRT staff was unable to provide a code for the locked gate. They said that they would contact the duty supervisor. The 'operator' rang back and said that they had been in contact with the supervisor and the supervisor would ring back. Which the supervisor eventually did, only for us to find that they did not know the access number either.

By now, more crews were making their way ashore. The paramedic said that he might need access into a nearby field for an emergency helicopter to land. Boaters started cutting their way through the hedge and fence to clear a passage. Then the Ambulance turned up in the field and the emergency services were able to carry the casualty to the ambulance.

The CaRT emergency number is clearly not an 'emergency' number in the accepted sense of any emergency involving casualties. If there are no casualties in an urgent incident then ring CaRT first. My advice to anyone in similar circumstances where casualties are involved would be to ring the 999 emergency services first.

Its easy to pontificate after the event and I don't want to be seen as setting policy for CaRT. But I think that there is a valuable lesson to be learned. One - if anyone rings the CaRT emergency number and there are casualties are involved - defer the call to the real emergency services without delay. Two - revisit the 'message' that the word emergency and the number 999 in the middle of the number conveys. A good start might be swapping the word emergency with urgent. The bottom line still remains unresolved. Why was a national list of gate access codes not available and why did it take so long to answer the call. Those questions are for CaRT to resolve.

I read something a few days ago on a blog that made me stop and think. It was a throwaway comment by a paramedic. It seems that one of the problems that they have is finding properties that do not have an easy to see door number. Imagine that an emergency call has been made. The ambulance is on site in good time - but time is wasted looking for the correct address. It could be a matter of life and death!

Now, lets suppose you are out and about on your boat, moored up for the night and someone is taken ill. You need to make a 999 emergency call. Could you describe your exact location. Could you describe the best route to get to your boat?

Canal bridge numbers or lock names will be of little or no use at all to the emergency services. They are looking for a house number, postcode, road or street name. Just the stuff that's not readily available for mooring locations along the canal. 

About 15 years ago we lived on a busy crossroad junction. From time to time we would hear the bang of an accident outside. A quick look through the door would confirm the diagnosis of yet another road traffic accident. We had a little sticker on the phone containing the A and B road numbers and road names to aid the emergency services. Later, the road junction was staggered which helped to reduce the number of bumps. Later still the junction was converted into two mini-roundabouts. I think the accidents have now stopped.

Today, there are electronic devices that can pinpoint your exact location to within a few metres. It might be a cheap and cheerful satellite navigation system as used in your car.  Alternatively it might be a map application on your android phone. The thing is, it would be easy to establish your location - yet at the same time it might be difficult in the heat of the moment if someone is suddenly taken ill.  You might well be using your android phone to make the emergency call. 

A quick check of your location when you moor up for the night night. Noting down any road names as well as any "A" and "B" road identification, might just save a life one day. It could even be yours! 


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