Ambulance stories (30)

Explosion in Notting Hill

There was a young man who had come from Wiltshire, about 100 miles West of London, to work on a job, converting a former workshop into a fancy new mews house. He was in his early 20’s, lived at home with his parents, and was saving up money, so he and his girlfriend could get engaged. He didn’t really want to be away from home, staying in a depressing bed and breakfast hotel, in a seedy part of London, a city he hardly knew; but he needed the work, and wanted to earn enough to fulfil his dreams.

The job was hard work, labouring to clear an old industrial premises, and prepare the way for more skilled tradesmen to plaster walls, and add all the luxuries of modern living. The site manager obviously wanted this work done quickly, and had possibly cut corners in his surveying of the site, and his examination of the plans and the history of the previous use of the old building. That late afternoon, the young man was told to break up the concrete floor, using a pneumatic drill. He was left alone that day, but worked hard, and soon had the top layer cleared. As he drilled deeper, there was a sudden bright flash, and a large explosion, just under his feet. He had drilled into an old petrol tank, dating from the 1950’s, when the place had been used for car servicing. This tank had been emptied many years earlier, but still contained the vapour from decades of previous use, and it was this that had exploded, as the metal drill pierced the large tank.

We were about three miles away, and received the job over the radio, given as ‘explosion, report on arrival.’ We made very good time, arriving before the Fire Brigade, and the Police. As this was a flash explosion, there was little structural damage, and no ensuing fire. Amazingly, the young victim was standing outside the premises, waiting for us to arrive. He was partly dressed, as some of his clothes had been blown off, and others hurriedly removed, as they had been alight. Some of his hair was burnt off, and he had blackened skin, from the smoke. We rapidly got him into the ambulance, and onto our trolley bed. He looked startled, and somewhat agitated, but he was not complaining, and showed no fear. He even managed to tell us a little about himself, hence the short introduction above. While my colleague set up intravenous infusions into each arm, to hurriedly replace fluids, and administer pain relieving drugs, I attached a monitor, and a 100% oxygen mask, to assist his breathing. As we worked, we exchanged a glance; it was a glance that said ‘doesn’t look good’, and no words were necessary. He had suffered massive percentage burns to the entire front of his body, arms, legs, and head. He had also inhaled the burning vapour, and this would affect all of his airways, and cause severe breathing problems. We got on quickly, eager to move him as soon as he was stable.

I put in a call to St Mary’s, only a short distance away, to ensure that they would be expecting a serious burns job within a few minutes, and off we went, lights flashing, sirens wailing, into the rush-hour traffic. On arrival, our young man was rushed into the Resuscitation Room, and a large group of doctors and nurses took over. We gave a short history to the staff, booked him in at reception, and soon had to leave, for the next job.

Later that evening, we got back to that hospital, with another job. We decided to check on our burns patient, and see how he was. He had been given opiate pain relief, so was no longer in any pain. He remained very calm, apparently unaware of the seriousness of his condition, and the finality of the prognosis. The surgeons had cut a series of ‘checkerboard’ incisions all over his body, to allow the rapidly swelling skin to expand without bursting open. His face was also grossly swollen, and the inflammation inside his mouth made speech difficult. He managed a half smile when he spotted us, and indicated his thanks with a ‘thumbs up’ gesture.

Outside the department, another ambulance waited, to transfer him all the way to Wiltshire, with a medical escort. It was no longer going to be an emergency run; he was being taken to a hospital near his home, so that he could die in the company of his family and girlfriend. I often think of this hard working, pleasant young man, and the terrible way he died, without the experience of a life he certainly deserved.

37 thoughts on “Ambulance stories (30)

  1. How heart-breaking. This kind of loss ripples across so many people… his parents, his partner… the family they never got to have. I bet the contractor didn’t suffer any consequences either. What a senseless death.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My reaction to this story is one that I am incapable of putting into words. Perhaps the only thing I can say at this point is to thank you, again, for your service. Your service did allow the young man to escape the experience of some of his physical pain. Warmest regards, Ed

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such accidents still happen, David, even with greatly increased safety measures.
      Only recently, two men were killed by fumes whilst cleaning out a storage tank in Norfolk. And they had the necessary safety equipment, supposedly.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s a hard story, Pete. Very sad. Such a brave young man. Maybe, just maybe he survived…Is there even a possibility? This story makes me mad. I want to blame somebody–the contractor he was working for–but is there anyone to blame? Is it just the tragedy of a random accident? I know these memories haunt you. You provided him with care and comfort. The thumbs up was his way of saying thanks. I hope that comforts you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Pam. He wasn’t expected to live for more than 24 hours, hence being returned to his home town. I am sure that the surveyor/contractor was to blame, for saving money by not having the old fuel tanks removed safely.
      I am always haunted by his hopeful thumbs-up. The chance that he had no real idea how serious it was, and yet still thought to indicate his thanks when he saw us. Such memories are those I would gladly lose.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

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