Ambulance memories: Disasters

During my time as an EMT in London, I attended the scene of a few significant major incidents. Some were accidents, others related to terrorism. Whatever the cause, you might well consider them to be disasters. These are my recollections of some of those.

1981. Oxford Street London. The Wimpy Bar bombing.
Mandatory Credit: Photo by ANL/Shutterstock (1445884a)
Devastation After An IRA Bomb Exploded In A Wimpy Bar On Oxford Street Killing Kenneth Haworth The Metropolitan Police Explosives Officer Attempting To Defuse It.<

Following a warning from the IRA, a civilian bomb disposal officer attempted to defuse a bomb planted in a burger bar. It detonated as he worked on it, killing him instantly. I was in an ambulance at the end of the shopping street, and we heard the sound of the explosion, and saw the smoke rising. We were not required to go to the incident, as he was beyond medical help.
I later wrote a blog post about that brave man.

1982. Hyde Park, London. Household Cavalry bombings.

The IRA detonated two bombs that day. One in Hyde Park, the other in Regent’s Park. The targets of those attacks were soldiers of the Household Cavalry, returning to barracks after ceremonial duties, and bandsmen of The Royal Green Jackets. I was in an ambulance sent to the Hyde Park incident. Four soldiers were killed in Hyde park, as well as seven of the Blues and Royals cavalry horses. As it was a terrorist incident, it was treated as a crime scene, and I did not have to treat anyone on scene.

1983. Harrods Store Bombing, London.

The famous London department store was hit by an IRA bomb in December of that year. I was sent in an ambulance to standby if needed. I was very worried, as I knew that my wife had gone to the shop that afternoon, accompanied by a friend from Paris who wanted to buy some Christmas presents. Luckily, they were still in the tube station opposite at the time the bomb went off, so they were unharmed. We were not required to do that much more, as there were many ambulances available. Six people were killed, including three police officers. Another ninety people were injured, some seriously. The high casualty rate was caused by the failure to evacuate the store when the bomb warning was received. My only part in that job was to confirm to a police officer that I could not render any help to one of the victims, a man who had been blown in two by the blast.

1999. The Ladbroke Grove Train Crash.

With my colleague, I was in the first ambulance on scene at what is still one of the worst transport disasters in British history. We were there for most of the day, dealing with numerous casualties, victims of severe burns, and attempts to identify body parts. Thirty-one people were killed, and two hundred and sixty seriously injured. It was the most serious job I ever attended, in almost twenty-two years. I later wrote this blog post about that terrible day. Perhaps the worst day of my entire career.

Just a snapshot of what we called major incidents. There were many more in London, but those stick in my mind.

34 thoughts on “Ambulance memories: Disasters

  1. Horrific stuff Pete. I remember all of those incidents. And that people like your goodself were there helping, being available not knowing what you would be facing.

    What’s your take (if any) of the inquest of the Westminster attack where the ambulance paramedics were ordered not to “go in” as it was still considered to dangerous? I’m making no point…just curious on if it differs from your day?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Things have changed a lot, John. After I left, crews were issued with stab-vests. Even just before I left, we were beginning to be told not to proceed into any potentially dangerous domestic situation until police arrived, let alone suspected bombs or terrorist incidents.

      But when I started out in the job, and for most of my service, we just got sent, and we went. The chance of danger was just an accepted part of that role.

      Fear of litigation took over, and crews could not expect to get any compensation if injured (or killed) unless they followed the instructions to await police attendance. Trouble was, the police were often too busy to send anyone, and that left crews sitting at standby points, with the people who had dialled 999 wondering where they were.

      I am glad that I left when I did.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My goodness. So many IRA bombings. Few people, myself included, can imagine what it was truly like for you. Thank you for telling us these stories and your experiences, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It really struck me to learn that someone I now know was present for all of those tragedies. That makes them much more real for some reason. I am sorry that they replay in your mind. I know that the World Trade destruction plagues many here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can imagine the impact of 9/11. Even from across The Atlantic, I could worry for the emergency workers heading into those buildings. I knew just how they felt. A shared experience, thousands of miles apart.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. getting one’s head into the here and now is somewhat of a problem when one is retired. I am working on that with the talk person. If I get any ingihts I will pass them on. In the meantime, I suspect writing about them is a good way to handle the memories. Warmest regards, Theo

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yep – ancient history now, though many must still live with the effects of being injured. Now we have so-called IS and London citizens stabbing each other. Civiliazation still eludes humanity!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember hearing about some of those, Pete, but being there in person… You’ve seen more than your fair share, for sure. I’m not surprised you value your peace and quiet now. I’m off to check some of the posts. We shouldn’t forget the important task of first responders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Olga. With all the reports about Fundamentalist Muslim attacks filling the news, the ‘bad old days’ of the IRA bombs seem to have been forgotten.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  6. I’d almost forgotten how often IRA bombs went off in London, and, of course, other places in England. I can imagine your fear that your wife and her friend might have been in Harrods at the time. I’ve been to read the posts you gave the links for. Couldn’t help smiling at you confirming what I said in a comment yesterday about the service wanting you to return the dress uniform!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mary. The IRA bombing campaign went on for a long time. All the litter bins in mainline stations were removed, and many people travelled around in genuine fear of their lives for some years. These days, those IRA bomb and mortar attacks in London hardly get a mention.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.