You would be right to believe that the majority of people who choose to join the Ambulance Service do so for the right reasons. They generally have a desire to help people, and are rarely motivated by financial gain, or the search for a powerful career path. Some are attracted by the potential of job security; after all, people will always have accidents, or become ill. A small minority are thrilled by the prospect of driving around with flashing lights, and blaring sirens, although that excitement soon fades. The chance to wear a uniform, be official, and wander around looking important at scenes of disaster might well be a draw to some; in truth, I can recall quite a few like that.
For most, they see a worthwhile job, that can be interesting, varied, often amusing, and occasionally rewarding. It is generally well-regarded by others, and considered to be a laudable choice of occupation. If it gives you the possibility of driving around like a maniac sometimes, and being able to tell lots of grisly tales, then so much the better. However, there were a few, admittedly very few, who had other motives behind their desire to work in this field.
The most innocent, though still strangely annoying, were the equipment junkies. Those people that joined for the uniform, the light bars, and the sirens. They would collect models of ambulances, and even purchase their own (often very expensive) ambulance equipment, which they would keep in their own cars. Frequently, these private vehicles were just as comprehensively fitted out as a ‘real’ ambulance, and the proud owners would contrive to turn up at jobs, when they were not even on duty. They did this by means of another item of kit, an emergency channel scanner. Not strictly legal, though not technically illegal, this grey area of radio ownership enabled these individuals to keep tabs on anything that they deemed exciting, going on in a nearby area.
Their acquisitive desires even extended as far as smaller items, like torches. The Maglite Torch was not supplied by the Ambulance Service, as it was far too expensive. Nonetheless, many crew members would buy one, as their durability and reliability were legendary. The ‘junkies’ would buy them all; from a tiny key-ring size, up to the huge monster torch, almost the length of a man’s leg. They could not hope to find any practical application for this extensive set, they just had to have them. Other strange people would install lights in their own cars. These could not be used in the conventional way in private cars, but they just loved to know that they were there. If they came across an accident, usually by design, then they could light up the night sky, with a blaze of yellows and reds, asserting that they were just ‘warning of the hazard’. The same weirdos would often spend their holidays searching out foreign ambulance vehicles, which they would photograph, and look inside, to compare international equipment levels and standards. They would also buy patches, stickers, and badges, with which to adorn their casual clothing, the windscreens of their cars, and presumably, their bedroom walls.
It should be noted, that these were invariably men, mostly under 40 years of age, and usually lived alone, or with their parents.
The next class of ‘undesirables’, were those obsessed with the ‘power’ attached to the job. This was a strange one, as there was no tangible power, so they invented it instead. Once kitted out in uniform, bearing an I.D. card, and officially working for an organisation that gave them access to people’s homes, scenes of crime, and terrible accidents, they became ‘different’. They would arrive at a scene, immediately taking charge of whatever situation presented itself, but not in a good way. They would order bystanders around, talk loudly, and in an overbearing fashion; generally acting in a pompous, and officious manner, guaranteed to be totally inappropriate. They would use phrases such as, ‘I am talking here’, or ‘Listen to me’, always delivered at full volume, whatever the circumstances. Directing traffic featured strongly on their list as well. In the midst of carnage at a bad accident, if you could not find them, to help you as they should be doing, you could be sure that they would be at the end of the street, arms flailing, ordering hapless drivers hither and thither. They never saw anything wrong in any of it. They wouldn’t, would they?
As well as the relative ‘innocence’ of the behaviour outlined above, there was another small group who took things a lot further. Harmless vagrants would be shouted at, then kicked with the toe of a boot, eventually being manhandled around, shaken, pushed, or worse. There was usually little justification for this. They could just do it, and normally get away with it, and the targets were soft ones, and unsympathetic ones at that. You could easily imagine the type of person picked on, or bullied as a child, getting their own back on nameless individuals, courtesy of a uniform, an ambulance, and a reason to be there. Unconscious drunks were similarly easy victims, and frustrations could be vented with ease. Of course, the arrival of CCTV put a stop to a lot of these acts, as the numerous cameras could now record anything that happened out in the street; though nobody can ever be sure what went on once the ‘patient’ was inside the vehicle.
The final category is the most worrying, and one that gave me cause to act, on more than one occasion. As I have mentioned before, that job lends itself to frequent proximity to people in a state of undress. In addition, there are numerous vulnerable individuals, of all ages, who unreservedly trust ambulance crews to do the right thing. One of the mantras of the Training School is that there is; ‘No sex in First Aid’. One can be forgiven for admiring an attractive person in any circumstances, but acting on that attraction is another matter entirely. My first experience was soon after qualifying. Working with someone that I thought I knew well, a married man of a similar age. We were called to some public toilets in Central London, where we found a young woman in a collapsed state. She was unconscious, probably from an overdose of Tuinal, a sedative drug that was very widely used at the time. We made all the usual observations, and loaded the girl onto the vehicle, to take her to a nearby casualty. I was driving, and my colleague remarked how pretty she was, and what a shame she led such a sad life, to find herself in this predicament. I did not really see that job in the same way; as anyone unconscious, with vomit all over their clothing, and their hair matted from lying in a toilet cubicle, seemed far from attractive to me. As I was driving across one of the bridges to the hospital, he called out to me from the back, and it took me a while to realise what he was saying. It was, ‘look at these!’ I looked into the interior mirror, that gave a view into the rear of the vehicle, and saw that he had lifted up her top, and was looking at her exposed breasts. It may be one thing to see this accidentally, but it is another thing entirely, to deliberately disturb clothing, to achieve that result.
I pulled the vehicle into the kerb, and went into the rear. I told him in no uncertain terms to cover the girl immediately, and it was all I could do not to hit him. When we got to the hospital, as soon as we had handed over the patient, I told him that he must report sick, as I would no longer work with him. I then told him what I thought of him, and that if he did not go home, I would report his behaviour. This was easier said than done of course, as he would be able to fabricate many reasons why he had to interfere with clothing. There was the other dilemma of that job to consider as well; it would be my word against his, and no witnesses. He could see how angry I was, and agreed to go sick. I went in to see the station manager at the next opportunity, and told him that he could never crew me with this man again. When he wanted to know why, I replied simply; ‘ask him’. This man was, as I said, married, and had an eight year old daughter. I still can’t explain it, even today. I never knew the outcome of the chat he had with the manager, but he did transfer very quickly, to an area miles away, near the borders with Surrey. It was said that he was having travel problems, and needed to be nearer home.
Years later, I was working with another ‘family man’, also well-known to me. I had been to his house, and met his wife, and teenage son. One day, we attended the nearby home of a severely disabled young woman. She spent her life in a wheelchair, suffering from a disease that made her bones the texture of sponge. We had to take her to a specialist bone hospital in Middlesex on a regular basis, where her unusual condition was monitored. Although she was almost 21 years old, she was very naive, and had little life experience. She was less than four feet tall, and had little adult physical development, all a direct result of the syndrome that affected her. I was in the back for this journey, and during the long trip, she secretly confided to me, that the ‘man driving’, was her boyfriend. She told me that he would come to her flat late at night, or sometimes early on Sundays, and they would make love, and he would tell her that he loved her. I initially dismissed this as fantasy. After all, I knew him well, and he was not a man to do such a thing, surely. I let her ramble on, without comment, and we dropped her off, as arranged. As the treatment was to take a long time, we left, assigning the return trip to the local Ambulance Service in that area.
The return journey was long, plagued by rush-hour traffic. After a while, I broached the subject of what she had told me. My colleague looked embarrassed, and laughed. I asked why she would say such a thing, about a married man with children, who would surely never abuse his position in this way, seeking some bizarre sexual gratification. Not only that, his job, long held, could be at risk, if the story became public knowledge. It may not have been illegal, but it was certainly unethical. After a while, he suddenly said, ‘there’s nothing wrong with it, she is over eighteen, and it makes her feel good.’, I was amazed at his admission. I had known this man for more than seven years, and would never have suspected that he was systematically abusing his position in this fashion. I could see no point in anger. I just told him that he had to stop, and that if he did not, then I would tell his wife. He did not argue, and in this lack of argument, I saw realisation of his guilt. On this occasion, I am pleased to say that the girl in question moved on, and found love at the hospital, with a man who had a similar affliction. She later married, and to the best of my knowledge, is still happy.
My colleague also moved on, no doubt uncomfortable with the knowledge that others were aware of his transgression. He moved to work abroad, and I have never heard of him since.
The last episode I recount here, was something much more disturbing, and it eventually came to the attention of the authorities, I am pleased to say. One of my colleagues at a nearby station, was rumoured to be involved in something disturbing. I had occasion to work with him many times, and had seen no evidence of this. However, I was unduly diligent, so perhaps he was forewarned. He certainly fitted the bill, with an oily personality, and unctuous demeanour. He was unduly nice to patients,especially if they were disabled, or had learning difficulties. He also befriended their mothers, or carers, and went out of his way to be helpful, even outside of work. He would give up his spare time to run people around in his car, and was even known for this locally, where he was praised for his activities, by local associations. I was never happy to work alongside him, and watched him like a hawk. He was prone to ‘cuddles’ with patients, and excessive familiarity, none of which was deemed inappropriate at the time.
Some years later, a mother asked management why he was taking photos of her disabled daughter. He had told the young girl that he would enter the photos into a national competition, and that the family might get money for them. At first, the mother even agreed, believing that a Paramedic would be the last person to mistrust. Later, her daughter told her that he had also taken photos of her when her mother was absent. These had started normally enough, until he asked her to pose in underwear, telling the girl that these photos would be required for ‘elimination’ reasons. When he asked the girl to remove her bra, she did so, despite her reservations, but later felt bad about it, and told her Mother. She reported the actions to the Ambulance Service, who immediately told the Police. The man’s home was searched, discovering thousands of inappropriate photos, of dozens of young disabled women, in various states of undress, always in provocative poses. As he had not actually molested them, he was spared prison, but found guilty of minor sexual offences. He was also immediately dismissed from the London Ambulance Service, for gross misconduct.
The sad tailpiece to this story, is that the same man was able to find employment as an Ambulanceman almost immediately, in the private sector. Despite no reference, they had no knowledge of his previous activities, and being short-staffed, they were happy to employ him.
As I said at the beginning, this is not the usual behaviour of Ambulance Staff. Almost all are reliable, normal, and well-motivated; especially in today’s climate of background checks, and better vetting. You need have little fear that your loved ones will come across such people, in their times of need.
For me, it is an interesting recollection of a former time, when all was not as it might have seemed.