Posted by: medicblog999 | December 9, 2010

Working in a Winter Wonderland!

Yet again, I feel the need to apologise for the lack of posts recently, but this time I thought I would share just one of the reasons why I have been away from the computer so much.

The main motorway through the North East- The A1

Yup, its been more than a little bit cold and more than a little bit snowy. I even got to experience a new weather phenomenon for the first time in my life; that of Thunder Snow – A thunder and lightening storm at the same time as a blizzard!

I was at work on the night shift when the snow started to fall. I won’t lie, it was great fun for a while, then a little bit scary, then a lot of fun again.

Our ambulance, ‘Betty’ (she deserved a name after getting us home safely) performed amazingly as we slowly drove past more and more cars and lorries unable to move through the thickly lying snow. We stopped to help those we could when not on the way to emergencies, but our main priority was not to get stuck ourselves. After all what good would we be to our patients if we couldn’t get to them in the first place?

Betty may be getting on a bit, but she was a star!

Over the next few days, the snow kept falling and after the third night, I measured 42 cm of snow at the back of the station, on the road. My service pulled together and I can honestly say that some of our managers went out of their way to help staff get into and out of work as well as helping those of us attending our patients get to and from an accessible road to the patient and then back to the ambulance.

I don’t know how many exactly were hired, but a lot of the senior management team were given short term hired 4 x 4 vehicles so as to support the operational tier do what we needed to do – get to our patients!

My own Manager had only a few hours sleep over the entire weekend due to either helping staff or responding to emergencies himself.

Hmmm...Me thinks Id best not go down there!

The voluntary agencies were also invaluable to the core function of our service. We had St John, The Red Cross, Mountain Rescue and The Coast Guard all available and working alongside us ensuring that where ever possible, our patients were cared for in the manner that they should expect!

Despite our best efforts though, there were many delays. Distances that would normally have been travelled in 7 minutes were taking 20-30 minutes. Instead of pulling up outside of a patient’s house, we frequently had to park on the closest main road and walk in with our equipment. That in itself was not too difficult, but getting the patient back to the ambulance was another matter, and that is where all of the 4×4’s, our managers and voluntary services came to the rescue.

It has been a tough and long week for all of the emergency services, but I feel proud of what we have achieved for our patients. Of course, our ORCON times will have been possibly the worst that we have ever achieved (our response time targets to Cat A and Cat B Emergencies) but I am hoping that whoever audits these takes into account the difficulties that we, and later in the week, the whole country had to contend with.

I am glad that I got to work these shifts, because I feel as though I was part of something that has given a real and palpable feeling of camaraderie.

The medics, management, patients, families, and other services have all pulled together and we have continued to care for our community despite some pretty horrific weather.

And…….I got a little bit of exercise too!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fire Tracker, Mark Glencorse. Mark Glencorse said: New Blog Post! (Finally!) – “Working in a Winter Wonderland” – […]

  2. Excellent work Mark, great to see everyone working together doing the best we can for the public

    A similar scenarior arose here, albeit our snowfall wasnt as severe as yours. But nonetheless everyone pulled together, as the weather started taking a turn the Joint Voluntary Command Centre was opened in my organisations HQ, one control room for all the voluntary organisations, ourselfs (Order of Malta Ambulance Corps) St John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland, Irish Red Cross and Civil Defence, with a member of the HSE emergency planning office there to oversee and act as liaison

    All members of my organisation were contacted a week prior to establish when wed be available to be on call, being volunteers we still had work, college etc to go to. There was a fantastic response by all anyone who was able to assist did so, resources were offered up no questions asked, most days my organisation had 10+ ambulances and 2-3 4×4’s available (at times more) and thats not including the other agencies

    As soon as JVCC was opened the calls came in, the majority of work was patient transfers, usually persons being discharged from hospital to home or nursing homes so as to free up beds, or people being transported from home to hospitals for specific outpatient treatments eg dialysis, this wasnt all we did there were calls to assist 999 ambos with our 4×4’s, jobs to transport public health nurses and palliative care teams to peoples homes, delivery of medications to homes.

    It wasnt just us out, the irish army had a very big role, from clearing footpaths to providing their 4x4s to transport hospital staff to work and the aer corps helicopters providing pt transport

    It was fantastic to see such a response, it would have been so easy to sit at home and let someone else worry about it but members put in a huge amount of time and effort to help where they could.

    It did huge amounts to foster relationships with the other organisations, with everyone in the same control room it was easier to mix and match resources to provide the best possible response, it wasnt uncommon for a St John Ambulance to be sent to a job with an OMAC 4×4 for example

    Heres a couple of short video clips that go some way to explaining how it worked

    PS I also have a new found respect for our units 4×4, yes its nearly 13 years old, yes im too tall for the back seat, yes the heating is nearly non existant, but boy god whatever we threw at her it sailed right through it.

  3. Wow… I’m glad you made it through the week safely! That would be an incredible experience to work in.

  4. Good work! Looks like fun 😉

    I’ve gotta say it though…I love how every time it gets below -2 over there my Twitter feed is filled with Brits complaining about how cold it is. Please make a #CoEMS trip to Canada? You can see our sometimes awesome, sometimes ridiculous system and we’ll show you what real cold is. Windchill of -50? Deal?

  5. I agree with Lady Lizzie – bring #CoEMS to Canada and we will show you what it is like to respond to a call during the winter time. It is been snowing all night out west, and the roads are less then stellar. I am sure it will be a fun fill day for our emergency services, while they respond to the same car accident 4 times throughout the day because the snow has covered up the emergency tape that the police wrapped the car in. I know I dislike driving on the highway in drifting and blowing snow, while trying to guess where the lanes on the 3 lane highways are. I even missed the turn off to my house cause I couldn’t see the road sign because of the falling snow.

    Its just a little snow, just remember your wool socks and hot chocolate.

  6. OK – compared to Canada it may have been nothing, but it’s been quite a fortnight for those of us used to more temperate winters. I’ve seen two ambulances sliding backwards down the street and no trace of 4x4s except one that I spotted heading up to Gateshead station. But the weather has done wonders for team spirit – manhandling patients on carry chairs over snowdrifts – and for community cohesion, with everyone pitching in to push stranded vehicles.

  7. Throw in 3x as much snow and 50-60 MPH wind and you’ve got Wyoming….LOL I agree though it’s tough to handle when you aren’t prepared or used to it.

  8. But over in the UK we don’t get much snow as a rule.
    My guess is none of the Ambulances have snow tyres fitted, most of the local councils ran out of grit and salt, none of the local communities hire bobcats with snowploughs – because there are none to hire – and most of the main roads weren’t ploughed either because the councils don’t have snowploughs because it’s uneconomic to keep a fleet of ploughs that are only used for 2 weeks of the yrar.
    Most of the footwear is fine for wet weather, but I doubt many people own a set of detachable spikes for walking on ice

    Sure it wasn’t a huge amount of snow in comparison to what I saw when I lived in BC, but we in the UK just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it because we don’t need to normally.

  9. Apart from the fact that almost no-one in GB swaps to winter tyres (and I and both daughters will attest to how much difference THAT makes – magic!) the biggest problem in the UK is that it snows and then softens and freezes – instant skating rink. Here in northern Italy in the middle of the mountains where I now spend a lot of time, it snows for hours, we only go out if we need to and then the snow ploughs appear once there are a few inches down. They clear but don’t do anything else until the snow stops – then they clear and grit. We must also carry chains as well as having snow tyres. Hardly anyone gets stuck, the roads are clear and the ploughs – whether local authority or farmers with one on the front of a tractor – don’t get hung up on abandoned vehicles.

    Yesterday I was in Garmisch Partenkirchen – on the edge of the mountains and a ski resort so you’d think they’d do quite well too. It had snowed during the night and at rush hour, 40cm new snow. No – absolute chaos, people skidding and turning over (luckily into piles of soft snow!). To add to it – they don’t clear properly or salt/grit at this time of year as that would spoil the tourist’s fun in the horse-drawn sleighs! We have no such scruples here! Use wheels if there isn’t enough snow, llive with it!

    Yorkshire ambos have been given snowsocks for their ambos this year. Work well as long as they don’t get dislodged (which can happen). The new 4×4 ambos weren’t given preferentially to the moors stations – they probably ended up in Leeds. On the other hand – my daughter had 1 shift with no calls and 2 with only 1 each. Priorities???

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