- I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity and privacy I’ve changed the names of individuals and sometimes places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics, so the people described do not necessarily reflect the actual person or persons involved. Incidents and situations are as I recall.
I pushed open the door and went into a lobby. To the right there were big glass double doors leading to a canteen area, I peeked in and saw a lounge with a few people dressed up in their finery. Surmising that this was where I was meant to be going I walked in and enquired. Sure enough the people there were in the same boat as me, I should have realised, because they wore the same uncertain look on all their faces.
Just then a uniformed man came in through a door, saw me, and gave a cheery greeting. He enquired if I was there for the purpose of training and then ushered me into the lounge to join with the rest of the victims. Tea was shortly produced and we all started to get to know each other.
There were eighteen of us, but someone was cheating; one of our number stood out as she was already wearing a uniform. Enquiries led us to find out that she was already a qualified ambulance woman who was transferring from another area, but she still had to go through the induction process. Needless to say she was pounced on by all of us, pumping her for information and trying to find out what the hell we had all let ourselves in for. She didn’t disappoint as she regaled us with stories and explained in explicit detail that we would soon be on intimate terms with all manner of yucky bodily excretions. Two ex-coppers then revealed themselves from our group and joined in with the entertainment. The rest of us looked at the door and wondered whether it would be prudent to run now while we still had the chance.
Before we all ran for it the instructors came in and the process of turning us into ambulance staff began.
There were four instructors, and all of them had one thing in common, and that was that they had seen it, done it and had got the T-Shirt. Their task now was to pass that knowledge on to us. The head of the training school was a Superintendant Brian Graves, a softly spoken individual who had “Ambulance” engraved on his soul. Next in line was Station Officer Tim Landers, a northerner who could never keep still, spoke nineteen to the dozen and could leave your ears hurting just by being within ten yards of him. Joe and Paul were qualified ambulance-men who had recently qualified as instructors. It was into their hands that we were now all thrust.
We were split into three syndicates or groups, and each had a task for the day. There was a duty crew who were to check the training vehicles. The second group would keep stuff tidy and put everything away after each session. Then there was a tea crew, who had to, well, make tea. Each day the tasks would rotate so that everyone had a go.
The level of training was basic ambulance aid. Some of the students were only going onto the day vehicles so the induction course was mainly geared for them. Those of us who were going onto front line emergency vehicles were to go to the regional school for a further six weeks training once we’d managed to pass this one.
The course comprised of basic anatomy and physiology, signs and symptoms of various medical conditions and illnesses, cardio pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and lots and lots of splinting and bandaging. There was equipment familiarisation and also the local radio protocols to go through, along with all the paperwork that we would be required to fill out once we were let loose out on the road. The course itself was well balanced, but was like an extended first aid course with a couple of other things thrown in, mainly oxygen therapy and the giving of a pain relieving gas called entonox.
Joe and Paul would delight in setting up mock incidents. We would be in one of the teaching rooms getting to grips with some procedure or other when one of them would burst into the room yelling that the duty crew were needed as an incident had occurred and that there was no-one else available. The first time this happened it had the desired effect as the duty syndicate as one turned pale and were in dire need of incontinence pads. We all rushed over to the ambulance station across the way to find that one of the staff over there had been made up as a casualty; in this case someone who had fallen from a ladder, hit a wall and then fell onto a sharp upturned spike. The injuries were supposedly a fracture to the spine, a broken femur, concussion, and a penetrating injury to the chest. (They didn’t like to do things by half) All of us not involved began to relax and settled down to enjoy the show as the poor duty crew got to grips with the problem before them. Comments flew, suggestions were made and very quickly the incident was reduced to a farce. The casualty was eventually pronounced deceased and a CPR dummy was thrown down, everyone then had to take a turn on bouncing up and down on the thing and using a bag and mask to get the breathing going.
When the third week began it was felt that we had all done well enough and were expected to pass the final exams and tests, so that meant we could get our uniforms. We were packed off to the stores, which was housed in a massive dark and dingy room right at the back of the Headquarters building, and queued up in little groups. The stores officer guided us in, keeping a close watch on all of us in case we decided to start nicking stuff, what in the world there was for us to nick I do not know, but that didn’t seem to worry him. We were shown the uniform racks and told to dig in. We were given a list of what we had to take and then sort of had to grab the nearest thing to our sizes. Some like me were lucky and got hold of the correct size, but others had to make do with the leftovers. Even worse for some was that they had to have second hand trousers and tunics, I dread to think what delightful bits of people had dripped off them during the course of their existence. The list we had was as follows: Five shirts, white. Three pairs of socks, blue. Two NATO pullovers, blue. Two pairs of trousers, blue. One clip-on tie, blue. One tunic, blue. Two pairs of epaulettes. One pair of shoes, black. One peaked flat hat (for the carrying of sandwiches). One raincoat, blue. One high visibility jacket. One pair of gloves, black. One belt, black. One first aid kit bag. The stores officer ticked everything off his list then sent us out. When we returned to civilisation we huddled together in the corner and then emptied our pockets of all the stuff that had somehow managed to sort of fall into them. Soon we all had extra bits of kit and uniform.
This was also the time when we learnt where we were all to be based when we passed training school. I found that I was to be sent to Berkhampstead. For me it was good news as it wasn’t that far from where I lived, but others weren’t quite so lucky and were sent to stations quite a long way away.
The Union man also descended, and quite quickly we were all signed up. It wasn’t compulsory but it was advisable to join one. In those days the unions were very active, and actually held a lot of negotiating power.
The rest of that week passed by in a blur. Friday saw us all successfully pass our induction course and the only thing left now was to go out and get drunk. This we did in the knowledge that the next week would see us descend on our respective stations where we were to spend a week riding out with a crew. The week after that we were to attend the regional six weeks residential course at Banstead in Surrey, a prospect that all seven of us were looking forward to.