Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On Emergency Workers - Real Emergency or Abuse of Privilege?

The sirens scream. The loud hailer roar. The pressing of the horn signals the coming of an emergency team. The ambulance has it. The police patrol car has it. The gigantic fire engine has it. All it takes is the sounding of the emergency call, and the whole world has to literally stop. It is about saving lives. It is about public acknowledgment that these emergency workers have more important tasks to be done.

As a driver, I will obediently slow down, and stop my care at a safe spot. After all, the emergency vehicles can come in any direction, and travel in any open roads. For the sake of the ambulances, the general public and the people requesting for an emergency rescue, the emergency workers have the right of way. Literally always. The law demands it.

1) Blocking Road Arteries
This morning, I heard the sound of a fire-engine and an ambulance at my neighbourhood. This is not surprising as there is a fire station not too far away from where I live. I learned that a neighbour of mine has an emergency. Unfortunately, the only way in and out of my townhouse complex is a narrow one-and-half lane. The fire-engine occupies the left lane. The ambulance sits arrogantly on the right lane, completely blocking off all traffic in and out of the townhouse complex. After all, if there is an emergency, everyone needs to wait. Right? What I observe is even more worrying. 
  • The emergency workers do not seem to care about others in the neighbourhood;
  • They have their own sense of priority, without considering other people may have their legitimate priorities too.
  • Of the 5-6 guys I saw, most of the time, only 2 were actively working while the rest are standing around.
2) Inconsiderate Behaviour?
A few of my neighbours also waited. One honked in frustration as she had a medical appointment. Another backed his car to his own parking lot, probably late for work. Yet, another utility company decided to park somewhere else. I waited in my car, firstly to see how my neighbour is doing, and secondly to see how fast the workers are responding. I watched my clock. 20 minutes. It took 20 minutes to get the sick person onto the stretcher. One of my frustrated elderly neighbours gave up driving, and decided to take the bus. Another neighbour also told me that it is much better to just walk. She seemed to know that there is no point talking with these workers. Emergency workers there behaved in a world of their own.

I thought to myself: "If the whole world is waiting for the emergency workers to do their job, shouldn't you at least be fast and responsive to the sick person? ok, You want to block the road. Consider if you are also blocking other legitimate emergencies?"

Isn't it too much to expect emergency workers to at least work at an emergency pace? If it was my grandmother who is in an emergency, 20 minutes is far too long. Way too long. I told that to one of the workers, and he simply shrugged off my comment about their slow pace. I admit that I am annoyed when they deliberately shut off all access roads. Yet, the bigger worry is not travel inconvenience, but the BEHAVIOUR of these emergency workers. 

3) Real Emergency or Abuse of Power?
There is a fine line between public service and abuse of power. I hope that all emergency workers will realize that. I am not impressed this morning. Even if I can wait 20 minutes in the car to wait for the ambulance, the paramedics, and the fire engines to move, I am not sure if all emergency patients can. What if by blocking everybody else with their vehicles on the basis of their own emergency case, they have unwittingly blocked another emergency in the neighbourhood?

Lest I be mistaken, I am all in support of emergency workers. I think they do society a great service. However, when it comes to inefficiency and a lack of urgency in their roles, that is troubling. Even more disturbing will be any abuse of power in the name of an emergency. I really hope the authorities will be on a constant check against such abuse. Otherwise, the general public in Vancouver, tax payors, and concerned citizens will be the ones who are being abused.


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