999 Whats Your Emergency?

I had to take four portraits that are all linked. As a theme I opted for the emergency services that operate within the City of London. City Police, London Ambulance Service, London Fire Brigade and The Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

The later not being an official emergency service but very much considered one by those unfortunate enough to require their services.

My first portrait is of Paul, a police officer with the city of London constabulary. He told me he always wanted to join the police since his childhood. He also gave me some of the history behind the city police. Naturally the city had some form of policing in the Roman times but interestingly the current police helmet takes its shape from the first Roman centurions that policed the city. In old London people were poor (You might argue that not much has changed) and they would have few if any changes of clothes, So the unique red and white chequered sleeve and cap bands worn by the city police officers was used in ye oldie days to show when an officer was on duty.

In London and much of Britain there is some distrust of the police (I get the impression that this is not an issue isolated to the UK), however when discussed in any depth it appears that the general consensus is that much of this distrust is the result of a very few rotten apples or is the result of negativity from individuals that have done something to come to the attention of the police (I’m talking about within the UK). Traffic officers are particularly harshly judged. I think most would agree that in the UK we are fortunate to have a police force that is for the most part transparent, trustworthy, uncorrupted and dedicated.

City Police Officer and old Police Phone.

My next portrait is of Chris, a Paramedic who works primarily on the Motorcycle Response Unit. He is a fully qualified Paramedic and has the same skills as the Paramedics that work in London’s statutory ambulances. However as a motorcycle Paramedic he has had to complete a police motorcycle response course, is assessed annually and is required to re-qualify his riding skills every three to five years. There are only around Forty Paramedics in London that are trained to respond on motorcycles and this means with their shift patterns there can be as few as six to ten on call.

Undertaking the training and education to become a Paramedic was a complete change of career for Chris whose previous jobs were not  related to medical profession.

The motorcycle unit in London has been running for twenty-one years and is able to negotiate and make progress through London’s congested roads quicker than a traditional ambulance.

A report by the London Ambulance Service suggested that cardiac arrest survival rates were in the region of thirty percent higher if a motorcycle paramedic attended a cardiac arrest call.

This is most likely to be due to quick defibrillation and CPR.

A number of city police cars also carry defibrillators and most, if not all of the tube and train stations have public access defibrillators.

I’m informed that since the MRU was set up, paramedics on the motorcycle response unit have attended every major incident within London.

Paramedic Chris. One of the few paramedics in London to respond on motorcycles. 

My third portrait is a firefighter called Jim. He has been a fire-fighter for a number of years and has  followed family members that joined before him. Spending a short time talking to Jim it was clear that he is a down to earth chap that is proud of his job and doing something valuable for his community.

Within London the fire brigade have been particularly successful at fire safety and prevention. This along with building regulations has made London a much safer place to live. My personal opinion is that the fire service is a victim of its own success; that because London is safer and we see fewer large scale or fatal fires our Government feels safe to make cuts and changes to the service.

The fire service also attends a number of calls such as road traffic collisions alongside their police and paramedic colleagues.

I’d prefer to have Paramedics, Police and Fire-Fighters sitting around waiting for calls rather than those services being cut, overstretched and potentially delayed.

Jim. London Fire Fighter based near the River Thames. 

My final portrait is another Chris. A full time member of the RNLI. Not to be mistaken as part of the coastguard. Chris is based on The River Thames and spent much of his working life on and around our waterways and shores. 

The RNLI is funded heavily through charitable donations and they attend a range of calls from people not checking the tide times and becoming stranded on one of the Thames bank beeches, various maritime emergencies such as persons taken unwell on boats, industrial injuries or persons that have either accidentally or deliberately ended up in the river. The day I visited the RNLI under Waterloo bridge they had attended 449 incidents so far this year (2013).
Since they set up on the Thames in 2002 they have received 4780 call outs and saved 267 lives. They have very specific parameters for what they consider a saved life and what is then added to their statistics. This is something I should have asked more about and assume this only includes persons pulled from the water. I imagine the figure would be higher if it included people taken from vessels with life threatening medical emergencies and handed over to the ambulance service.

As a charity funded organisation that plays such an important role in my city I was very surprised to hear that they pay business rates and rent on the space they occupy and use of utilities.

I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this. The river Thames has three lifeboat stations. If you would like to make a donation  you’d be helping keep our rivers and coasts safe.

Chris on duty with the RNLI. At the side of The River Thames on a wet, cold and very miserable day.  

Taking these portraits was challenging because I really wanted to capture good images of these dedicated and hard working people. There were time constraints. Not set by the individuals or their organisations but by the likelihood of them receiving a call out and the opportunity to photograph them being lost.If you’d like more information on any of the organisations please look up the relevant web pages.

I am actually reasonably happy with the images I have taken and would like to say a massive thank you to Paul, Chris, Jim and Chris for their time and agreeing to be photographed.

I hope they have long and safe careers.

Finally, thank you for stopping by and having a look at my images.

Jim Jimmy James.


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