Where’s the fire?

Not many people read or were that interested in my last blog post and I don’t blame you – i probably wouldn’t have wanted to read a long political rant either.  It’s just difficult not to get involved when social care is such a huge issue for me.  Recently, though, has been the bomb attack in Manchester which is only one of a constant stream of terrorist events all f the world.  How would a disabled person get through a similar event?  How are we expected to behave in emergencies?

I’m going to London a couple of times over the summer, and what with needing another person to ensure I travel safely, you can understand that I might be a little nervous about travelling to a known ISIS target.  I’m not.  I feel the same way now as I did a month ago.  Anywhere can be attacked at any time and by anyone.  Being scared isn’t going to do any good.  People just need to be sensible and careful – and it’s pretty hard not to be ultra aware of your surroundings when everything is a wheel hazard.

If I had been at the MEN arena when the bomb went off, I like to think I’d have tried to help if I could.  Truthfully, I’d probably have discovered the ability to run and got as far away as possible.  If I had been caught in the blast and been hurt, emergency services might not find me for ages or assume I was beyond help as my verbal and physical responses can be delayed.  I’d hate to be lying there with no way to help myself or get out just because parts of me are dysfunctional.  Not only would a wheelchair user such as me be injured by the bomb, broken limbs and open wounds, there would be pieces of jagged and twisted wheelchair piercing me, putting me in a worse position due to necessary mobility aids than some others.  I’m not sure if anybody with a disability was involved with this attack or in any previous one (sheer probability suggests there was) and I’d be very interested to hear how a disabled person has dealt with this situation.  Part of me wants to think all people are triaged in an emergency based only on the severity of their condition but there are no doubt loads of policies on how to prioritise effectively in such circumstances.  Or is it just a case of ‘everyone pile in and help whoever you see first’?  Disability or not, terror victims will be given the same treatment of bandages, painkillers and a trip to hospital, as it should be.

Something that is not how it should be is how wheelchair users are treated in more mundane emergency situations like fires.  If you are in a multi-storey building, you might use the lift to get to your desired floor but a walkie would be able to barrel down the stairs in case of fire.  Due to the dangerous electrics, lifts will shut down….  this means the person in a wheelchair has to find one of the few, probably already occupied, refuge points.  If buildings even have them then good luck in trying to find somebody who knows where they are.  I used to go to a place where the single refuge point was beside the lift and its operations box – yes, the same lift they shut down because of the risk of explosion.  The space was often used to store broken furniture, bikes or buggies so it was pointless.  On the rare occasion it was fit for purpose, I would be expected to park there – and the space was just deep enough that my whole chair could fit in it with nothing showing – and burn to death, knocked unconscious by toxic smoke until somebody bothered to look in that tiny space.  The place had a policy change and replaced the refuge point with a storage cupboard and an Evac Chair.  Nobody was trained to use it though.  Thankfully, most places with refuge points are sensible enough to put them near open staircases so you are in full view of firefighters when they arrive.  That opens the door to more problems; what if I got knocked out of my chair and pushed down with the flow of people, unable to get up and not get trampled?  Given the choice between breathing fumes and burning waiting for help and getting to the bottom bruised, immobile but alive I know what I’d choose.

Disability for me becomes a non issue when my life is on the line because I’m just about able to get myself out of danger if I need to (some people would say I AM the danger).  Some people can’t.  By and large, we are expected to sit there enduring an emergency all able bodied people have already escaped without a thought and be grovellingly grateful for rescue if and when it should turn up.  This is not right.  Staff everywhere need to be properly trained on evacuation and, in my opinion, make it a priority to get people to safety who can’t do it for themselves.  If you can’t get them out, assign a person to wait with them at the refuge point because it’s gorram scary.  Okay, I hear the arguments already.  ‘But no-one wants to do it.  It’s dangerous.’  Huh.  Don’t care.  ASSIGN somebody.  We don’t want to be there either.


One thought on “Where’s the fire?

  1. Well, I can reassure you on two points, at least. Back in the 90s, I did the basic cadet first aid course for St. John’s ambulance. Triaging is difficult, but even kids doing first aid basics are given advice as to how to identify greatest need.

    Secondly, I’ve done real public building evacs maybe two or three times across the seven years that I worked in cinemas, and on the whole people tend to hear the alarm and walk calmly to the exits. Admittedly, it tends to be IRA-style telephoned-in bomb scares that go down like fire evacs, because there’s more of an immediacy about gunmen and suicide bombers, but a refuge point would be neither here nor there under that scenario anyway.

    Sadly, there’s no accounting for old buildings and shitty evacuation policies, so more awareness definitely needs to be raised on this whole issue nonetheless.


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