The Nation's Health + Policing

Can I Go Down There?

It is with great pleasure that I open the floor to my first Facepalm Friday guest post! This week I welcome the award winning, much revered, mental health guru that is @MentalHealthCop from MentalHealthCop! It occurred to me that all the emergency services interact with the public and therefor, we all come across candidates for the Darwin award on a daily basis! This comedy gem from Inspector Michael Brown is from his earlier days as a police officer. At a guess, it was probably in the late 1870's! ;-)

"Adult male, wanting to go down there"

I found the Friday Facepalm idea intriguing! - 999 services see human stupidity on an epic scale and we've all got these stories, but my blog doesn't lend itself easily to letting off the necessary steam around them. Thanks to Ella, I have offloaded some major stress from my early career.

Well over ten years ago, I was a front-line PC in Birmingham. My partner and I were called to a gas explosion on a very small traffic island where four approach roads intersected. A engineer for a telecoms company had been working on underground pipes / cables, on the pavement which rounded the corner of two of those approach roads and had managed to ignite gas by cutting electrical wires. The subsequent blast singed his hair without causing major injury and sent a thirty foot high flame into the sky.

An early Facepalm! for the engineer - but this is merely incidental to the stupidity that followed.

All three 999 services went down there: Ella's lot were helping the engineer change his underwear whilst Simon and Dennis were using their hoses to put out the fires caused to trees and bushes as the gas plume licked back and forth in the wind, torching anything within it's reach. The only way to stop the plume of burning gas was to get the gas company to dig up the road around fifty metres away and isolate the supply - this would take hours so we were asked to support cordons on the roads and pavements for public safety.

The fire truck blocked one road, the police car another and the two less frequently used approaches were taped off. There were two cops and a few fire officers to keep saying "No" to the question that always gets asked on these occasions -

It's been the since human pre-history that when you put a cordon on something, some members of the public will still ask "Can I go down there?" It's important to understand I'd managed nearly two hours of "Can I go down there?" whilst sweating profusely on a what was already a very hot day, underneath a thirty foot plume of burning gas and we'd had to get another patrol to drop cold drinks up to us because it was quite demanding. So to say I was a bit tetchy about "Can I go down there?" is to understate things.

The clue is: my police car is across the road with blue lights flashing, we've taped off the road and you can see highly dangerous flames burning brightly and gently toasting us all. They're licking backwards and forwards fairly unpredictably and there are fire personnel putting out fires as quickly as they can each time one starts. You've probably seen other people approaching us who ended up heading back the way they came, so what do you think the odds are that you can "just go down there?"

Then happened one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen - I will remember this until I die: on the less often used approach, which was taped off and kept in view, but where no-one was permanently standing, a suddenly saw a young boy approach the tape and lift it in the middle. There was a Mercedes in the road, facing me and the boy looked like he was attempting to allow the car underneath the tape. Hang on: that car is slowly moving FORWARD!!


*Double Facepalm!*

I ran from the opposite, busier cordon shouting "No!" The vehicle's bonnet was under the tape, the tape stretching across the windscreen and the boy trying to lift it higher as the car inched slowly forward. There was a hairy arm out of the driver's door also attempting to force the tape higher and flick it over the height of the roof. "Stop!" The vehicle was approaching the roundabout on the side where the plume of flames was nearest. Surely he can see it?! The fire engine was to the right hand side and he could see it from where his car was and both Simon and Dennis were waving frantically in between planning their second jobs and having a snooze.

"What on earth do think you're doing?" I enquired. "I live up there." he said, implying outrageous unreasonableness on my part. The wind blew the flames towards us and I felt the temperature really increase before subsiding as the wind dropped.

"Can't you see the tape, the explosion, the blue lights?"

"But I live up there!"

"It doesn't matter, Sir - this road is CLOSED!"

"But I live ... just there!!"

"So find another way around, but this road is closed."

"This is ridiculous - I can just drive on the opposite side of the roundabout. I'll be home in seconds."

"No you won't - because THIS ROAD - IS CLOSED!"

"You're being obtuse, officer."

"If we're offering viewpoints - I have one about using your son to lift police tape without permission and pushing him into demarked areas of extreme danger. Shall we talk about that?"

"It can't be that dangerous ... they're letting you move about in it."

"They also let me arrest violent criminals, Sir - I'm guessing you don't want your son doing that either?"

"Fair point."

It took the threat of prosecution to get him to reverse and find another way. I walked up to his house - it was just fifty yards beyond the opposite cordon and gave the appropriate advice. I think I had hoped he would have realised the main learning opportunities from this encounter. It amazed me to find he was still furious for the extra five minutes on his journey. He informed me of that he would be complaining about my attitude and would like to speak to the duty inspector in respect of the complaints procedure. Fortunately, Carlsberg do make duty inspectors - a man on whom I've modelled my very own approach to that job.

*Triple Faceplam* - the scale of fail.

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