When should an ambulance come?

I nearly lost my daughter when she was 16 months old, when I pulled her out of a cold outdoor pond in winter in a hypothermic, unresponsive state and held her over my shoulder and ran screaming that she was dead.

Even as I write this my throat closes and I have tears brimming.

I thought she was dead. I couldn’t help her. I didn’t know what to do. But the ambulance coming would help.

If I had known how to do CPR would it have made a difference?

Maybe, but I’m not sure which direction my panic would have taken me down. Maybe to do CPR maybe just remain a screaming mess.

To this day I don’t know. My daughter started crying not many moments after I pulled her out of the pond. I was in such a panic, People around me had to take her from me and show me she was alive.

Not quite nightly, but often I have nightmares about that moment. Not the moment I pulled her submerged out of freezing water, but the moment I hesitated to check on her.

I was at a toddlers toy party, my daughter was out of my sight maybe 3-4 minutes. I went to check on her, (given that she was Houdini re-incarnated) and people said “you worry too much, she’s fine”

“It’s a kids party, she’s with the other kids”, and you don’t have to worry, the house is child-proofed”.

I hesitated I felt the pull of “your being over-protective etc.”, and I remember pulling out a cigarette and being about to light it… Yes it was in the day when it was still acceptable to smoke, as long as you put your child/baby down when you did.

And I thought, “No, I’ll check she’s not setting off a mousetrap, or handing out razor blades from a child-proofed cupboard to other kids, or scooping fish out of a tank to kiss them”.

Searched the house, plenty of kids, but none mine.

Starting to worry, but knowing the house was child-proofed. Keeping control.

Found the front door open, I yelled to the older kids, have you seen little girl out here dressed in red shit? No.

Turned to walk back in house, caught a flash of red out of the corner of my eye.

Went to look, and after moving away reeds and dirty water, there she was face down. Not responding, and the next scene played out as I painted above. Me the screaming mess, my daughter gulping air through blue lips.

I was a factory worker at this point in time, with no medical background.

I went and did a St John’s course. If this happened again I would be prepared.

The first aid course, didn’t make me feel confident that I wouldn’t react in that same panicked way, so that led to a nursing degree, then Ambulance diploma.

After more than 18 years, I feel I could respond as a Paramedic. But back then? No, I would still have been a screaming mess.

Truth be told, if it was any family member drowned now, I would quite possibly be a mess, but I like to believe not, but the screaming panicked mess would not be far below the surface.

Since being a paramedic I have been to 2 drowning’s of children. It has torn my “wall of emotion” down both times I wondered on the way to those cases if I could perform as I should, and thankfully I did, though my heart raced and my tears couldn’t be held back, both times it was successful. Because we got there in time.

And this is where my issue on the recent drowning of a 3 year old child comes into play.

I’ve read the media and social media posts, I’ve seen both criticism of the service not providing an ambulance in a timely manner, and a desperate fault in the dispatch system, along with a crew 9.5 hours into shift without meal break being the closest car to respond, and also heartbreaking criticism directed at the parents of this poor little girl, who the emergency system failed.

It’s incomprehensible.

I’m aware that in times of stress and tragedy it seems to be human nature to reach out and place blame immediately. This is so wrong. How can we assign blame without knowing the full story?

In this case, maybe the parents made a momentary lapse in judgement, maybe they hesitated in their decisions, maybe they were unfit parents (I’m not suggesting this is true, I’m playing devil’s advocate, as I have nothing but soul wrenching sympathy for this child’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles…and so on)


WHAT =…..an ambulance was not able to reach this child for 23 minutes, it doesn’t matter why this child drowned, it matters why she didn’t get one in a timely way.

The circumstances of how, are not for us to judge, the coroner and police will figure that out. Now is the time to question why the Ambulance Service failed this little girl and her family. And the Ambulance Service failed her dismally.

Does no-one else see this issue?

We have in place a dispatch system that is hungry, it’s hunger for priority zero’s and priority 1s can never be satiated, it sends crews to cases that can wait an hour or so or even longer, and the tragedy of this little girl not getting emergency care in an appropriate time frame to increase her chances of survival is the result of that hungry beast that is a computer aided dispatch system.

This is quite simply the problem, a dispatch system that cannot differentiate between a 3 year old drowned, and a person with gastro “feeling faint and breathing abnormally”.

I will try and let this matter go, and go back to my too often nightmares of that moment of hesitation.

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7 Responses to When should an ambulance come?

  1. Not Good Enough says:

    I am appalled by the comments I have read on social media blaming that little girl’s mother for her death. Who hasn’t ever made a decision which has had an unexpected outcome? This mother is paying the ultimate price for her decision and the last thing she needs is the finger of blame shoved in her grieving face.

    However that little girl came to be in cardiac arrest, the fact that an ambulance did not reach her for 23 minutes is an absolute travesty. Could her life have been saved? Perhaps not, but at least every one of us, and most importantly Emmerson’s family, would know that she had been given every single chance to survive.

    As both a paramedic and a parent, I am shocked, horrified and very angry.

  2. Honestly though... says:

    The job was incorrectly coded for 3 whole minutes. Had there been no “dispatch error” the best response was 20 minutes when you take into account the phone problems experienced by the caller. We’ve all been to the 000 hangups that are a hoax, or a child playing with a phone, and I think it’s fair that they are coded a priority 2 until further information is obtained- our safety is paramount after all. If the crew had their meal break on time they might have been able to respond to the initial priority 1, but more likely they would have been further away on another job. This is a sad case, and it shouldn’t happen, but really, the ambulance service did all they could with the limited resources they had. Personally, I think the majority of the problem lies with the people who use the ambulance service like a medical taxi rather than see the GP or drive their family members to the hospital instead of treating us like the emergency response we should be.

    • Not Good Enough says:

      That’s the issue though – the ‘limited resources’ which result in a 23 minute (20 minute at best) response time to a cardiac arrest. The problem is not idiots using ambulances as taxis, it’s the fact that those people are actually GETTING an ambulance responding to them. We can’t change who rings 000 for an ambulance, but we can change who we respond to. It the job of AV to manage the resources they have, not the general public. I think you need to look closer to home when assigning blame for the fact that we can’t meet even our most basic response time targets.

      • Honestly though... says:

        Correct me if I’m misinformed, but the articles I read said the closest ambulance was dispatched from 4.5ks away. There was a 3 minute dispatch error delay. There was a reasonable initial delay where no information was provided to the calltaker. Where does the rest of the time come from? Expectations are pretty high when the ambulance 4.5 kilometres away isn’t close enough.

        • Tired Mum says:

          Unfortunately due to the coding error the closest car wasn’t dispatched as the had worked for 9 and a half hours straight and could only be dispatched to a priority 0, a car from much further away was disatched on a 1. The issue with this is there should have been at least 1 or 2 of about 10 other emergency ambulances available within a 5km distance. If one of these cars had been available the response time would have been well within 15 minutes, in fact likely much quicker as they would have been dispatched even when it was coded as a 2. It wasn’t until the dispatch was changed again (from a 1 to a 0) that the closest car was sent. The fact that 10 other vehicles in the area are all unavailable and a crew that has worked 9 and a half hours straight is all that is available is horrifying in itself.

  3. Bazza says:

    Absolutely hit the nail on the head. Like you say, the computer can’t differentiate between a real code 1 and a bullshit 1. I can vividly remember arguing with a dispatcher whilst en route to an 30yo back pain with abnormal breathing and driving past (literally) a 2yo choking. Of course the DM was happy to divert us but they aren’t able to look at every single job that is dispatched and relate it to resources on each ocassion. Some common sense needs to be adopted into the system.

    • Steve Boyle says:

      Bazza you might want to retract the bit about the DM it sounds dangerously like something positive for them 🙂

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