'We don't have time to wait... I wish drivers would think'
As she joins the HSE's Ambulance Service on a busy shift, Laura Lynott learns that motorists are putting lives at risk with their bad behaviour
Selfish Dublin drivers are causing havoc on the roads for our ambulances by driving dangerously and even texting while behind the wheel.
In an exclusive interview with a member of the HSE's Ambulance Service, the Herald has learned that some of the city's worst drivers regularly impede the life-saving journeys of paramedics.
Darryl Coen, operations manager at Dublin South Central Ambulance Station, let the Herald join his crew on duty across the city last week.
During the shift, Darryl pointed out a high number of drivers reacting slowly, blocking and even texting while his Rapid Response Vehicle, displaying a blue light, made its way to several emergencies.
"A lot of traffic is hard for us to get through and we're on the way to life-saving journeys," said Darryl, who is based at the Drimnagh HQ.
"Pedestrianisation would actually help ambulances get through the city because there'd be less cars.
"I've noticed traffic has got much worse since the recovery in the last year.
"More people are on the roads, more people are driving selfishly, not thinking of the emergency services, and we're trying to get to someone whose life may depend on us.
"A lot of drivers are texting, not paying attention to what they're doing on the road, causing hazards and we are the last thing on their mind.
"Then people don't move out of the way quickly enough and we have drivers sitting in yellow box junctions when an ambulance needs to get by.
"It's about consideration, and not just for the emergency services but for every driver and pedestrian.
"But I really feel there's an increasing selfishness on the road. Why would anyone behave aggressively towards an ambulance driver? But they do with their behaviour on the road."
During the afternoon spent with advanced paramedic Darryl, who has worked at all types of distressing emergencies, the Herald spotted drivers young and old misbehaving while the Rapid Response Vehicle was in emergency mode.
Some were texting and others blocked the vehicle at junctions.
Other drivers reacted very slowly before moving and some had to be beeped to move out of the driver's way.
"In our job we haven't got time to wait seconds. So I really do wish drivers would think," said Darryl.
During a few hours, he attended three scenes. In one, a young woman had fallen in the street and hit her head, and in another an elderly lady, a cancer sufferer, had fallen in the shower.
In the third, an elderly man had fallen in his home. He already appeared to have a fractured arm from a previous fall left untreated.
The older woman, treated and comforted by the Ambulance Service while her concerned husband looked on, had become weak after chemotherapy and that's when she took a fall.
However, just as was the case with the young woman who slipped on the street, it was clear there was complete trust for the paramedics treating her written across her face.
"Half of the job is treating someone who's in need of medical care and transporting them to hospital," said Darryl.
"But the other half is caring for them, relaxing them. If someone is having a cardiac arrest, it is much easier to treat them if you make them as calm as possible."
For all the professionalism and compassion the paramedics of Dublin offer the city's people, there are times when they also need care.
There's a counselling room at the HQ, where one paramedic spent time in recent days as he dealt with the loss of an 11-day-old child.
He did everything he could to save the infant but was crushed when he was unable to.
"It happens, we lose people and it's very hard but it's the job," said Darryl.
"That's why we have peer support and counsellors.
"Counsellors sit down with the guys, there's a few tears, and maybe shouting. I haven't been trained in counselling but we deal with the problems too."
Darryl, like all the paramedics in Dublin, will forever have some of Ireland's most devastating incidents etched in his memory.
For him, the Kentstown bus crash in 2005 was one of the most painful events to recall, though his training means he is much better able to deal with such events than a member of the public.
Five schoolgirls were killed in the incident in Trim, Co Meath, and Darryl, working as a paramedic, had to come face-to-face with a woman he knew, whose daughter, also known to him, was lying dead on the ground.
The Bus Eireann school bus had been carrying 51 pupils when it overturned as it was rounding a bend.
"I was the third ambulance on the scene. A bus rolled over and five girls were killed. We had 20 crew at that emergency," said Darryl.
"Though it was a big incident, we dealt with it very well, but there was a lot of other stuff went on.
"I knew one of the girls who was dead and the mother was there, so even something like that, you have to deal with it - there is no choice."
Though the team has had to deal with numerous gangland shootings as the Kinahan-Hutch feud has spiralled out of control, these scenes are surprisingly not the most stressful to a paramedic.
"We get on the scene and help the victim as best we can, just as we do in every single case," said Darryl.
"But we don't worry about danger there because the shooter has already gone. We are just dealing with the person who's been shot and trying our best to save their lives.
"Everyone, no matter what background they are from, is the same to us when they need our help. We try to save them with all we have.
"There are some addresses we won't go to without the guards but we do go to them. The difference between us and the guards or customs is that everyone who needs our help wants us to come in the door.
"There's one sure thing in life though, death and taxes, and we try to help people stay alive for as long as they can."