Hold Back the River (or Flood, Sweat and Tea).

It began like any normal nightshift… We had a couple of simple jobs, they went into the main hospital in the city. On our return we drove into a world of chaos.

There had been heavy rains for a while, although that night was dry. Reports of flooding across the whole country dominated the daily news. The town I was based in was small, built on two small rivers and directly on to the sea front. There was a beach, a wall then lots of buildings, many of them housing sheltered accommodation. It was a relatively tranquil town, until that night.

The rains in the hills inland had caused much damage anywhere that a river fed by them ran through. Finally the waters reached the sea, and the two rivers in my town flooded with devastating results. As we came down the hill into the town the night was lit up with blue. Police cars and vans, and fire engines blocked the streets. the noise of pumps and vehicle engines was deafening. My partner called in to Control to inform them of the situation. They already knew, a lone paramedic had been coordinating rescues since the flooding began. We were instructed to standby and be available to help evacute people and transport them to a community hall above the flood water line.

The police and fire service incident officers saw us and came over. An oxygen dependant pensioner was trapped in their second floor apartment, the flood water around four feet deep at ground floor level. My partner was the smaller of the two of us so we decided they would be the one to go on the fire service raft to evacuate the patient. We put our usual response equipment, and plenty of oxygen, into the large raft and, with four fire fighters at each side they began walking with the raft. The water was only a few inches deep near the ambulance, but it got deeper very quickly, and soon the fire fighters were waist deep. off my partner went at the front of the raft, into the darkness. I;m sure I heard singing – “Near…far……whereeeeeeever you are….”, then just the noise of the pumps and fire engines.

I was left by the ambulance, feeling alone, helpless, then a local police sargeant came from the mass of vehicles. They updated me fully on the situation, then made my night. “there’s coffee and biscuits going in that gentleman’s camper van. Get stuck in!”. I didn;t need to be asked twice! A local had set up a small refreshments area in his motorhome parked in the middle of the fire engines, just above the water line. I instantly recognised him as a patient and we spoke for what felt like ages, Suddenly my radio bleeped. I answered – “3863. Go ahead.”. “That’s us on our way back now. We’ll be at the ambulance in 5.” .”Roger. I’ll meet you there. I went back to the ambulance and prepared the trolley and set up an oxygen mask, ready to go.

Five minutes later, out of the darkness, my partner appeared on the raft. The patient was sitting upright next to them as the fire fighters waded through the water. Patient safely onboard the ambulance, we headed to the local hospital with them.

We transfered a few more people to the fry hall that night. Many homes and businesses were badly damaged that night, but there were no medical casualties.

A couple of weeks later we had a station outing. I parked my car in the town square and we had a good night out. Withing hours of me driving my car home, the space i had parked in was flooded. This time worse than before. Although the water came higher the second time, by some strange twist of fate, there were no residents in the flooded buildings as they were all still in temporary accomodation following the damage from the first flood.

Lessons were learned that year and there has been no flooding since. The town took a long time to recover from the damage, but now there are practically no signs to be seen. I still remember, vividly, my partner disappearing into the dark on that barge. “Near…..far…wheeeeeever you are….”.

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