'It was like an Arctic expedition' - paramedics battle through snow for nine hours to reach stranded patient
PUBLISHED: 13:57 03 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:57 03 March 2018
Battling through drifting snow and treacherous roads, a 20 minute job for one East of England Ambulance team turned into a nine hour “Arctic expedition” as they trekked for three miles over fields with equipment tied to sledges.
Called to a patient in his 40s with breathing difficulty near Chedgrave, paramedics found their ambulance stranded - cut off by gales and sweeping snow drifts.
By around 3am on Friday morning, four hours after the call had come in, they had been repeatedly hit with dead ends and impassable roads. Often a route they had used half an hour before would close behind them with shifting snow.
Rob Adams, duty locality manager for central Norfolk and bronze commander that night, was tasked to assist towards the end of an 18 and a half hour shift.
“At that point we were hours into the call still unable to get to it due to the snow drifts and ever changing weather,” he said. “There were five or six possible access routes but you would drive 20 to 30 miles trying each of them. At a certain point you need more resources.”
A hazardous response team (HART) with an all terrain vehicle and specialist equipment were brought in, along with the fire service, but the patient was still cut off by the snow.
“Eventually the call went down as the highest category call you can get,” Mr Adams added. “When control found out he didn’t have his medication - at that point it got upgraded.
“We realised all avenues had been tried and there was no way of getting to the patient. The gravity set in we couldn’t get there by road.
“We thought lets ditch the vehicles as close as we can to the property. We got to within about three miles before we had to abandon the vehicles.
“We deferred to the simplest and most realistic option, which is your own legs.”
A fire engine, ambulance and all terrain ambulance vehicle were abandoned close to Langley School. Equipment was tied to sledges and the teams set off across fields for three miles to reach the patient.
Along the way one of the team was injured themselves and had to turn back.
“For the first mile and a half we were following roads which weren’t roads,” said Mr Adams. “You could see branches on hedges and snow in the middle.
“It was almost like an Arctic expedition.
“While doing that we realised if we couldn’t go by road we would have to come back the same way. We would have to bring back the patient and all the kit. We tasked a second HART crew from Cambridge who followed our tracks through the snow.
“There was a minor injury sustained to one of our team in the snow so for a short time we had two patients.”
The patient was found, given medication and packaged onto a stretcher. A local farmer was able to take paramedics and the patient a short distance in a 4x4 before they were forced to continue by foot.
The patient was loaded onto a sledge to continue the 45 minute hike back to the vehicles.
“We reconvened to put everyone in teams of six per sledge, one with the patient and one with the kit to sledge back to the abandoned fire engine and ambulances,” said Mr Adams.
“This was in total probably about nine hours. On an average with that vehicle from the centre of Norwich we could usually get to that address in 20 to 25 minutes.
“At the same time there were probably four or five similar jobs going on in Norfolk. In 13 years I have never experienced anything like it, and never thought I would. Even halfway through the shift I didn’t think it would be like that.
“You do not expect to be carrying sledges over five foot snow drifts. That doesn’t happen in Norfolk.”
The patient was transported to hospital around 8am, and the feeling among the crew was “elation”, Mr Adams said. “He was dumbfounded by the manpower chucked at him and at one point he was just speechless.”
But he added theirs was not an isolated incident, as sub-zero temperatures with the Beast from the East mixed with high winds as Storm Emma struck.
“We never considered what would happen if we don’t get there. We had to find a way. I have such massive faith in my team.
“All of the other staff had horrendously difficult jobs that night. 40 other vehicles were out in the same conditions and every patient got picked up.
“Every single person achieved exactly what they were asked to do.”