You guys have heard plenty in the past about the exaggerative abilities of the average 999 caller, so when Scamp and I are called to a local supermarket for “female struck by falling shelf – trapped” we’re dubious.
“You know what this is, don’t you?” Scamp starts as she drives along.
“This is someone with a shelf on their foot and the shop first aider has been told to never remove a crushing object.”
I’m still laughing at the image when we pull up to the shop, a budget supermarket in a local shopping centre. Outside a man is running up and down the threshold like a dog behind a chainlink fence.
“C’mon! C’mon!” he yells at us “It’s really bad!”
I follow him into the shop, through an excitedly chattering crowd and he directs me to the far right side of the store where a scene of utter retail devastation greets me.
Because when the caller said “a shelf” had fallen, I rather assumed they meant a horizontal plane of metal or wood.
What has happened, in fact, is an entire wall’s worth of shelving units, fully laden with groceries and stretching from the front of the store to the back (and this is not a small store) has come away from the wall and fallen forwards, coming to rest against the upper edge of the facing shelves.
Which, thankfully, have held, excusing us from a domino rally effect that could have landed on every shopper in the place.
As the units stopped falling forwards, the momentum has caused every item of produce to fly forwards, in addition to the broad metal flats of the shelves themselves and the angled steel rods that held them up. Simulataenously, parts of the units have torn themselves apart as they fell. Chunks of metal swing wildly from loose fittings and every few seconds there’s a screeching clang as another section of shelving comes loose.
Peering under this newly built lean-to I see three figures, two men holding the shelves up as best they can and a very large woman sat on the floor, blood squirting from her scalp.
I turn to one of the shop assistants.
“Can you run and tell my colleague we need hard hats, please?”
Because I like my skull without chunks of metal in it, thanks.
Scamp turns up alongside me with the helmets and expresses my thoughts to a tee.
Yeah, that was my thinking.
I strap my hard-hat onto my head, bend double at the waist and creep into the space.
“You guys alright?”
“Getting tired…” warns one of the men holding up the metal hoarding above us.
“You ok for a few more minutes?”
He nods, takes a deep breath and readjusts his shoulders against the weight. I turn my attention to the patient.
“How you doing, my love?”
She’s a large lady, very large indeed and has a personality that’s as jolly as her weight’s stereotype should suggest. She’s smiling, despite the gash on her head which won’t stop bleeding.
“You on Warfarin?”
“How did you guess?” she grins back at me.
“Ok, look. We’ll deal with that in a minute, but we need to get out of here, right? I’m not having this lot coming down on the four of us. Can you walk?”
“I can’t move. I’m trapped….my foot.”
I run my gaze down her leg expecting to find her foot pinioned between two metal beams, or tangled in a mess of fittings. I’m considering calling for a fire crew with cutting gear when I see what’s really going on.
She’s buried up to her knee in packets of biscuits, packing her foot in so tight she can’t lift it. I start digging her out, throwing bourbons and digestives over my shoulder like a frantic relative at an earthquake site while Scamp runs back to the vehice for a stretcher.
With the patient’s foot free, Scamp is able to slide a scoop stretcher into the gap and we help the woman lie down on it. Her obesity doesn’t make it comfortable and she struggles to breathe, but there’s no other way of getting her out. I loop nylon belts around the handles of the stretcher and throw the loose ends to the waiting crowd at the end of the aisle. Many hands lay on and together we sledge the patient out to safety along a sea of crushed groceries. Cakes, toilet rolls and bread rolls are crushed under her as we pull her free.
I turn to the two guys holding the shelves up.
“You guys ready to get out of here?”
They nod, sweat on their foreheads.”
“Ok, you ready?”
Together they shuffle their hands along until they’re standing by the exit and on the count of three, they run for it. The rest of the shelving comes down with a scream and crash.
The patient by this time is tucked up safely on the trolley, chuckling at the attention and enjoying the tender ministrations of Scamp as she bandages her head.
We roll the trolley into the ambulance and I pull Scamp aside for a second.
“You ok with her?”
“Yeah, of course. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to check there’s noone else in there.”
Back in the store a small crowd of people are starting to gather around the fallen aisle, a few shoppers peering under the collapsed shelving. I corner the manager
“Right, mate, we need everyone at the front of the store, nobody needs to be poking around back there, ok?”
He starts to corral the shoppers back to the entrance and I make my way to the back of the shop, down the neighbouring clear aisle, grabbing a broom handle from a display as I go.
Because I’ve got this idea that I can use the broomstick like a ski-pole, poking it down into the sea of goods and feeling for anybody else stuck under the wreckage. I’m creeping about, my feet sliding and slipping on spilt bottles of oil, smashed jars of gherkins groping at my ankles and rigid, round cans spinning away under my step. It only takes a few minutes of this for me to realise that I’m way out of my depth. I don’t know if anyone’s in there, but I can’t take the risk of assuming that they’re not – “Paramedics leave trapped teen to die in shopping centre horror”.
I make a call for back-up and a fire crew arrive shortly, I walk with the fire officer to the mess.
“There’s someone trapped in there?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure.”
“And what do you want US to do about it?”
“You’re search and rescue, aren’t you?”
He sighs and waves a team forward to start picking through the crap while I return to Scamp and the patient in the ambulance.
They’re laughing and joking like old buddies, the woman is, astonishingly, effectively uninjured save for the split across her scalp.
We natter all the way to A&E, teasing and joshing each other as we go. Arriving in the ambulance bay we have to ask another crew to help us slide her from our trolley onto the hospital bed, she’s not light.
“It’s just as well I’m just a wee slip of a thing, right?” she asks with a wink.
And then, relaxed into her company as I was, my mouth uttered the career ending line:
“Pffft! Whatever, love. It’s not like we rescued you out of the salad aisle, is it?”
There’s a moment’s silence when my colleagues stare at me, aghast and I desperately try to cram the words back into my mouth.
But she’s chuckling, her shoulders shaking and she regains her composure enough to slap my arm.
“You cheeky little shit!”
Give and take, I suppose.
It’s only later that day that someone points out that the fire brigade will have got to take all the broken packets of biscuits home with them.