Paramedics defend response to fire drama

AN AMBULANCE took 15 minutes to reach an unconscious pensioner who had suffered smoke-inhalation after it was decided the emergency was only “category B”, it has emerged.

James Hore

AN AMBULANCE took 15 minutes to reach an unconscious pensioner who had suffered smoke-inhalation after it was decided the emergency was only “category B”, it has emerged.

The woman remained in a critical condition in hospital last night after firefighters rescued her from her burning flat.

The 69-year-old, who suffers from dementia, was pulled unconscious from the ground-floor flat in Colchester after a fire broke out just after 8.30pm on Saturday.

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A smoke detector inside the property alerted concerned neighbours who called 999 and crews from Colchester and West Mersea rushed to the incident in Holt Drive in the Blackheath area of the town.

The woman, named locally as Anita, was pulled from the flat by two firefighters and given first aid at the scene until ambulance crews arrived and took her to Colchester General Hospital.

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However, it has emerged that an ambulance did not arrive until 15 minutes after the 999 call was made.

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service defended the response, saying it had been appropriate based on the information provided.

The trust aims to get to 75% of category A - life-threatening calls - within eight minutes and to 95% of category B calls, judged as non life-threatening, within 19 minutes.

An investigation into the fire has been launched but it is understood the blaze may have started when a cigarette placed in a rubbish bin in the bathroom caught light.

Yesterday at the blackened property in Bober Court neighbours praised firefighters for their actions but raised questions about the length of time it took for the ambulance to arrive.

One man, who did not want to be named, said: “I called the fire brigade. We heard the smoke alarm going off and called 999.

“They were absolutely brilliant with what they did, but it was 15 minutes until the ambulance arrived and took over.”

Crews from Colchester and West Mersea used two sets of breathing apparatus, a thermal image camera and one hose reel to tackle the fire.

A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “It came to us as a category-B call which is considered to be serious but not life-threatening.

“First to the scene was an emergency doctor who was there in 12 minutes, backed up by an ambulance which was there within 15 minutes of the call.

“There was one patient who was taken to Colchester General Hospital - the report did come in that the person was suffering from smoke inhalation.

“It is [categorising the 999 calls] quite a complicated process - when the call is made the call-handler asks a series of questions like 'is the person breathing', 'is the person conscious'?

“It is a computerised system that than categorises the call. What they do is start dispatching a resource as soon as the address comes in - if it is a category B and another category A is received, that resource may be re-directed.

“But based on what we were told, that response we took was fine.”

Pete Donovan, station officer with white watch at Colchester fire station, said: “She was pretty much out of it when we arrived.

“We did not realise there was anybody in there when we turned up. We gave her oxygen and she started to pick up.

“Hopefully she will recover from what we were told but I don't know how much carbon monoxide she took in.”

Crews used a large fan afterwards to clear the smoke from the communal building in a bid reduce the impact on the other residents.

A spokesman for Colchester General Hospital last night said the pensioner was in a “critical but stable” condition.

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