When the call comes over the radio asking for someone to respond to a road traffic collision (RTC) with serious injuries and reports of a trapped person, a million thoughts go through the head of that officer.
A road traffic collision caused by excessive speed impacts the lives of so many people in the blink of an eye, not least the officer who will be the first unit on the scene.
PC Richard Hatch, an officer with Wiltshire Police for 25 years, 20 of which have been on the Roads Policing Unit, has responded to 100s calls of that nature during his service but admits it is a feeling that you can never get used to.
“My brain goes into overdrive,” he said. “The adrenaline is pumping, and I still have to concentrate 100 per cent on the blue light drive to get there.
“Information is scant but it is key to my decision-making process. I need to know what I am heading to.
“When you arrive at the scene there can be cars and people everywhere, plastic, glass, bits of metal and significant pieces of cars strewn across the road.
“You know that Ambulance and Fire are on their way but at this exact moment the public will be looking at me to sort this out.
“You have to fight every negative thought in your head.”
Many skills are needed when arriving at the scene of an RTC, with emotions heightened and people with different reasons to be seeking the support of the police at that moment.
Sometimes officers will need to field some inane questions, like if people can carry on driving through the scene to get to their destination on the other side or how long the road will be closed for.
However, the priority is getting the scene safe, relaying vital information to the control room and checking on the wellbeing and levels of injuries to those involved.
“The protection of life is my highest priority,” PC Hatch said, knowing that he needs to prepare himself for what he may discover.
“In my mind I know I am well trained in first aid but there is always going to be a limit to what I can do for some of the casualties.
“Experience tells me that if the casualty is screaming then they are alive and breathing. It sounds harsh but it is true.
“If, however, they are quiet or elderly then they will require my attention more rapidly.
“Witnesses and even minor injury passengers will always want me to help their loved ones first, but I have to remain calm and do what I know is best.”
With time of the essence, it is down to the officer who is first at the scene, if they are there before any of the other emergency services, to assess all the casualties, work out if anyone is trapped in the vehicles, if they are mechanically trapped or medically trapped and if the individual’s situation is safe – is the car leaking fuel or smoking.
The control room is constantly updated so that the correct resources can be sent.
The situation can quickly change which puts the safety of those at the scene at risk or the condition of the casualties could suddenly deteriorate and keeping a calm head is crucial.
“In these situations, training just kicks in as there is so much to do,” added PC Hatch.
“I might not be as polite as people may think, sometimes the public just need to be told.
“After all, I understand they are stressed as well, but lighting a cigarette at the scene is not going to help me.”
While officers wait for support from other units and their partnership agencies, there is an importance to control the scene and often members of public who are at the scene and not injured play an important role in this.
It is important for the officer to understand what happened as quickly as possible and secure any evidence that might be crucial to the resulting investigation.
“These scenes are by their nature extremely chaotic and finding out what happened is never as easy as you might think,” said PC Hatch.
“Even so I start to get an idea of what has happened and start to formulate a plan of how as a police officer I will need to investigate this job.
“Already I have to think about the court process how do I secure the best evidence what and who is going to be key.
“There is a sense of relief when other units and the Fire and Ambulance start to arrive. Now it’s our job to manage the scene and ensure that our partnership agencies can work safely and do their jobs effectively.
“Not easy when you are trying to stop a 20 tonne fire engine from parking on marks and evidence.
“I will be honest, when Ambulance arrive there is a massive sense of relief as I know they will be fixing the things I can’t.
“I trust them and the Fire Service completely and respect everything they do, I know they have to move all their equipment in to treat and get people out of cars and I know this may compromise my evidence but life comes first.
“It’s a real team effort from here on in.”
Thankfully in this scenario there are no fatalities, but of the almost 1,000 incidents of serious RTCs Wiltshire Police have responded to this year so far, 17 have resulted in fatal injuries.
It is a fact that this number could be dramatically reduced if road users stuck to the speed limit.
Next time you get behind the wheel of a car and think about exceeding speed limit, think of those first responders who have to deal with the devastation that awaits them at the scene of an RTC. There is never an excuse to speed.