As a senior paramedic with a private ambulance operator in Singapore, Keith Beins has attended to numerous life-threatening emergency cases throughout his career.
In his 18 years in this line of work, there is, however, one particular case that stood out – for all the wrong reasons.
It was a case involving a patient who had suddenly suffered a stroke, which meant that advanced medical care – that was only available in the hospital – was urgently required. As per protocol, Keith and his team performed the basic medical tests required, and drove the stroke patient to the nearest hospital.
Given the severity of the situation, Keith switched on his ambulance’s blinker lights and siren to alert other motorists to the emergency so that they would give way to them on the road.
For the most part of their journey to the hospital, vehicles gave way to them on the extreme right lane (the dedicated emergency lane). The journey was smooth, until Keith and his team found themselves behind the driver of a Mercedes-Benz, who refused to budge.
Recounting the incident, Keith, 54, told The Pride: “I flashed my lights, but the driver did nothing to move and continued blocking me in my lane. I sounded my horn as well but to no avail, because he didn’t even attempt to move.
“It was very frustrating for all of us, and a relative of the patient, who was sitting beside me, got really angry with the driver for not giving way to us. For us (medical personnel), however, we couldn’t let our emotions get the better of us. We still had to maintain focus and place our priority on caring for our patients.”
In the end, Keith had no choice but to filter back to the middle lane in order to overtake the Mercedes driver. Thankfully, despite the delay they faced on the road, the patient survived. Keith subsequently submitted video evidence of the incident to the Traffic Police.
Unfortunately, incidents such as the one Keith faced are not as uncommon in Singapore as one might hope.
In October, for example, a Facebook post by user Cham Ai Hui – which went viral – detailed how a Porsche driver allegedly refused to give way to the ambulance her critically-ill father was in, despite having flashed their headlights and sounded the siren.
According to the post, the Porsche driver even made a rude gesture towards them when they eventually overtook her on the left.
Another video posted on Facebook earlier this year showed pedestrians crossing the road and refusing to give way to an ambulance that had its blinker lights on and flashing.
Another senior paramedic, who only wants to be known as Patrick, suspects that the lack of consideration shown towards ambulances could stem from the public being unaware of how important it is for critically ill patients to receive advanced medical care from the hospital as soon as possible.
“The faster we get critically-ill patients to the hospital, the better their chances of survival and of making a full recovery,” said Patrick, who works for a private ambulance operator.
“Because we as paramedics can only do so much for our patients. We don’t have the equipment that hospitals have, and are only authorised to administer a limited number of treatments and medication. But I think that a lot of people don’t know that – they think that being treated in an ambulance is good enough, but what we these patients really need is to get to the hospital quickly.”
Keith, however, believes that the apathy shown towards emergency vehicles could have been caused by incidents of such vehicles misusing the emergency siren and headlamp.
He explained: “Sadly, some ambulances have reportedly been known to abuse their authority on the road. And that has caused us to have a bad reputation (among motorists). But this doesn’t mean that all ambulances do this. And it also doesn’t mean that all medical cases are not emergency cases. So, we need to continue emphasising to the public about the importance of giving way to all emergency vehicles, whether you think their emergency to be real or not.”
Currently, motorists who do not give way to emergency vehicles could be fined up to S$150 and given four demerit points.
And while Patrick thinks that harsher punishments should be implemented to deter motorists from blocking emergency vehicles, he thinks that the longer-term solution would be for the public to be more empathetic as every second counts in an emergency.
“I think what many people don’t realise is that when they refuse to give way to an emergency vehicle, it doesn’t have as much of an impact on the driver or the paramedic as it does to the patient and his or her family,” said Patrick.
“Put yourself in other people’s shoes, because it could very well be you or your family member in the ambulance one day. You wouldn’t like it if an inconsiderate motorist refuses to give way to the ambulance then, would you?
“So, it all really boils down to kindness and empathy. Spare a thought for others. Giving way to an emergency vehicle might inconvenience you slightly, but it could mean the difference between life and death for someone.”