Monday, June 9, 2014

Sirens And Flashing Lights

I have done research on this. Last year, in the British paper, the Daily Mail, the article was as follows: “PC Thompson was dismissed because he drove his police patrol car complete with lights flashing and siren blaring to get through traffic – not because there was an emergency, but because he wanted to get to the bank before it closed.”

In another story, this time in The New York Times, an ambulance driver was sacked for using the fire brigade with siren blazing to take his four-year-old kid to school’ so that Kid could impress his friends.

There are laws governing the use of emergency lights and sirens on police and private security cars, fire brigade and ambulances, but it seems the rules do not apply to Uganda. This is what happened.

Friday evening at 5:00pm and the traffic on Kira Road by the museum was chock-a-block. So bad it was that most motorists turned off their engines save for those on air con. After sitting in the traffic for 20 minutes there were sirens and flashing lights. Looking in the rear view mirror, an ambulance was a weaving through traffic and pulled up alongside me.

I was about to pull over and give him way but looking into the passenger seat, there was something amiss. There were four people crammed into the seat meant for two. In the back and despite the smoked windows, I could see numerous heads bobbing about.

I guess there is no need to guess what happened next or is there? There is. I was out of the ride and in the drivers face asking him why he is using his flashing lights and siren. He was mum. Looking into the back, there was no patient being rushed to the hospital but it was crammed with workers from the clinic – Case clinic along with their bags and being given a lift to the taxi park.

Obviously Driver and his ‘patients’ had no recourse but to start hurling abuse, abuse that fizzled once I lashed out with: “Tumbavu, stupid”! As other motorists took stock and joined me in reprimanding Driver and his ‘patients’, they almost cried and wished the road could open up and swallow them. Driver duly switched off the lights and siren and waited patiently in the traffic like the rest of us.

Then there is a man called Elijah. All I know about Elijah is that he donated an ambulance (UAT 056M), has been an LC5 Chairman since 2011 and will step down in 2016. I know this because his face and the details I mentioned are plastered all over the ambulance.    

Last month on Wednesday 21st, his ambulance was stuck in a traffic jam at 6:00pm. So was I. To get out of it, he switched on the lights and sirens and off he went with cars pulling over to give him way. I followed suit except that I was on a bike. Right from 7th Street, he went blaring to a clinic in Namuwongo with me on his tail. When he got there, there was no patient on board for when he opened the back door four healthy people – kitchen staff with bags of groceries, saucepans and toiletries tumbled out.

Confronting Driver, his defence in Luganda was: “Why do you think an ambulance has lights and a siren? To get through traffic! Now leave me alone!”

The people who abuse the system, will one day actually have a patient in the back and in critical condition but despite the flashing lights and siren blaring, we will not give them way as they rush to hospital because we will think they are once again taking workers to the taxi park.