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London Bridge. A Personal Reflection


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Thirty years ago this summer as an eighteen year old I was about to embark on my career with the London Fire Brigade. I was under no illusion as to what I might have to face as this great City is no stranger to fires, disasters and terrorism.

Sadly I was not to be disappointed. My very first day on duty after training was the day of the Kings Cross Fire. I have been there for a number of emergencies that will be familiar. Looking into the River for survivors of the Marchioness disaster, Picking through the rubble of the Canary Wharf Bomb, wondering where it would all end during the morning of the 7/7 attacks and watching buildings burn for as far as the eye could see in the 2011 riots.

I have been witness to a thousand smaller tragedies in between. More tragic lost souls in burned out houses and flats around the East End of London than I care to remember. Young lives pointlessly lost in car accidents, people fallen, jumped crushed or overcome in factories, building sites, in ponds, on railways or in suburban car parks. Nothing left to surprise me and like many in my line of business you forget and carry on only to find yourself revisited by one or another of those who we carry with us for the rest of our lives from time to time when we least expect it. Be it a sound a smell or a street you drive down that prompts a momentary memory for a few seconds.

But the past twenty four hours surprised me. Arriving in Borough High Street to see hundreds of panicked people, lightly dressed for a warm summer evening out in central London running away looking horrified and confused. As I walked toward the scene more emergency service vehicles and responders that I’ve ever seen in one place. More guns than I’ve ever seen in one place across the chests of Police Officers who were everywhere. Men and Women in their Saturday clothes or comfortable weekend clothes manning cordons or directing crowds with only a Police stab vest or Hi-vis jacket to identify them as Police.

Activity everywhere the eye could see and an amazing organised chaos. Unlike the dozens of exercises we’ve all taken part in over the past few years in preparation for these attacks. It was not linear, uniformed or organised, but the chaos was amazingly effective… It was an orchestra, each musician playing their part but with no conductor. It ebbed and flowed at an alarming rate. Slow time, people talking and working in small huddles, then shouts or a heart stopping explosion from a distraction device. Urgency as a casualty was carried out from time to time. Then a crescendo of noise, police summoned, Firefighters made ready, Paramedics teaming up with their kit to disappear into the labyrinth of Dickensian back streets for another tasking.

Soon it settled down, the earlier shouted orders and demands gradually subsided and a new noise worked its way into my head. A siren, a Police car a few hundred yards away an early arrival, its crew dismounted so quickly they never even switched the siren off. Constantly there until it became a sound you no longer heard although still audible. After a while, aching and suddenly tired I made my way back up the high street to my car to drive myself home through streets that although never deserted in this City were in that few hours of quiet that London only really sees now between 2am and 5am.

Today was worse, ordered back for 1pm. The cold light of day albeit another fairly humid day brought a new and unexpected shock to my system. Not a single sight did I see that was within a fraction of any of the worst that 30 years has thrown at me. But these so familiar streets around London Bridge that I have walked and driven around, thousands upon thousands of times since my teens were like nothing Ive ever seen. Buses cars and taxis abandoned. Some, literally half out of streets as if all life had been sucked from the planet. Shops, wide open, lights blazing. Distant music somehow still coming from bars obviously on some repeat playlist. Tents covering evidence and sadly bodies, one or two coffins being readied for removal. And the weirdest of all. Like a battlefield, seen before but never over such an area with so little damage to surroundings. Pockets of discarded bloodied clothes, medical equipment and splashes drips and pools of blood.

If I see it, I expect a mangled car or train, damaged buildings, windows out, dust and smoke. But no, everything was as pristine as if the people had been spirited away by an unseen force. Lastly up on the bridge near the van.  As eerie as the piped music from the World Trade Centre Piazza on 9/11 playing “She’s always a woman to me” I heard a new sound, from another place abandoned in a hurry and endless loop of the tune “London Bridge is falling down”

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Well written as usual Steve. I became quite engrossed in it. Hope the book is going to be as detailed. I think it will do very well ;)

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Wow :o I can only imagine the scene. My younger brother, a Met Sargeant from a neighbouring borough, was on the scene in 15 mins after it begun. His shift was due to end at 11pm, 35mins after he arrived. He made it 6 miles to home at 9am, having been on duty since 3 in the afternoon.

I dont try to contact him when these things happen (his team were on duty for Westminster too) as he loves to 'police' and will always be upfront.

Trawling Twitter for updates at 1am though, I came across a vid on Arabian Sky News showing officers marching a potential 4th suspect down Borough High Street and 'gently' placing him against the wall. It was at this point, I recognised the young tenacious Sargeant in full Public Order gear barking orders at officers to ensure this person was searched to their skin. It was my little brother, the youngest of 4, he was okay and out there doing what he loves.

I then went to bed, preparing to report for duty at my Central London station in the morning, ready for whatever was next.

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I love this city. It's stronger by virtue of the fact that we have people of the calibre of those in the posts above. I'm proud to say I work with them. We'll always be there to step in, whenever and wherever the call is made. We'll be there.

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Wow, some unbelievably detailed and measured posts. Very touching and thought provoking.

I would like to also echo the sentiments of a post above with regards to the calibre of those posting. You have truly set exceptional standards.



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Great post Steve.  Brings home a bit of the reality of a job like this.  I have said it before, but I really hope that book isn't too far in the future. 

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