The Immediate Aftermath - 3. The Emergency Services
Prior to 1986 there had been no Ambulance Service representatives routinely at the Hillsborough ground. It was only after the Bradford Stadium Fire that South Yorkshire Ambulance Service (SYMAS), effectively forced the issue and offered cover through a revised emergency plan in respect of preventing any future disasters.
It was agreed in conjunction with the police and fire service that there would be two vehicles available on match days, one at the ground and one a mile away. Sheffield Wednesday agreed that SYMAS could have two free match tickets for games. This meant that there would be two ambulance officers in the ground. The fact that these tickets were located close to the players tunnel might lead some to question that Sheffield Wednesdays' concern was more for their players in an emergency than for the public. Surely the seats should have been close to the designated emergency area i.e. the Gymnasium?
Of the two officers present at the ground one responded to the emerging disaster by radioing through to central control and requesting a second standby ambulance and informing control that he was dealing with a "minor incident" at the ground.
The Major Accident Vehicle was not sent for until 3.29 p.m. Why?
This was the vehicle that was equipped to deal with major incidents. Even when it did arrive it could not get onto the pitch because of structural changes in the ground and those in charge did not want to damage the vehicle!
Although the Superintendent at Headquarters realised that whatever was unfolding needed a greater response and sent in more ambulances, sadly they were not utilised to their full use and indeed access to the major scene of the Disaster was delayed. There have been serious criticisms levelled at the ambulance service particularly in respect of triage. Dr John Ashton, a Liverpool supporter present on the day and who assisted in the rescue stated:
"They weren't putting people in any order. They weren't discriminating."
Medical personnel who assisted in a voluntary capacity were in the main highly critical of the lack of organised response. One Doctor commented:
"Like Dr Ashton I found no one in charge and spent the major amount of my time trying to sort out the seriously hurt from those already dead, or those with minor injuries."
Dr Ashton asserted that there was only one ambulance at the Leppings Lane end by 3.30 p.m.. This was of course disputed by SYMAS who went to great lengths to organise the evidence of their officers before the inquiry i.e. employing their own solicitor to take statements. Over time some officers have broken ranks and been critical of the role of the ambulance service on that day. Some officers have left the service. One of the senior officers involved on the day has been dismissed in respect of fraud allegations and one of the officers present at the ground as the Disaster unfolded has been moved into a civilian post following a drink driving charge.