Firefighters are often among the first at the scene of a serious crash. When that crash is caused so needlessly, by drink-driving, the impact can be even more devastating. RUBY KITCHEN finds out more:
“Drink-driving has appalling consequences. The loss of your job, your income, your family. Or worse, the loss of life.
“But still, we deal with more fatalities on the roads in Harrogate than we do in house fires.”
Harrogate Fire Station manager Lee Smith heads up a team covering huge stretches of North Yorkshire. There are literally hundreds of road miles to cover.
And when there is a serious, or fatal crash, it is his teams that are called to the scene to cut free any survivors.
“People are out for the night, drinking, having a good time,” said Mr Smith. “It’s cold, they think ‘I’ve only had a few’ and taxis are expensive.
“But you can’t control a tonne of metal when you’re under the influence of drink.
“It doesn’t matter if you run into a lamppost, knock someone’s wing mirror off, it’s the inconvenience and the cost. That cost can be a life.”
A huge part of the work of the fire service now is to educate people about the dangers of drink-driving, working with the 95 Alive Partnership, visiting council and parish meetings, schools and colleges.
But it’s almost impossible for them to predict who the next drink-driver will be.
“People think they are safe,” he said. “But their whole judgement is off kilter. Put that with a degree of speed, someone crossing the road, and there’s only one conclusion.
“You can only imagine what drink-drivers are
thinking the next day. Do they feel a moment of regret? They will certainly carry that burden forever.
“But it doesn’t change what happened. And they only have themselves to blame.”
Firefighter Darren Smith has seen firsthand the earth-shattering impact a drink-driver can have.
He was one of those called to the scene of a crash ten years ago which claimed the life of a woman.
“It was my very first shift,” he said. “A fatal drink-drive.
“Of all my jobs, of everything I’ve done since, that has never left me.”
The young woman was a passenger in a Mercedes when the driver lost control and ploughed into a fence.
Earlier that evening, she had been drinking in a pub with the driver and a friend.
“I’d also been in the pub before my shift, and seen them sitting in the corner,” said Darren.
“With hindsight, you could almost see what was going to happen.”
It was Darren’s first day as a firefighter, having just completed training. Leaving the pub, he went straight to the fire station thinking no more of the group sitting in the corner.
“It must have only been half an hour into my first shift when we got the call,” he recalls.
“Road Traffic Collision, persons trapped. That’s what they say when it’s something serious.”
The crash scene was half a mile from the station. Police were cordoning off the road as he arrived.
“The car had come round a corner and lost control,” he said. “It ran along a fence, knocking off every post.
“One went straight through the windscreen. She was killed outright.
“This was a powerful car. The fence posts were just missiles coming straight in.”
As he was new to the job, his watch manager took him aside. Explained the procedure, in trying to find out what had happened and who the car passengers were.
“I said then I knew who they were. I had seen them laughing and joking not an hour before.”
The driver, a 38-year-old man, was jailed for three-and-a-half years after admitting death by dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol.
“I would love to sit down with them a couple of hours before it happened,” said Darren, 41. “But hindsight is a great thing.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, drink-drivers don’t just destroy families. They destroy whole communities.
“But here’s the real irony: nine times out of 10, the drink-driver will walk away.
“Their natural reaction is to protect themselves, to swerve to save their own lives. But the drink-driver is the one that has to live with the consequences - and that may be worse.
“If you asked every firefighter what they would say after a job like that, it’s that it’s so avoidable. This is a simple thing.
“Just don’t drink and drive.”
A Christmas campaign to clamp down on drink-driving over the festive season has now seen 20 arrests in the Harrogate district alone.
Most were men - 75 per cent - with the oldest being 71. And already, 13 have been fast-tracked to appear before the county’s courts in coming weeks.
North Yorkshire Police, teaming up with the Advertiser for its Christmas campaign, has pledged to keep up extra patrols through this week.
“Officers will continue to patrol the roads on the lookout for people who think it is acceptable to drink or take drugs before driving,” said TS Andrew Morton.
“Our job is to keep you safe. If you are putting your own or other peoples’ lives at risk by getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drink or drugs, you will be arrested and banned from the roads.”
There have been 10 more arrests in Harrogate in the past fortnight:
l A 26-year-old man was arrested at Pool-in Wharfedale in the early hours of December 18. He was initially stopped for driving over the speed limit.
l A Bishop Thornton man was arrested after driving into a ditch in Stainburn at 8.15am on December 20. The 28-year-old blew 72 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath and was due before magistrates on New Year’s Eve.
l A man stopped after driving with no headlights on and weaving all over the road was found to be nearly three times the legal limit.
The 31-year-old, from Littlethorpe near Ripon, was stopped by police after his car came off Littlethorpe Lane a at 8.25pm on December 20. He blew 98 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath - the legal limit is 35. He is due before magistrates on January 9.
l A man stopped for speeding in the early hours was found to have 62 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath. The 26-year-old, stopped on the A658 Wetherby Road on December 21, was due before magistrates on New Year’s Eve.
l A young man was arrested in Ripon in the early hours of December 21.
The 22-year-old, from Littlethorpe, was more than two-and-a-half times the legal limit when he was stopped on Priest Lane. He is due before magistrates on January 9.
l A 47-year-old Spofforth woman caught speeding near Follifoot in the early hours of December 22 measured 43 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath, is due before magistrates on January 9.
A woman arrested on a night out in Harrogate blamed a friend for spiking her drinks when she appeared before the town’s magistrates to plead guilty to drink-driving.
Prosecutor Kathryn Reeve told the court a
police patrol had seen Victoria Julie Brattley unsteady on her feet as she crossed Montpellier Road at 1.30am on December 14.
She had got into a Mini which police saw had a faulty offside headlight as it was driven off. Miss Reeve said as a result 32-year-old Brattley, from Idle, Bradford, was breath-tested and gave a positive sample.
At the police station she blew 53 micrograms, 18 above the legal limit.
Brattley told court chairman Catherine Saxton she had drunk two glasses of champagne but had been told by a friend that he had spiked the drinks.
She said she had been unsteady on her feet as she had been wearing new shoes. ‘‘And they were hurting me,’’ she said.
Brattley was given leave to put forward a special reasons argument in a bid to persuade magistrates she should not be given a driving ban.
She said she would be calling witnesses, including the man who claimed to have spiked her champagne, to give evidence on her behalf.
The case was adjourned until February 10.