Driving a bus in one of the busiest cities in the world is definitely no walk in the park – drivers must be on constant alert as they contend with traffic, passengers, pedestrians, hot and cold weather, and so much more.
Still, it’s not very often that bus drivers, or any of us, will run into a serious life or death emergency on the job. But for Unite member and London bus driver Vijaypal ‘Vijay’ Singh, who’s been driving buses in the city for 16 years, that’s just what happened.
“It was just an ordinary day; I was driving the 205 bus to Bow Church on one of my usual routes,” he told UNITElive.
A passenger approached Vijay, notifying him that another passenger had taken ill. Following safety procedures, he stopped the bus and pulled over; he put it in neutral and went to have a look.
“The passenger was not looking good at all – he was slumped over on his seat,” Vijay explained. He knew he had to take decisive action – after calling in a ‘code red’ emergency to the controller, he evacuated the bus and diverted passengers to the next bus.
Now alone tending to the unconscious passenger, Vijay soon received a phone call from paramedics who were on their way.
“They told me to put my fingers under his nose to check his breathing. A normal person breathes in every second or two, but when I checked, the man was taking a shallow breath every nine or ten seconds. That’s when I knew it was serious.”
Paramedics then asked Vijay, who had never before received first aid training, to lie the man on his back as they instructed him on how carry out CPR.
“The man was probably about 12 stone, so I had to ask someone walking by to help move him.”
Vijay knew the next few minutes would be critical, so he forced himself to stay calm, focus and follow the paramedics’ instructions. After pumping his chest and breathing into the man as directed, he still would not respond.
But after a few more pumps, suddenly, the man gasped.
“His eyes were rolling in the back of his head and he was shivering like a fish out of water bowl,” Vijay recounted. “But still, he was breathing. He was trying to speak but words wouldn’t come out. I shut the bus doors and rubbed him to keep him warm and stop his shivering.”
Vijay continued working under instruction to keep the passenger stable – paramedics arrived shortly after. As they took the man away on a stretcher, he and the passenger whose life he helped save briefly locked eyes.
“He couldn’t speak but he gave me that look that said, ‘Thank you’.”
Afterwards, Vijay radioed into the controller and told him what happened.
“He asked if I was okay; if I needed to take a break. But I told him no – I was okay to continue working straight away. It was definitely a very stressful situation but I felt good within myself that I had just helped someone like that; it gave me the motivation to continue with my day.”
Thanks to Vijay’s quick thinking and calm courage under pressure, the passenger was kept stable until emergency services arrived – the man eventually made a full recovery.
For Vijay’s efforts, he won April’s UK Bus Star of the Month award (pictured above). While grateful for the award, Vijay said the simple knowledge that he stepped in and helped a fellow human in need was reward enough for him.
It was also an example of why health and safety is so important – and why, Vijay believes, first aid should be made mandatory for all bus drivers.
“I was lucky that I was able to keep calm and follow instructions, but I would have been much more confident had I been trained in CPR and basic first aid,” he explained.
“All bus drivers I think should be prepared for all eventualities on the job – and that includes emergencies,” Vijay noted. “Health and safety for passengers and drivers alike should be paramount.”
Unite shop steward and health and safety rep Louise Cocker, who also works in the Bow Bus Garage with Vijay, agreed.
“I think that basic first aid training would be useful to bus drivers as it would help us to help our colleagues and passengers,” she said. “As in Vijay’s case, it could make the difference to someone during those vital minutes before an ambulance arrives.”
Louise said that one avenue that could potentially be explored is including first aid training as part of bus drivers’ annual Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) courses, which are a legal requirement.
As Vijay’s colleague, Louise said she wasn’t surprised by his actions on the day he helped save the passenger’s life.
“Vijay is credit to our union — since I became shop steward in 2015 Vijay has always been a very supportive and helpful member of our LE/311 Branch,” she told UNITElive. “For example Vijay helped me organise a Diwali event for Bow garage staff last Diwali. Vijay’s help ensured that it was a very successful and enjoyable event.
“Vijay is a popular and well thought of colleague at Bow bus garage,” she added. “Vijay is the sort of person who is always willing to help.”
Find out more about what Unite is doing to improve health and safety in the workplace here.