Thursday, 1 May 2008

Noise, bricks and flames.

It's about half nine in the evening and it's dark. The only light is the orange glow of the few working street lights, and the occasional bright flash of petrol bombs either directed at us or the other units running around the place. We’ve been running about for the best part of 8 hours, my throat is raw from constantly shouting at the top of my voice, every muscle aches and is screaming out for fluids as my trousers and top underneath my coveralls are completely drenched in sweat. The various bits of armour are digging into places that I would rather they didn’t and my knee pads have developed an annoying squeak every time I move. Through my heavily misted visor I see him poke his head around the corner of the alley just off to the right, at the same time my colleague calls him out as loud as possible to the rest of the serial “ALLEYWAY TO THE RIGHT, PROTESTOR!”

As we turn the shields to face the threat, he launches a couple of bricks in our direction, no bother, they impact squarely on the shields which take the hit well and he buggers off back around the corner. Our serial Sgt has already told us our objective is to secure and clear the alley complex before we can move up to the next junction. Once we’re there we can relieve the PSU (Police Support Unit) that is currently taking a battering from bricks and petrol bombs so they can move on and give the protestors some good news. It shouldn’t be too hard, the alley and courtyard is only about 15 meters deep.

Mateyboy pokes his head back round and then jumps out again to throw some more bricks before ducking back in. I feel a heavy tap on the shoulder so I look at my colleague, we both see him and hear him shout over the din of heckling and exploding petrol bombs “the next time he comes out, I want you two to get in there and f&cking do him, clear?” we nod in unison. We start to move up to the alley entrance, it’s about 3-4 meters away and badly lit so we can only see up to the first corner. We step over the bricks as we move and discoloured shards of broken glass smash and crunch as we walk over them. Rolls of charred ignition paper still smoulder as they burn up every last vapour of petrol.

As we get ready to go in, I lift my visor slightly to wipe the steam and mist off so I can at least see the shape of the alley. It’s just wide enough for us both to fit in side by side, on the left the 2 meter high wooden fencing is charred from countless incendiaries, the concrete wall on the right is black with smoke to well over ten feet high. The first corner is about another 10 feet in before it bends to the left, opening out into the courtyard. I try to regulate my breathing so I don’t steam up the visor again, the slow deep breathes helping to bring my heart rate down.

After hours of exercise and overheating my heart beat has been blasting in my ears making hearing extremely difficult, the adrenalin tends to shut hearing down anyway but at least my vision is up, every slight movement and flinch keeping me focused. I’ve been holding it the same way all day but I check my grip on the long shield again, top left, bottom right. It must be in the right position to get as strong a hit as possible, if I can get in close enough to blade him with the shield I will do, it’ll serve him right for chucking bricks at my head anyway. I remember the instructor’s words “think about your target area, lift high and strike anywhere from chin to knee with the bottom edge, no one will walk away from that one happy, and they’ll certainly think twice next time”

We watch the alley for any sign of movement; we both see the foot poke out from the corner as he starts to come at us again. That’s the cue, there he is, our turn now. We both lift our shields and sprint towards him screaming “POLICE, POLICE!!” as we go in. He stands at the end looking at us as we move on him, within a second we’re into the alley, closing on him as he stands at the corner. He turns and starts to run back to the courtyard. As we get to the corner we can see the alley opening up and then I see them, two petrol bombers waiting for us, a ready bottle in each hand. One is standing on some stairs up to the gangway and the other is hiding behind the fencing, both obscured from the alley until you get to the end. It’s a trap, and we’ve just sprinted right into it.

Almost immediately as we see them the first two bottles are launched at us. I shout “MISSILES!!” as my colleague shouts “OH SHIT!!” as he sees the same thing. No time to turn and run back, we get ready for the impact, a split second later then BOOM, one explodes at out feet. Another immediate BOOM as the second hits the wall to our right spraying our feet, legs and shields with glass and petrol. The flames have nowhere to go in the confines of the alley other than upwards and we are instantly surrounded from head to toe by searing hot fire, the impact from the rapidly combusting and expanding gases knocking us back. I remember the cover up drills to escape the flame, hold the breathe you’ve got, chin down to get a good seal with the visor on your chest and then drag back with the shield for protection.

We both get into the cover up position as the flames surround us and we start to pull back, stamping our feet to shake off the burning petrol and dragging the shields on the floor to use them as cover. Then more bombs come in before the first have the chance to burn out, a third and a fourth explode at our feet, encouraging the flames around us to grow even higher, every part of our bodies engulfed in bright orange fire. All I can see through my visor is my arms and shield, everything else a hot bright yellowy orange as the flames heat up without anywhere to dissipate to, the alley seemingly turning into a blast furnace.

I can feel the heat on every part of my skin, even through the fire resistant coveralls, armour and soaking wet clothing. It takes no more than a couple of seconds to get out but it feels like an age, my lungs are burning as the breath inside is trying to get out, my body screaming for more oxygen as my heart rate sky rockets.

As we get to the entrance of the alley I can’t hear a thing but I see the white smoke of the halon fire extinguishers blasting around us, subduing the flames on our legs and feet. We stamp our shields on the floor to get rid of the last little splashes of petrol and I look at them to see the previously clear Perspex is now completely black from the flames. I look over at the man wearing the orange tabard who sent us in there and say “you did that on purpose didn’t you?” he laughs and replies “of course I did, that was well funny! Good cover up drills by the way lads” my colleague looks at him and says “Yeah. Thanks for that, staff”

As the instructor walks over to confirm the next actions with the PSU commander my colleague says to me “That was hot. Bastard” I nod in agreement “yeah, just a bit” We finish up the incident and go for the team debrief in the hangar, we discuss what went well and what lessons we learned. In the cold air every one of us has taken our coveralls down and upper armour off, steam is rising from everyone as the sweat in our clothes evaporates. Everyone looks red faced and knackered but most are smiling. Our instructor has won his own rivalry contest with the other instructors, overall we did rather well getting through the incident in a quick time. Despite a couple of hiccups, we performed considerably better than one of the other PSU's from a neighbouring force who came to train with us.

A couple of hours later after having a drink at the bar, my kit is hanging up in the room, stinking the place out with petrol fumes and sweaty clothes. I get a cracking nights sleep in the short narrow plastic bed despite the world’s loudest frogs outside, thanks more to exhaustion than comfort. The next morning we get up to finish off the rest of the training and incidents, after getting dropped back at the nick, it's home for some well needed sleep and a damn good wash of body and kit.

There are many things about our job that suck, and it’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea but public order training has always been one of the highlights for me. Although I personally haven't taken petrol bombs outside of Gravesend yet, I can tell you that scaffolding clips, bricks, bottles, broken paving slabs and sharpened coins are pretty regular attenders at the football matches and large scale disorder jobs that have gone pearshaped when I've been at work!!



Anonymous said...

Petrol bombs? Is that English for Molotov cocktails??? Yikes. A friend of mine, though Jewish, never had trouble with pork until he wound up being the first on the scene at a fiery crash. After helping a burned victim he became unable to be in the same room as a meal with pork. Smell's too similar.

In the States, anybody holding a petrol bomb would be shot dead, on the spot. Preferably before he got the chance to throw it. Suprisingly enough, nobody dares try it.

Metcountymounty said...

molotov - petrol bomb same thing yes. I'm also not the biggest fan of pork, same reason actually. Same with a butchers shop, the smell is not far off a particularly horrible motorway crash, no seatbelts etc. not nice.

Anonymous said...

Oh the description of the heat, sweat , smoke and fogged visors is as familiar as hearing "thats assault" whenever I have to arrest someone.

Yea, the tolerance of British police towards petrol bombing and brick throwing has made rioting a relatively safe pass-time for some scrotes.
Still, if someone was throwing a petrol bomb at me while I was in my patrol uniform,... then yes, I would shoot them. But in my riot gear, I'm "relatively" safer.

Public order training is great!!

Louise said...

Oh my god! Rather you than me!

The most exciting training I had was pretending to be dead in the boot of a wrecked car for people to find me!

Anonymous said...

The smell of burnt skin and hair still gets up my nostrils even 53 years later , only yesterday I got a whiff,and those far off days come tumbling back.
Petrol bombs be ugly.

Rick said...

I just had pork chops for my dinner. Cheers guys!

meat free said...

After reading anon at 15:50 I was going to never cook or eat pork again. Then I read MCM's reply have decided to be a fully fledged vegetarian.

Ret Met said...

Congratulations on starting an erudite blog containing words of more than two syllables. I am bored of reading the same old canteen cowboy police stuff about how the blogger is the only one doing anything worthwhile, and those who have office jobs are doing absolutely nothing of value. There is curious silence about who arranges pay and leave, who covers for them during annual leave, who deals with crappy prisoners with no evidence because the arresting officer ‘has to get back on the front line,’ i.e. clear off before the thinking bit about investigation has to start, etc. The best blog was by far the original David Copperfield, the others not even coming close. Just tell it how it is, with all the curious management ebbs and flows and you will soon be quoted in Parliament by the half-witted McNulty – if that’s what you want…..

Milton Inmate Number 73184 said...

Ah.... The Costa Del Gravesend.

A choice of room for you at the 'hotel' this evening Sir, a scenic view of the cement works accompanied by the dawn chorus of frogs or 'Canal Suite' with views over the canal accompanied by the train every 20 minutes most of the night and the stench of stagnant water. Both of course come with en suite hot & cold running toilet (don't cross the streams) and the snoring and flatulence (caused by Oranjeboom) of your room mate on his swamp proof mattress just centimetres away.

Enjoy (and don't get me started on the grub)

Metcountymounty said...

anon 2104 - it is my aim in life to remain completely anonymous

milton inmate... you obviously stayed for a shots course no? I don't know why the firearms guys slate the food down there, its WAY better than at our canteen. No one sucking their teeth at you, not being forced to eat food off of prisoner food boxes because they are too f&cking lazy to give you a plate, no different prices every single time you go up.... I really think the Met should outsource the catering to Marks and spencer or tesco, loads healthier and a damn site cheaper too. The only reason I ever buy any food now from there is if we manage to get 15 minutes on a night duty to eat and I forgot to go to the 24 hour tesco, even then its just frosties and a yoghurt. one thing i do wonder though about gravesend, do train drivers deliberately blow the horn right outside the residential block for a laugh? there is no one else about to be warning.

Officer Dibble said...

I handed my public order ticket in before it transferred to Gravesend so I only have,sort of,fond memories of the old Hounslow site.
Training tended to get a bit repetitive but at least you did work a sweat up over the day.
I never understood the complaints about the food.There was plenty of it, you could pile it up and it cost you nothing.
What else would you want!

Metcountymounty said...

officer dibble, my thoughts exactly, which would you prefer? a 3 egg ommlette with ham that tastes like it was deep fried for £4.20 and a huge dose of attitude at 3 in the morning or a massive jacket potato with beans and ham for free?!?! no contest!!

Milton Inmate 73184 said...

And it wasn't an easy 3 week one! 7 weeks of the place...

Have you tried the pubs in town? Its 'eye opening' to say the least.

The grub is tolerable if you're only there for a couple of meals but for a week or more is dire. Wednesdays in the bar the bar on the moon are terrible as there is no shield training, only long the longer term courses.

Your canteen sounds grrrrrreaat... must remember to avoid it like the plague. South or North?

Metcountymounty said...

north... around the middle ish!!

deborah said...

I can remember seeing the petrol bombs being thrown on the telly when I was a kid in Belfast (never got caught up in an on-going riot, thank goodness!) and wondered what it was like - pretty yucky, scary and generally not a fun day out by the sounds of things. Horrible horrible horrible.

Metcountymounty said...

deborah - without the flame resistant kit I can't really think of worse than getting a petrol bomb thrown at you, but one of the reasons we get 'lit up' so much at training is to give you confidence in the kit and the drills to get yourself out of it. Once you take the first hit its actually no where near as bad as you think and stamping your feet and watching fire fall off is odd. Being covered head to toe in fire is a surreal experience though and definately something I never wish on anyone to experience without being kitted up.

XTP said...

Never smelled a petrol bomb close up but I have vivid memories of sitting outside YT in '85 crowded round 1 local PR (that was all the CAD room could spare) listening to Broadwater imploding. Half of me desperately wanted for our van to be called up and half was petrified that we would be. And the flying picket Welsh miners (they've always denied it, though) throwing wrought iron fence posts like javelins at us in '87 at the Print anniversary. And the poll tax ones when I really thought that that BTP car driver was going to die when that pondlife put that scaffold pole through his window. An a couple of others. We trained every couple of months with my force but I have never been as frightened as crouched down behind 3 of my buddies with long shields awaiting the next metal fence post. Not swinging the lead here, just remembering really. Glad I was there, though, strangely.

Metcountymounty said...

how that driver on T Sq didn't get killed when that pole went through the window I'll never know. Every single training video we get on public order has that one in it, I guess it shows the mob mentality perfectly, given the right situation anyone will do close to anything.

I remember in my old place when Millwall were down for the day we'd had public order training a couple of days before and they showed a vid of Broadwater Farm but overlaid it with the comms channel, all the vid was synchronised so you could see what was going on while someone was cutting everyone else on the channel out with rubbish as others were putting up for urgent assistance. Sent big horrible chills down my spine when it started going banjo with the millwall fans and we could hear how bad it was with people putting up assistance shouts, and then a traffic guvnor kept cutting across to check that his officers were on their static posts. So easy to do but so dangerous.

We still get it with metcall now, it's getting more common people telling metcall to shut up and wait while the units on the ground sort themselves out, they might just being doing their job but when everyone else knows what club they are talking about, asking for the road name and postcode 7 times is only going tie up the air and piss people off.

South Coast Copper said...

Whenever I see that video of the scaffolding pole going through the car window I always think "That's got to be attempted murder, surely?". Did they ever get the lowlife who did that? Wonder how many hours community service he got? And has anyone ever spoken to the officer driving the car to get his thoughts, funnily enough I think maybe it's only watching it in retrospect that he may realise how close he came to death.
Great blog BTW, good to see another rise above the morass of so-so stuff about these days.

TotallyUn-Pc said...

Ahhhh the roar of the petrol, the smell of the crowd..... Been a couple of years since I went shield training... my trips to Gravesend are all next door these days, you get time in to settle in and have more than 40 minutes drinking time.
The hounslow days were great (till I started going every 5 weeks!)
But these days its a youngsters game. Loved the violent man, where else can you get so worked up and not get nicked.... The new kit is better too.... even if everyone else had it 5 years before us!

You brought back some good memories MCM - well done you!

your linked again now!

Anonymous said...

Does any other police force in the world use similar tactics when confronted by petrol bombers?

And do "real" petrol bombers always aim for your feet?

Metcountymounty said...

to my knowledge all UK Police forces use the same tactics and drills to deal with petrol bombs as most use the same kit, and as for the f&ckers who actually use them, no they obviously don't aim for the feet and for that reason most of the time the instructors don't either. Historically the people who throw the bombs are a good distance off so you can see them coming, if they have the bollocks to come close enough to the shield line to actually do some close up damage then they risk not only getting covered themselves, but the kicking of a lifetime if they actually get caught.

The tactics that we use with spacings between serials, displacement charges and advances usually mean that the chance of actually getting someone square on with a petrol bomb is slim so most of the time they do smash around you and your feet instead of square on or in the heed.

When we do the training they aim for the personnel, sometimes they will go over the heads of the front rank and smash behind, sometimes bounce off or explode on walls, sometimes they won't even ignite. The key is in anticipating where it'll land and moving appropriately or using the shield as defence, and also not smashing the thing over your colleagues if you're on the short shield and can move it quickly.

All of the public order tactics we use were developed from real encounters (like Broadwater Farm) where the officers on the ground had to adapt to the tactics used by the crowd and the bombers, then afterwards it comes out in the debriefs and subsequently in training.

Louise said...

Just to let you know I've tagged you on my blog!

Anonymous said...

Sounds a lot more useful and exciting than the public order training at GMP. I can't help but wonder though, the whole public order training situation seems to fail to take into account that in certain areas like the one I police, any large scale public order that involves people throwing petrol bombs is also going to see people shooting firearms at the police. If there is a rain of petrol bombs, bricks (not wooden!), body parts and hot lead, I am given a small round shield - somewhat akin to a dustbin lid - to prevent death or serious damage.

Call me old fashioned, but give me a full length shield to take cover behind so that when I do run out with my little round shield, there is a safe haven to get back to rather than poor sap with an intermediate shield and broken ankles.

Metcountymounty said...

anon 2358 - I never understood the point of the intermediate for precisely that reason, surely you should either have full cover or excellent mobility and not a half arsed attempt at a bad compromise between the two?

The Met run long fulls for front rank and short rounds for the two others for speed (for non police each PSU is split into 3 serials, containing one Sgt and 6 PC's, one set on long shields as I described and the other two sets on short round ones who do lots of sprinting and charging, and an inspector runs the whole PSU from the back, total of 22 people) The long shield is heavier but at least you can rest it on the deck without doing your back in and still get full protection for extended periods.

As for your point with firearms, I know of a few people who were at some big ones in brixton that suddenly saw round holes appearing in their shields so it has happened, although we don't do any specific training to deal with it and have zero ballistic protection beside the normal body armour, that's why we have the ARV's and SFO's to up the ante if needed!!

Anonymous said...

Rather you than me! I wouldn't fancy having to face that sort of situation, so I'm rather grateful that there are brave souls within the force who have such courage.
Ooooh, it would be far too much excitement for my delicate girly constitution these days.
Let's hope that none of you have to go through anything like that for real in the future.

Happy Met Copper said...

Ah Gravesend. A place completely unrivalled in every way.

I have actually been told by one of the instructors that at some point in the future they may not be allowed to petrol bomb us.

Health and safety at work, apparently too dangerous and they get scared by the small amount of officers that do get injured.

Girl*Next*Door said...

Yay! You've finally started a blog! :o)

Will get link up to you. I've been off the radar for a while so will catch up & read what I've missed :o)

Metcountymounty said...

Health and safety is a crock, it's not as if people set themselves on fire or get knocked out down there. Not every week anyway......

I noticed you had been off the grid for a bit GND, hope you're recovering well??

Jack said...

There are definitely a fair few differences between each force in relation to PSU tactics.
I was originally trained at Hounslow, followed by Gravesend and now train with a county force.
The county force I am with deploy two serials with intermediate shields with the rear / third serial carrying round shields. The only times I've known us use long shields are when we've done some type of prison tactic.
I also find as a county force we tend to do more 'violent man' scenarios albeit that doesn't mean the training is better, its just different. How many times per year do you have to attend Gravesend these days? We do 6 days training per year (not including CBRN training) to be level two trained and I believe a minimum of 9 per year if level one trained.

Metcountymounty said...

level ones do shield and public order training every 5 weeks with constant use as that's the main reason for them being around, level twos do 2 days a year and then aid deployments. Specialist like EG, fit and medic get more regular training but not as much as the level ones, in my area we get hammered for level 2 aid so probably 5-6 times a month then double that over summer, not counting rapid entry jobs or cell/violent man jobs which come about every so often

For The People said...

Hey! We need more! Where are you!

Jack said...

The best training of all are most definitely the call outs, matches, rapid entries, cell tactics etc.

I think I may have been wrong with the number of days level one officers do per year on refreshers (and should know really as I'm level one trained! Doh!). It may be around twelve but I'm not 100% certain. Thats not including the exercises we do around the country occasionally.
Apart from the rapid entry side and a tougher fitness test, I find there are no difference between level one and two.
Funnily enough I wish to be level two trained again as I'm trying desperately leave my 'specialist' department to return to response policing (proper policing in my opinion). That apparently never ever happens so am happy to be different.

Metcountymounty said...

I will be posting another one this weekend, been stupidly busy at work this week and I need sleep!!

NyseriA said...

You can sleep when you're dead! Or on a quite night shift ;)

I should really sign off properly so I am not Anon 2338 etc :)


Anonymous said...

So this is what you do to keep the socialists in power.
No wonder you don't bother about burglary and such like.

Sarah said...

"..Not the biggest fan of clowns or of people who subscribe to the belief that rank equals knowledge. Which it doesn't..."

Sounds as though you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder about being just a PC

Inspector Gadget said...

Like the Blog - about time you started up! Nice one.

Metcountymounty said...

anon 0814 - nice waste of a comment, cheers for your input.

Sarah - I've haven't got issues with my rank, I have no intention of taking the promotion exams for at least 10 years and that is my personal choice, I have enough on my plate at the moment!

The only chip I have is for people who think that just because they passed an exam or two about Police procedure and criminal law that they instantly know more about everything than anyone else in a lower rank, especially when those people have actually got more experience or training in a given subject than the person with rank.

Experience equals knowledge and acknowledging that in others commands and deserves respect, rank just means a higher starting pay.

Guv - thanks for taking the time to read through, yours is definately the inspiration!

Sarah said...

Sounds to me as though you really are afraid to put yourself forward - doubtful of your abilities to pass these exams - and highly resentful of those who do.

Come on. Practice what you preach.

Metcountymounty said...

There are lots of things that I wouldn't actually be able to do as a Sgt that I can as a PC, for the time being I like what I'm doing and when I feel the time is right for me to change my career path I will do, I've still got 20 odd years to think about it!