CHENNAI: Taking ill has never been a more menacing situation than in recent times; and more often than not the time taken to reach a hospital after symptoms set in is a matter life or death.
In this situation, ambulance drivers have donned the role of superheroes and these frontline workers have stood up to every challenge during these testing times.
So, how have our 108 ambulance drivers fared during the pandemic?
They have ferried thousands of Covid patients in the last eight months keeping aside fears of contagion. A 12-hours shift often turned 16-hour break-less travails.
Their families begged them to leave the risky job. Some rented separate rooms to keep away from families, lest they pass on the infection. But, they persevered and their support must be held in high regard as the city puts the worst behind it.
“In the last eight months, many situations have made me wonder whether I should leave this job and start driving a taxi or a lorry. But then I kept my fears aside and continued to ferry Covid patients,” says K Pal Kannan, who has been driving an ambulance for 15 years.
The hardest part was allaying fears of our families, with whom we spent very few hours every day said Kannan, who is also the All India 108 Ambulance Union Chennai unit secretary.
Recently, an ambulance driver from Tirupur succumbed to Covid.
“We all knew him and he was an healthy individual. Everybody is at risk,” says M Irulandi, another ambulance driver.
The State government has paid Rs 50 lakh compensation to the family of the deceased.
No pay hike, bonus?
While ambulance drivers have been at the frontline, a lack of salary increment and/or festival incentives have worried many.
“We are risking our and our families’ lives but we are not extended any benefits. I joined the job 15 years ago at a salary of Rs 13,500 and even now I earn only Rs 15,500. We request the government to increase the base salary and provide us increment,” Pal Kannan said.
The drivers from across the State recently staged a protest outside the Directorate of Public Health in Chennai. They claimed that the government suspended 21 of them and transferred seven for staging protests.
“The drivers have left their duties and come from various districts. We have been camping in Chennai for 10 days now, hoping the authorities would arrive at a solution soon,” said Irulandi.
When contacted, Directorate of Public Health officials told Express, “This protest is a yearly affair, especially before the festival season. We are holding talks with them.”