Com­mu­nity life­savers

From Sher­ing­ham to Thet­ford and Down­ham Mar­ket to Hem­bsy, the Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­der vol­un­teers are poised to help

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

Meet the peo­ple who save lives in their home vil­lages

A 999 CALL comes in. A man has col­lapsed. An am­bu­lance is despatched – but in the vi­tal, pan­icked min­utes be­fore pro­fes­sional help ar­rives, a neigh­bour turns up too. She has a de­fib­ril­la­tor, oxy­gen, dress­ings and pulse mon­i­tor­ing ma­chine, and knows how to use it all.

Across Nor­folk, lives are reg­u­larly saved by vol­un­teers, work­ing as Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­ders.

Trained and co-or­di­nated by the am­bu­lance ser­vice, these peo­ple are of­ten near­est to a med­i­cal emer­gency and first on the scene. “I came across it be­cause my fa­ther was ill and com­mu­nity re­spon­ders came out to him,” says Chris­tine Wheeler, who now co-or­di­nates two groups of vol­un­teers, in Ling­wood and Strump­shaw, and in Brun­dall and Blofield, east of Nor­wich.

There are 74 groups in Nor­folk, with a to­tal of around 250 vol­un­teers, and the net­work ex­tends across the county, re­gion and coun­try.

There are no blue lights or sirens; in­stead the vol­un­teers bring in­ten­sive train­ing and a com­pre­hen­sive med­i­cal kit.

“The rea­son that re­spon­ders was set up in the first place was to do with car­diac ar­rests be­cause the time frame re­ally mat­ters,” says Chris­tine. “We carry de­fib­ril­la­tors and are trained to deal with car­diac ar­rest but that is quite rare. We also deal with seizures, ana­phy­lac­tic shock, strokes, di­a­betic prob­lems…”

She worked as an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist be­fore re­tir­ing, and has been in­volved in medicine and car­ing al­most all her life, start­ing out as a Red Cross cadet. But vol­un­teers do not need prior med­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence – just a car­ing na­ture and will­ing­ness to learn. In her re­spon­der groups there are also young par­ents and the early re­tired, stu­dents, teach­ers, busi­ness peo­ple, car­ers and of­fice work­ers.

They are on call for an av­er­age of 18 hours a week each, but Chris­tine says: “It can be hours on call and noth­ing; peo­ple aren’t drop­ping like flies in these vil­lages! You can go whole morn­ings and get noth­ing and then three or four to­gether.”

There is al­ways an am­bu­lance on the way too, but the re­spon­ders are of­ten first on the scene.

“There are no blue lights or sirens; in­stead the vol­un­teers bring in­ten­sive train­ing and a com­pre­hen­sive med­i­cal kit”

“Peo­ple are so pleased to see us,” says Chris­tine. “We have def­i­nitely saved lives. We have been to peo­ple who have been se­ri­ously ill; we have been to car­diac ar­rests where that per­son has sur­vived, and in be­tween that you do get a sit­u­a­tion where some­body is given cpr (car­diopul­monary re­sus­ci­ta­tion) and they do sur­vive; maybe they only sur­vive a few days but it al­lows time for fam­i­lies to say good­bye. Once in a while we get a card or an email say­ing thank you and that’s fan­tas­tic.”

Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­ders not only deal with life-threat­en­ing emer­gen­cies such as sus­pected heart at­tacks, chok­ing, epilepsy, and col­lapses, they also help ed­u­cate peo­ple.

Their own train­ing in­cludes an ini­tial three-day course, plus a shift on an am­bu­lance shad­ow­ing a crew, and an an­nual re­assess­ment.

“We go and train peo­ple, go into schools, youth groups, teach cpr, teach young chil­dren what to do in an emer­gency, how to call for help,” says Chris­tine. “We also fundraise for our own kit. The lo­cal com­mu­nity has been fan­tas­tic with that.”

The first Nor­folk group was launched in Wat­ton in 2004, with the next in Holt. The East of Eng­land Am­bu­lance Ser­vice is al­ways keen to hear from po­ten­tial vol­un­teers with North Nor­folk towns in­clud­ing Holt, Mun­des­ley, Cromer and North Wal­sham par­tic­u­larly in need of more Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­ders. Any­one aged 18-70 with ac­cess to a car, and with a car­ing and sym­pa­thetic ap­proach, can find out more by vis­it­ing www.eas­t­amb.nhs.uk or email­ing nor­folkre­spon­[email protected]­t­amb.nhs.uk

Top: Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­ders’ train­ing even­ing at Ling­wood Church. Co-or­di­na­tor Chris­tine Wheeler is at the front

Above: Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­ders train­ing at Ling­wood Church

Top left: Epipens are used in cases of ana­phy­laxis, when a pa­tient has suf­fered a se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tion. Here an or­ange is used to help tech­nique train­ing

Left: New re­cruits get­ting ad­vice from serv­ing re­spon­ders

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