Community first responders: every second counts in fight to save lives

Herald Series: South Central Ambulance Service community responder manager Richard Tracey. Picture: OX59669 Simon Williams Buy this photo South Central Ambulance Service community responder manager Richard Tracey. Picture: OX59669 Simon Williams

WHEN a person suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, the following seconds and the treatment they get can mean the difference between life and death.

Volunteer community first responders are often the first on the scene in these emergencies and help to save lives across Oxfordshire.

They are called upon by South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) when serious medical emergencies happen within their community.

Because they live in the area the first responders often arrive before paramedics and, because they carry a defibrillator, can immediately begin treatment.

SCAS community responder manager Richard Tracey said: “For every minute that ticks by with no active treatment, the chances of successful resuscitation drops by 10 per cent.

“Even if the community first responders arrive just one minute before the ambulance crew they have given that patient another 10 per cent chance.

“But it is not just about preservation of life, it is also about quality of life. The earlier someone is resuscitated the better their quality of life.”

He added: “When we started the project in Oxfordshire 15 years ago the community first responders would only go to cardiac arrest calls.

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“Since then the project has evolved and the type of calls we now go to in addition to cardiac arrests are those types of conditions that can easily go into a cardiac arrest, so they are on the scene with the equipment should that happen.”

SCAS said diseases of the heart and circulatory system are the main cause of death in the UK and accounted for almost 180,000 deaths in 2010.

Community first responders store equipment, including a defibrillator, at their houses and are called to emergencies within their immediate area.

SCAS has about 1,700 volunteer community first responders across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hampshire.

They are particularly important in rural areas of Oxfordshire, where the ambulance service has often struggled to meet deadlines.

SCAS has a Government target to reach the most urgent emergency calls – immediate life-threatening calls – within eight minutes in at least 75 per cent of cases.

But at the end of last year it barely managed to reach half of these within eight minutes in West Oxfordshire and South Oxfordshire.

In June, the service, which has 40 ambulances in Oxfordshire, said it would need more than 90 additional ambulances to guarantee full coverage of the county.

These would cost £140,000 each to buy and equip and more than £500,000 to run and crew each year. SCAS is halfway through making £30m of cuts over five years.

Community first responders need to be over the age of 18, pass an enhanced criminal records check, have a clean driving licence and access to a car. They receive expenses for their petrol costs.

  • Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the ambulance service on 0800 587 0207 or cfr@scas.nhs.uk.

CASE STUDY: One of the county's first responders.

PHIL Simmonds, 53, is a community first responder who lives in Witney.

The father-of-two, who works as a hygiene team manager at a hatchery in Cote, was one of the first to become a community first responder in Oxfordshire when he joined in 1999. He is also a member of St John Ambulance Service.

He said: “With my St John background and having knowledge of first aid, I thought if I could use it out in the community and hopefully save lives that has got to be good.”

Mr Simmonds often signs on with the ambulance service at 3pm on a Friday and clocks off at 11pm on a Sunday.

He said he averages 10 and 20 call outs in the Witney area during that time varying from breathing difficulties to cardiac arrests.

Asked what goes through his mind on a cardiac call out, he said: “Wanting to get them back. You have to put all your training into it.”

He added: “Everybody should be trained in basic first aid.”

CASE STUDY: The RAF personnel turned co-responders.

CORPORAL Terry Court and Senior Aircraftsman Dan Gant are members of the Royal Air Force based at RAF Brize Norton.

Despite busy lives in the forces, they spend their evenings and weekends volunteering as co-responders for South Central Ambulance Service.

Co-responders are more highly trained than other first responders and carry a wider range of life-saving equipment, including a trauma kit and oxygen.

In June, Oxford Mail reporter Tom Jennings spent a Saturday evening shift with them responding to calls around Oxfordshire.

During the shift, the calls included a 55-year-old man who had cut his face after a fall, a 20-year-old woman suffering an asthma attack and a man who had come off his bike in Botley Road.

In each incident we arrived at the scene before the ambulance and Cpl Court and SAC Gant were able to begin treatment before the paramedics arrived. SAC Gant, 22, said: “Last week I did four jobs in six hours – a broken arm, a stroke, a woman having problems with her pregnancy and someone who’d had a fall.

“That is the variety we can get within a day.”

SAC Gant, whose day job is to repair Tristars at RAF Brize Norton, has been a co-responder for about six months.

He said: “I was never really interested in medicine before, but I took an interest when I was based at RAF Waddington.

“When I got to RAF Brize Norton I got chatting to a colleague who does it, who put me in touch with Terry and I got in it that way.

“I enjoy doing it – helping the community. I am looking at joining the ambulance service as a paramedic eventually.”

Cpl Court, 38, is an infantry leader who teaches weapons and first aid at RAF Brize Norton and has completed tours of Iraq in the past.

He has been a co-responder for about three years and has also completed a three-week advanced driving course, enabling him to drive on blue lights.

He said: “I do it because I love it. We all live in the community – our families and friends live in the community – so at the end of the day we are helping our own guys out.”

The co-responder scheme has been running at RAF Brize Norton for about seven years and currently has about 14 members, led by Cpl Court.

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