Human Resources

Saving a Life

Posted by Katie Stewart, 28 Sep 2015

Volunteers play so many important roles in the NHS. The roles available are wide and varied.

I have volunteered with the North West Ambulance service since 2009 as a Community First Responder in the Ribble Valley.

Community First Responders provide support to the regular Ambulance Service by attending serious and life threatening 999 calls in and around the community to provide the earliest possible intervention for patients in the first few minutes until the arrival of an Ambulance.

The ambulance service dispatcher is able to send Community First Responders to a range of incidents; they are dispatched at the same time as the ambulance crews but because they are often in more rural areas can often arrive before the ambulance. In cases of cardiac arrest it has been identified that the chance of a positive outcome reduces by approximately 10% for every minute that effective CPR and defibrillation are delayed.

The Ribble Valley Team have close links with the Fire Brigade and share training on a biannual basis. Here's my account of a recent exercise:

"Keep looking at me, keep looking forwards, don't turn your heads."

Firefighters appear from nowhere, flocking the car, two are stood in front of the vehicle directing us to stay still and the doors are opened by two more of them - we're told not to move, not to look at them - introductions are brief but courteous.

This just got real.

We're quickly assessed for immediately life threatening injuries and basic observations are taken.  I'm asked if I hit my head - judging by the windscreen I have.  Someone's in the back of the car and now they're holding my head still.  A spinal collar is applied and I'm immobilised.

Visors down, our rescuers transform into Action Men - it is probably good I can't turn my head, I can't see my reflection.  They all look the same, I have no idea who is who or even how many people are there.

We're warned of the forthcoming bangs as glass is smashed around us.  My passenger is scared and we move the only things we can to hold hands - I think I may have a crushed hand after this.

Side and back windows out, the windscreen is next.  A large plastic sheet is passed between us and the windscreen.  It distorts my vision, makes me feel nauseous and I just can't see straight.  I mentally calculate what the reaction from our rescuers could be if I shut my eyes and decide against it.  I don't want to appear unconscious!  Two bangs and the sheet is momentarily dropped.  Someone draws a line across the remaining windscreen before the sheet is repositioned and the windscreen is cut all the way across.  This cut in the windscreen soon becomes my focal point for much of the remainder of the rescue.

There's a complete barrage of noise, machinery and simple communication.  There's no unnecessary chatter, people are moving and working like well oiled machines - well they are from what I can see by moving just my eyes!  I free my slightly crushed hand but my passenger tells me she'll have it back if she gets scared again - hope she doesn't!

The front pillars of the car are cut, the car jumps slightly with every cut - in your immobilised position you feel the slightest knock regardless of the supports they've put under the vehicle.

The rear pillars are too wide to cut; they need to be crushed first.  The car jolts again as these are finally cut.

Doors need to be removed and the pillar by my right shoulder is next to go.  The teardrop board is passed between me and the car to protect me from injury and control of my C-Spine is passed to my Casualty Carer, who's never left my side and will continue to be there the whole time.

"Hands on."

"Hands off."

I trust entirely that these men are looking after me and protecting me from harm.

Through it all, although we are nervous there is a massive sense of composure and calm, these are the professionals - they know what they're doing.

Right by my ear the noise as the pillar is cut is terrifying, the roof sways with the force.  I have no idea who is where or who or what is holding the roof up but it's not coming down yet!

Control of my C-spine is passed back to the person behind me.  The last pillar is cut and the roof is lifted off.  The relief of fresh air and of silence is short lived.  People are swarming the car, they're going to free my passenger first, I'll have to sit tight a little longer.  I can't look and see what they're doing, all I can do is listen and imagine what's happening.

Quicker than I expected it's my turn.  Control of my C-Spine is passed back and forwards whilst people get in the right places.  My Casualty Carer still remains by my side.

Hands are on my shoulders and supporting my back, they check the seat is as far back as it goes - it is, my legs are too long for this vehicle.  Someone reaches and lifts the steering column a couple of inches.  Every millimetre of space is made available.

I'm gently moved forward a tiny bit, still completely supported and immobilised.  A long board is passed down my back - it's cold as it touches my lower back where my jumper is slightly raised.  I won't lie, there was a moment of doubt where I wasn't entirely sure whether the board had made it to the outside of my jeans or inside - note to self, buy better fitting jeans.

Thankfully it's where it should be, I'm lowered backwards.  There are people all round me and must be at least 6 pairs of hands on my body - I'm not sure, I wasn't conscious of them at all, just the two men holding my arms.  I'm lifted up the board, a few inches at a time.  I must be shorter than I thought - they said they were going 6 inches at a time but surely there weren't enough shunts for my long legs?  Perhaps I've blanked that bit out...

The board is levelled and I'm flat on my back, facing skywards.  It's an odd feeling, you're not sure if you're going to slip off but after all that effort of extracting you from the vehicle you're sure you won't be let down now either.

Finally you're lowered to the floor - further from the vehicle than your realised you were moved.

"You can get up now - unless you're comfortable of course."

I joke about taking a nap - thankfully, this is all a training exercise.  I've known throughout that I was safe, uninjured and going home at the end of the evening.

Everything about the scene was so realistic it was easy to believe it was a genuine accident but we counted our blessings to be pretending.

I jump up from the board and share in the analysis of what's just happened.

Katie Stewart

Katie Stewart

Katie Stewart intake

Since graduating I have worked for charity, corporate firms and a small family business, I got a feel for business and looked at different organisation structures.

I once worked closely in HR and realised then that Human Resources is what I wanted to do.

I met my husband whilst volunteering as a Community First Responder for the North West Ambulance Service, we're community orientated people and there isn't a better buzz than helping to save a life.

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