EVERY second counts in a serious emergency. Having someone in the community to give first aid until the ambulance service arrives can make the difference between life and death.
That’s why volunteer teams across Wales have been trained as Community First Responders.
I met up with Kevin Hands, regional First Responder officer for North Wales, to find out about the teams he is looking to start in the region and to try out some of the life saving equipment used by volunteers.
Kevin taught me the basics of resuscitation using training dummies and let me have a go at the training defibrillator.
We’ve all seen the dramatic scenes on TV programmes like Casualty and Holby City, where a patient is rushed into the emergency room and ‘shocked’ with an electrical charge.
I’d always viewed a defibrillator as a powerful, scary tool which would take expert doctors years to master.
But after a quick demonstration from Kevin, I had a go myself on a training dummy.
I was shocked at how easy it was to use, which brought home to me what a good idea the Community First Responder Scheme is.
It’s time, not expert knowledge, which is the key in emergencies with cardiac or breathing problems.
“This is emergency medical care put in the hands of the community,” explains Kevin, who was been a paramedic for 32 years.
“The first responders are the missing cog. It is really frustrating to see that someone had a sudden collapse and nothing gets done once the 999 call has been made to the ambulance service.”
The ambulance service has a target time of eight minutes, set by UK government, to get to emergencies and it’s in those eight minutes first responders living close by can make a difference.
“For every minute the chances of surviving decrease by 10 per cent,” says Kevin.
“If five minutes go by that’s a 50/50 chance of living and after six minutes you’re really on a slippery slope.”
There are currently 35 first responder teams across north Wales and the Welsh Ambulance Service is looking to set up another five in Flintshire by the summer.
“The secret is having multiple teams all over the district,” he says.
“We need teams of maybe eight or ten people available at various times in the week.”
Each volunteer who signs up to be a first responder learns how to administer basic first aid skills, carry out the recognition of cardiac conditions, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of a defibrillator in the community and surrounding area in which they live until an ambulance resource reaches the incident to take over.
When a 999 call for a cardiac or breathing emergency is made in a first responder’s area when they are on call, a text message is sent to the phone they are provided with.
“They arrive at the scene and call control to say they’ve arrived,” explains Kevin.
“Then they get to work on the patient and assess the scene.”
At present Flintshire has two teams of first responders: the security staff at Broughton Retail Park and the firefighting team at Airbus in Broughton.
The Welsh Ambulance Service has launched a new drive to establish Community First Responder teams at Mold, Holywell, Flint and in Buckley and Mynydd Isa.
They are also looking for more volunteers in Llangollen, where the first responder team currently consists of only one member, and plan to set up teams in Holt and Penley in the future.
“If you feel you have got something to give to your community and want to expand your first aid knowledge, please get in touch,” says Kevin.
“The more hours you can put in the better. We’re asking individuals to put in a minimum of four or five hours a week.”
He adds: “If there’s people out there who haven’t got the ability to be first responders but want to support us they can. We’re always hunting for training equipment, training manuals and training defibrillators all cost money.”
First responders must be over 18, undertake a criminal record check and a medical screening test.
After a 40 hour training programme and assessment, the volunteers are ready to go, but are reassessed every six months to make sure their skills are up to scratch.
If you are interested in joining one of the teams, go to www.ambulance.wales.uk.
Application forms can be downloaded from the site and should be returned to: Regional First Responder Officer, Regional Office, Wrexham Ambulance Station,Ruthin Road, Wrexham, LL13 7TU.
See full story in the Leader