Volunteer shortage bites

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More volunteers needed . . . Amuri St John is struggling to crew its ambulances. Photo: File

By ROBYN BRISTOW

The Amuri St John Ambulance is in a perilous position.

Once the rock of North Canterbury’s ambulance ranks, it is struggling to crew its ambulances.

Publicity officer Rob Field says it has prided itself in recent times on being able to not only crew the Culverden 1 ambulance, but also the Culverden 2 ambulance as the need arose.

On infrequent occasions it even put out a third crewed ambulance to help in North Canterbury.

But over the past year, like many of its neighbouring St John ambulance teams, it has lost volunteers, meaning slots on the roster have to be filled by fewer officers.

The situation is about to get worse, with its ranks shrinking by another three, longstanding volunteers who are retiring from active operational work.

Mr Field, who has retired from active duty but serves on the Amuri Area Committee of St John, says efforts to attract new recruits to replace them through advertising in local community papers such as the Peril, Citizen and Pinkie, have been futile.

The situation is now “perilous”, he says.

“We need some more volunteers to help us provide our ambulance service,” he says.

The Culverden St John Ambulance Station plays a big part in looking after the wellbeing of populations in the surrounding townships of Culverden, Hanmer Springs, Hawarden, Rotherham, Waiau and Waikari, he says.

They are served by a team of trained volunteers, led by a paid paramedic, who staff the station seven days a week, 24 hours a day, all year round.

“This is a big commitment, but it is a very rewarding way to play your part in the community,” Mr Field says.

At present there are 20 volunteers who crew the Amuri ambulances, but more recruits are desperately needed.

“The weekly roster has 28, 12 hours shifts, of which five are filled by the paid paramedic.

“We can only crew the ambulance if some volunteers do more than one shift a week. We also may get calls to crew the second ambulance if we have an urgent job, while the first is out.”

Margaret Hansen and her husband Brian, who run a Merino sheep station in Hawarden/Waikari, joined the crew in 2006.

Mr Field says Margaret is a stalwart.

After completing her initial first-responder training and driving course, Margaret became a regular member of the two-man, Culverden 1 crew.

Further training saw her gain her emergency medical technician (EMT) qualification.

“Margaret and I have spent many a Sunday crewing the ‘truck’, responding to medical emergencies in homes, traumatic injuries on roadsides and farms.

“Driving up the Lewis Pass on a grey winter’s afternoon to look after the victims of a road crash was sadly all too frequent.

“Ambulance crews work closely with the other emergency services. We often train together with the fire brigade, extracting and treating motor vehicle injuries. We also work closely with the medical centres, taking patients to and from them and also liaising with prime doctors who support us with emergencies at night.”

Mr Field says volunteers are the lifeblood of a rural ambulance station and it is a great way of helping a community by volunteering.

He says Margaret, like other volunteers, often works on the night shift from 6pm to 6 am. A modern accommodation house with kitchen, lounge and three bedrooms – two with en-suite bathrooms- is provided.

” It is very comfortable place to be when on a shift.”

Mr Field says being a St John Ambulance officer offers a wide variety of experiences and challenges.

“The training provided once you join gives you nationally recognised academic qualifications at NCEA and. once at EMT level, there is the opportunity to gain paid employment with St John.

“Several of our more recent volunteers now work in Christchurch and are now studying to gain their BSc (Health Science) degrees to become paramedics.

“The work is challenging but very rewarding. The people you would work with are very supportive but they do need some help.”

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Amuri team should call the Culverden St John office on (03) 3158306 and talk to the station manager, or drop by to say hello and get more information from paramedic officer Ann Cleaver.