THE Welsh Ambulance Service is celebrating 30 years of Volunteers’ Week by welcoming 30 new volunteer lifesavers into its fold.
Community First Responders are volunteers who give up their spare time to attend 999 calls and give first hand emergency care to people in their own community.
They are trained by the Welsh Ambulance Service to administer basic first aid, oxygen therapy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of a defibrillator.
They do not replace the normal response of a paramedic in a rapid response car or an emergency ambulance, but if they are first on scene, they will support the patient until emergency crews arrive.
The new recruits have already attended more than 150 medical emergencies in North Wales since they qualified in April and May following a recruitment drive.
Among them is father-of-two Gareth Culley, who celebrated his 30th birthday in May.
Gareth, who works for Allied Healthcare in Prestatyn as a branch co-ordinator, was so keen to undertake this training that he postponed his honeymoon following his nuptials in March.
He said: “It was not long after we set the wedding date that I heard of the Community First Responder training course.
“I had to give my wife the bad news that we wouldn’t be going on honeymoon and that I’d be attending the training course instead, but we did manage to get away for a few days in South Wales.
“She has forgiven me, just. She is very understanding and understood why I wanted to complete the course.”
Gareth is also a volunteer with the Rhyl Air Cadets and has already attended a number of incidents and supported his team by providing a training venue.
“I wanted to become a Community First Responder in order to give something back to the community and to make a difference to people’s lives,” he added.
Of the 30 new recruits in Conwy and Denbighshire, 22 have begun their life-saving duties in Prestatyn, Rhyl, Conwy and Llanbedr y Cennin.
They celebrated their new skills with a cake in the shape of a defibrillator, the device used when someone suffers a cardiac arrest.
The remaining eight members will undertake their training over the summer to join first responder teams in Ruthin, Corwen, Llangollen and Llanrwst.
Claire Hurford, who trained the volunteers on behalf of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “The commitment of all our volunteers to the scheme is outstanding and they are a credit to themselves and their local communities.”
There are 200 Community First Responders schemes in operation across Wales, equating to almost 3,000 volunteers.
Many volunteers have taken experiences that life has thrown at them and have moulded them into a positive outlook to help family, friends and neighbours.
One such volunteer is Nick Richards-Ozzati, who in July 2003 was left fighting for his life following a near-fatal road accident near his home in Llangennech, Llanelli.
The 12-year-old was knocked off his bicycle in a collision with a van and received injuries so serious that paramedics did not think he would survive.
Nick was airlifted to Swansea's Morriston Hospital but later transferred to the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff, where he was in a coma for three days.
It was five days later that doctors were able to determine the extent of his injuries, including a broken collarbone and jaw and a haemorrhage of the brain, despite the fact he had been wearing a helmet.
Nick, who had to have a year off school, spent seven weeks at UHW and was dependent on a wheelchair when he left hospital.
He now volunteers as a Community First Responder and works at the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Clinical Contact Centre in Carmarthen with the team who saved his life.
He said: “I developed a passion for caring for others during my own recovery and I was always interested in pre-hospital care. I was able to further my knowledge in general first aid and worked closely with local crews in Llanelli and was able to progress to becoming a Community First Responder in Llangennech.
“The feeling of being able to help someone at their time of need is truly rewarding. Being in people’s lives at their time of need and being able to help them by giving them your best is a feeling I don't think you could get with any other job.”
Nick has now been accepted onto an Emergency Medical Technician training course.
He added: “I’m hoping that eventually I can be a paramedic myself and end up on the air ambulance and complete the circle which started with my own accident.”
Community First Responders play an important role alongside frontline ambulance staff in making sure patients get appropriate help quickly and efficiently, explained Elwyn Price-Morris, Chief Executive at the Welsh Ambulance Service.
“Community First Responders are a key partner in the chain of survival and very much part of the whole Welsh Ambulance Service family,” he said.
Mick Giannasi, Chairman of the Trust, added: “Every second counts when you are trying to save someone’s life, and Community First Responder schemes are hugely beneficial in helping the ambulance service provide the best possible pre-hospital care for patients.
“By becoming a first responder, you can really help the heart of your village or town keeping beating long into the future.”
Volunteers’ Week is an annual event which takes place on June 1-7, and this year marks its 30th anniversary.
It celebrates the contribution made by millions of volunteers across the UK and is run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in partnership with Volunteer Development Scotland, Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland) and Wales Council for Voluntary Action.
Visit www.ambulance.wales.nhs.uk for more information on becoming a Community First Responder.