Soldiers from Kendrew Barracks give up spare time to save lives in the local community
A seriously ill motorist has been found slumped at the wheel of his car in a residential street after falling into a diabetic coma.
Concerned passers-by dialled 999 and within minutes the first medics have arrived on scene and are checking the man’s pulse, breathing and blood glucose levels.
Interestingly, the two-man team are not East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) staff, but full-time soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, known as the Poachers.
The pair are members of the battalion’s 22-strong first response team – founded 12 months ago by Company Sergeant Major Lee Pearce – who give up their spare time to assist at the scene of medical emergencies across the region.
As the first responders manage to rouse the driver by making him drink small sips of a sugary drink, an EMAS ambulance arrives and a paramedic is given an update on his condition. He is later transported to hospital for observation and the soldiers are ready to respond to their next call.
Fortunately, on this occasion it was just an exercise – intended to demonstrate the sort of skills the first response team are frequently called upon to put into action.
Sergeant Major Pearce explained: “This exercise was based on a real emergency I was dispatched to a couple of weeks ago on the outskirts of Uppingham.
“I was the first on scene and initially it appeared the motorist was displaying signs of intoxication. But while I assessed him I asked a bystander to check his bag for clues and in there we found diabetes medication and sugary sweets and a drink. That quickly helped me identify the problem and take action to help him out.”
In its first year of operation, the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment First Response Scheme team – which also includes volunteers from 1st Military Working Dog Regiment and 7 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps – has attended an impressive 965 call-outs and spent a total of 2,100 hours at work. Not bad for a group of soldiers who have demanding full-time jobs and fit the medical work into their free time.
Sergeant Major Pearce added: “I’ve done several tours of duty, most recently in Afghanistan in 2012, and have seen many soldiers injured and also been present at the point of injury.
“We have first aid training in the military and I found being able to assist people at that time of need very rewarding. When I came back to the UK I wanted to do something similar. I approached EMAS with a proposal and it was accepted. Initially I was the only first responder here, but we soon built a team of 12 and that has recently been raised to 22. Generally when a call comes to us from EMAS despatch, we get to the incident before the ambulance and can provide vital care in those crucial first few minutes.
“The response we have had from members of the public has been great. Not many people realise what we do – so they are sometimes surprised to see soliders turn up in their ‘army responders’ T-shirts – but we’ve been welcomed with open arms.
“It’s a great conversation starter and can be useful to help calm people down and take their mind off what’s happening to them. We are always backed up by an ambulance crew and work alongside each other very well.”
The community first responders are trained by EMAS to attend a range of emergencies including cardiac arrests, allergic reactions, diabetes complications and patients with chest pains and breathing difficulties.
Instead of volunteering from home – as civilian first responders tend to do – the soldiers have access to an EMAS car which they drive to a strategic standby point which varies based upon demands placed upon the ambulance service on that particular day. Each shift lasts a minimum of four hours and begins when their day job finishes.
The vehicle carries a range of medical equipment, including oxygen masks, airway devices and defibrillators.
Mandy Lowe, community first response manager for EMAS, has spent a lot of time at Kendrew Barracks supporting the team and carrying out advanced first aid training.
She said: “The Royal Anglians are invaluable for us as a service and have made a significant impact in the 12 months since they have been working with us.
“Because they have an EMAS car based at the barracks, we can send them anywhere in the region that we have a need. Normally first responders cover only an area of three or four miles around their home address, but the fact we can ask the soldiers to travel away from their base is extremely useful. They are a great asset to call upon.”
EMAS serves a population of 4.8 million people, across 6,425 square miles. On average the service receives a new 999 call every 43 seconds – that’s more than 2,000 a day.
Mandy said EMAS is very grateful for the support it gets from other volunteer groups such as EMICS – a group of doctors who respond to call-outs in their spare time, and Rutland Community First Responders – members of the general public who, like the soldiers, are trained to respond to a wide range of potentially life-threatening conditions.
The Department of Health requires ambulance services to respond to the most seriously ill patients within eight minutes of the initial 999 call being received and EMAS does its best to achieve that. But community first responders can often be on the scene much quicker.
Ben Ryrie, EMAS community resuscitation trainer, said every second counts in an emergency.
He said: “When dealing with a patient who, for example, is in cardiac arrest, the difference between getting there within two or three minutes or getting there in eight minutes can be huge – literally life and death.
“The first responders have a lot of useful equipment with them such as defibrillators and oxygen. They are stopping people dying and preventing the exacerbation of some conditions.”
Sergeant Major Pearce his team has proved to be so successful that he is expanding the cover offered.
As well the vehicle, which can travel anywhere in the region, static response teams with GPS trackable phones and full medical kits will be based in Luffenham and Oakham, where many of the soldiers live.
“It’s a triangle of coverage,” he added. “We’re going to keep growing. There is another battalion of infantry soldiers set to arrive at Kendrew Barracks next year and I’ve already been in touch to make sure they are aware of what we do and to identify future volunteers.”