Community support sought for First Responders Scheme initiative

August 25, 2014

A public meeting is to be held in Crossmaglen in the coming weeks to gauge community support for the proposed creation of a team of volunteers, trained to offer help in the initial stages of emergency medical situations.

The idea of a First Responders Scheme is the brainchild of local man, Damien Martin, who is now seeking the support of the wider community to help bring the project to fruition.

Damien believes there is a necessity for such a scheme in rural areas such as Crossmaglen, where emergency response times often fall outside the recommended limit.  He says trained First Responders could offer assistance to a casualty, bridging the gap between an incident and the arrival of appropriate emergency services.

Damien first came up with the idea while undertaking a course in Emergency Medical Technology in Dublin.  Already qualified in emergency and cardiac first response, he is keen to put these skills to use while helping his local community.

In general, First Responders will deal with medical emergencies such as victims of heart attacks and strokes.  They will not be deployed to attend trauma calls or dangerous situations.

Describing the importance of such a service, Damien said: “In the event of a person suffering a heart attack or stroke, arrival of medical help within the first eight minutes is critical.  At the minute, this does not happen [in this area].”

Recognising early warning signs and administering basic first aid in such situations is crucial, he said, adding that most people can survive cardiac arrest on receiving prompt medical intervention.

Several First Responder schemes currently operate around the North, though as yet there are none in the Newry and Mourne region.  The scheme is specifically aimed at rural communities where emergency response times are often longer.

“Typical locations would include isolated communities where it is challenging for the ambulance service to arrive at the scene within the critical eight minutes. These would be the more rural parts of Northern Ireland.

“There needs to be some history of emergency calls occurring in a particular location for interest in the scheme to be sustained.  There are over 46 ambulance stations/deployment points in Northern Ireland and there would be limited requirement for First Responder Schemes close to such stations,” he explained.

Damien says a wide range of people are needed to make the scheme viable.  Basic requirements are that volunteers are over 18 and able to drive with insurance.

“First Responder Schemes require a significant commitment on the part of the volunteers. This should not be underestimated – members of the scheme will have to be on duty either at all times or at times specified in agreement with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).  Consequently any proposed First Responder Scheme should have enough volunteers to maintain cover without over-burdening individuals.”

The First Responders scheme can be established as a charity affiliated with first aid groups such as St. John’s Ambulance or Order of Malta, thus keeping setting up and running costs to a minimum.

With the support of local councillors Geraldine Donnelly, Terry Hearty and Barra Ó Muirí, Damien’s proposal was recently presented to Newry and Mourne District Council’s health committee, which has agreed to give it further consideration.

Praising Damien’s foresight, SDLP Councillor Geraldine Donnelly welcomed the initiative.

“Full credit must be given to Damien for taking the initiative in seeking to set up this scheme in his own community,” she said.  “The availability of medically trained people continually on hand to help patients in need of emergency assistance could undoubtedly help save many lives.  I look forward to seeing the plan progress and offer my full support and that of my party to help bring it to fruition.”

Voicing his support, Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty welcomed the agreement from the Council’s health committee to help facilitate a public meeting.

“This meeting will help move on this initiative, which has been supported by all elected representatives,” he said.  “It will give all interested an insight into the process of the First Responder Service and address issues of concern such as insurance.”

Commenting on the wider issue of the provision of an ambulance station in south Armagh, his colleague, Councillor Barra Ó Muirí, added: “We also will continue to lobby along with the community for an ambulance sub-station. It could be located centrally in the Silverbridge area or, as has been the case in many areas across this jurisdiction, ambulance provision could be co-located in an existing fire station. We have fire stations at Newtownhamilton and Crossmaglen and either, I believe, would be acceptable.”

Representatives from community, voluntary and sporting groups, interested individuals and any other appropriate agency are being encouraged to attend the upcoming meeting where Ambulance Service personnel will be on hand to offer advice and answer queries in relation to the scheme.

When finalized, details of the meeting will be published, meanwhile, anyone requiring further information on the scheme can email