Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Crossmaglen First Responders Scheme given the green light

Crossmaglen is set to benefit from a vital lifeline in the form of a Community and District First Responder Scheme which aims to be up and running by the end of September this year.  Those behind the group, who, along with local councillors have been lobbying for the implementation of the scheme since last August, received final approval from Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) last week and training for volunteers will begin in earnest at the beginning of September.

First Responders are trained to offer assistance to a casualty, bridging the gap between an incident and the arrival of appropriate emergency services.  In rural areas, such as Crossmaglen, the existence of such an initiative could mean the difference in life and death while a casualty awaits emergency medical help. In general, First Responders will deal with medical emergencies such as victims of heart attacks/ strokes/choking/seizures.  They will not be deployed to attend trauma calls or dangerous situations.

The idea of a First Responders Scheme for the area is the brainchild of local man, Damien Martin, supported by and in partnership with Crossmaglen Community Association.

Damien first came up with the idea while undertaking a course in Emergency Medical Technology in Dublin and is “delighted” to see the scheme become a reality in the coming weeks in Crossmaglen.

Speaking to The Examiner about the imminent establishment of the life saving initiative, Damien paid tribute to all those who have lobbied tirelessly over the last year to get the scheme off the ground, including Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty and SDLP Councillor Geraldine Donnelly who he said had been “unbelievable support” and Aisling Renwick from the Council’s Action Health Committee and Lorraine Morgan who were “invaluable” in facilitating meetings with NIAS which have enabled the scheme “to get where it is today.”

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 within our local community.  Recognising early warning signs and administering basic first aid in such situations is crucial.”

“There are seven First Responder schemes currently in operation around the North, and with the current fears over the future of our GP service here in Crossmaglen and the A & E department at Daisy Hill hospital, compounded by longer  emergency response times, this scheme is vital to the area,” he added.

Not one to rest on his laurels Damien is keen to point out that, as the training provided by NIAS and the Order of Malta will not be funded and essential medical bags will need to be sponsored as well, a fundraising drive will be in operation to raise the necessary money to cover the cost of training and equipment.

“We are trying our best to get fundraising off the round to get the equipment we need.  We are in desperate need of medical bags and we are seeking local businesses or individuals to sponsor the medical bags which cost between 150 and 200 euros each.

“We have been generously donated a Defibulator sponsored by Heartsine Belfast,  and have been offered a brilliant deal on another one by Cardiac Services Belfast where if one is purchased they will donate another Free of Charge,” added Damien.

“We will also be holding a fundraiser raffle in the next few weeks and ask as many businesses as possible to donate towards the raffle or sponsor a month in which all publicity issued in local papers and emails and on the website will include the company logo of the sponsor.

“I really hope the local businesses of our area come on board to help our area recieve the health service they deserve.

With around a dozen people already signed up to volunteer as First Responders, a wide range of people are still required to make the scheme viable and basic requirements are that volunteers are over 18, have a licence and are insured.

“First Responder Schemes require a significant commitment on the part of the volunteer,” said Damien.

.“This should not be underestimated – members of the scheme will be on duty  on a rota basis.  Consequently any proposed First Responder Scheme should have enough volunteers to maintain cover without over-burdening individuals,” he explained.

Representatives from community, voluntary and sporting groups, interested individuals and any other appropriate agency are being encouraged to attend the upcoming meeting on Monday 27th July from 7pm in Crossmaglen Community Centre which will cover all aspects of the scheme, and discuss fundraising ideas to cover some of the costs involved.

Damien hopes local people will show their support for the fundraising drive to provide the “vital lifeline to the people of Crossmaglen and the surrounding district including Culloville, Cullyhanna, parts of Silverbridge and anywhere within a 3.5 mile radius of Crossmaglen centre.”

“With the possible reduction in Emergency Department hours at Daisy Hill and with our local GP service also now under threat with the imminent exit of Dr Fee and the exit of Dr Sweeney, the First Responders Scheme is needed in Crossmaglen now more than ever.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty has welcomed the news that the scheme will go live in September.

“I am delighted to hear that training is to begin soon,” he said.

“This group will provide a vital service to the entire area, particularly given the current issues and concerns around ambulance and GP cover in south Armagh.

“They could quite literally be lifesavers for the people of the area.

“I want to offer my congratulations to all those involved and assure them of both my and Sinn Fein’s continued support.”

His sentiments were echoed by SDLP Councillor for Slieve Gullion Geraldine Donnelly who reiterated her support for the setting up of the scheme.

“I would encourage people to get involved with the First Responders scheme as it will be of great value to Crossmaglen and district,” said Councillor Donnelly,

“The SDLP has long highlighted and lobbied for an ambulance station in Crossmaglen and to date that has not been forthcoming but we will continue in our efforts on that front.

“In the meantime it is important that we do all in our power locally to ensure that we have the means to respond immediately to any emergency which might arise locally.

“I want to praise those who are involved in the efforts to establish a First Responders unit in this area and I will work to do all that I can to ensure that it has the necessary resources required.”

If you require further information or would like to help fundraise or sponsor essential kit, come along to the meeting on Monday 27th July in Crossmaglen Community Centre at 7pm  or contact the Crossmaglen Area First Responders aia Facebook @ or Damien MArtin directly on 00353864181496 / 02830868690