Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Service user praise for First Responder volunteers

As the acclaimed Crossmaglen and District Community First Responders begin their second year of operation in the district, The Examiner embarks on a series of stories from the people the initiative was set up to help – local people who suffer an emergency medical situation and rely on the quick response of the band of local volunteers as they await the arrival of ambulance services.

Established just 15 months ago, the First Responders has gone from strength to strength and the commitment and dedication of the team of ordinary men and women who are trained to respond to urgent medical situations to provide treatment to casualties ahead of the emergency services has been heralded as inspirational. In rural and isolated areas such as Crossmaglen and the surrounding district, the existence of such an initiative can mean the difference between life and death while a casualty awaits emergency medical help and, given the often inadequate ambulance response times throughout the area, the scheme has received resounding support from the local community and political representatives.

Ballsmill lady Margaret Devine is just one of many local people who has found herself in an emergency medical situation to which the group responded.  Speaking to The Examiner about her experience, Margaret recalled how she fell ill during a shopping trip with her daughter last March.

The 73 year old says she began to feel faint as she entered a supermarket in Crossmaglen accompanied by her daughter Lorraine.  After getting her a chair and some water, Margaret’s worried daughter called the ambulance as her mum slipped in and out of consciousness for short periods.

Within ten minutes the Crossmaglen First Responders team arrived on the scene, remaining with Margaret until the ambulance arrvived around twenty minutes later.

“I felt myself going all along my right hand side and I was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

“The First Responders were there within minutes and checked my vital signs and reassured me and my daughters.  I really thought I was going to die and I know my daughters did too,” says Margaret, recalling her frightening experience.

“They really gave us a lot of comfort and it was especially good for my daughters who were very panicked and worried. We knew the two girls from the First Responders and they were able to put my daughter and I at ease.

“I felt I was in safe hands while I waited for the ambulance. I have a pacemaker fitted so a defibrillator was not necessary but the two wonderful volunteers carried out the checks they needed to and kept me stable until the ambulance arrived.

Margaret was taken to Daisy Hill Hospital and she says doctors are still carrying out investigations into what exactly happened to her that day.  She says she so grateful to the First Responders for helping her in her time of need and she believes the initiative is a fantastic boost for Crossmaglen.

“I think it’s the best thing to ever happen in the area. It’s good to know these ordinary people, many of them familiar faces, have emergency medical training and are on hand to arrive so quickly.  It really made a difference to me and my daughters that day and we’re very thankful for their help.  I hope it continues for many years and that more people take up the training and become volunteers for this very important group.”

The First Responders are currently embarking on an ambitious recruitment drive to encourage more volunteers to become involved and help expand the service it offers across the community.

The group’s Committee Chair, Aoibheann Byrne, has been involved since the beginning and is encouraging others to join: “All of us work and cover hours that fit in with our commitments and lifestyle. We will train you up keep you updated and you will be well supported within our group,” she said.

“Our group has been recognised and nominated for two major awards already which in turn raises the profile of our south Armagh community.  We are the only First Responder group providing 24 hour cover. We will always ensure this service is placed at the heart of our community and having AEDs (defibrillators) placed in all corners of our district helps you too.”

The next one-day course to become a Crossmaglen and District Community First Responder will take place in March.  For more information or to register your interest,  contact chairperson Aoibheann Byrne on 00353 1583284 or Secretary Jean Rushe on