Saturday, 28 March 2015

A different day


 He has delivered two babies, attended numerous traffic accidents, and helped hundreds of people in county Roscommon through some of their worst hours, yet it’s all in a day’s work for Leading Ambulance Paramedic, Sean Simon. 

Simon from Knockvicar has worked with the HSE West ambulance service for the past 12 years, based in the ambulance station adjacent to Plunkett Home in Boyle.

            He trained with the National Ambulance training school in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, having come to the service from a driving and civil defence background. Many people currently working in the ambulance service have a background in either civil defence or Order of Malta.

            “We work in a pre-hospital environment. We are first to respond to any incident in the community. Our role varies, we could be going to a house call, to an old woman who is sick, or a road traffic accident, or a cardiac incident. A lot of times we don’t know how bad it is until we get there.

            “Each ambulance has two personnel, both trained as paramedics. We would rotate the driving and the paramedic skills. Our main aim would be to assess, treat and transport the patient, be it from a house or a road traffic accident or incident. We also liaise with other services like the fire brigade and maternity services.”

            From the ambulance base in Boyle, people go to hospitals in Sligo, Mullingar, Roscommon and Portiuncula. “In our station we do 12 hour shifts, and the station is operational 365 days per year - there is always one crew on. Boyle is a busy station, covering an area from Rooskey to Carracastle, and from Ballaghaderreen to Arigna. In Roscommon, the shifts are 12 hours long and because of the hospital, the station in Roscommon does a lot of hospital transfers, with five crews on in any one day.

            Sean is trained in cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and there are cardiac machines on board the ambulances, so that results of monitoring can be faxed ahead to the cardiac units in the hospital. Trained ambulance paramedics can also administer certain drugs to cardiac patients.

            “Normally calls go in to ambulance control and they take the details of the people involved, their address and the directions. There is no such thing as an average week. Every day varies so much. It can be a local transfer from a nursing home to a hospital, a maternity call, a road traffic accident, a cardiac related call, ‘MIs’ we call them. This morning we had two or three road traffic accidents alone. Within the service there are opportunities for advancement, to Assistant Instructor of Trained Driving Instructor. I’m an Assistant Instructor and a trained driving instructor.”

            At the moment, a campaign is underway in the emergency services to make sure that advanced driving courses are undertaken by all paramedics. Sean trained at the Garda College in Templemore and the courses are now available with Castlebar driving school. “We have a great record, but this is part of a campaign to up-skill in the area. Driver safety is very important. Accidents don’t happen, they are caused. There is a huge emphasis on safe motoring. Everyone has the responsibility once they get into a vehicle and child safety is very important.”

            “Our training would entail a 26-week programme with hospital placement in all the different areas, maternity, orthopaedic, ambulance control, medical trauma, surgery and post mortems. Then you become a third member of a crew for a period. Before you do your final exams you have to have 100 emergency calls completed and all your notebooks and journals written up for that.

            “There is an Advanced Paramedic course and that has been done in conjunction with UCD, so we have a diploma in medical science. Advanced Paramedics haven’t been rolled out yet. We have five in this area ready to be rolled out. They would be able to give more advanced treatment to patients, for example they can intubate patients and give controlled drugs.”

            Sometimes, Sean is called to incidents which hit the headlines, such as a train derailment in Roscommon in the 1990s, at which there were thankfully no major casualties.

            Sean has also delivered two babies in his time. “It’s very natural when everything goes fine. It’s only if there are complications that problems arise,” said Sean. One of the babies was delivered in Ballaghaderreen and one in Castlerea. “We were going to Sligo maternity unit and we didn’t make it …” recalls Sean.

            “It takes a certain type of people to work in the ambulance service. It is very demanding and you have to love the job. You have to be of a caring nature and be kind to people. We are trained to respond to people and from a social point of view, you need skills and general common sense and understanding of people. We meet people at their worst time in their lives. A lot of the time people are in shock and don’t respond as favourably as they would like to. Until something happens, people don’t realise that the service is there.”

            Apart from responding to the calls which present themselves, much time is also spent planning for a major incident. Last week, members of the ambulance service in Mayo, Roscommon and Galway gathered in Galway and, while many people were preoccupied with going to the polls, they were planning a reaction to a major incident.

            “We regularly meet with the voluntary services and the guards and the fire service and they all have a major incident plan. So if anything happens in an area, the plan is rolled out. The first ambulance on site gives feedback, location, hazards involved, access and egress routes, the number of casualties and other services required. Then they would stand down unnecessary work and put ambulances on stand by.”

            In his 12 years in the service, Sean has seen great change. “We have come a huge distance in many ways from when I started. The ambulances were petrol, two-stretcher vehicles and were small enough inside. At the moment we would have one-stretcher vehicles. The ramps are better and we have better stretchers, better lifting and moving devices and the ambulances have got bigger. The new fleet are Mercedes vans and the ambulances came from Germany.”

            A new national ambulance service means more promotional prospects for Sean and his colleagues and no doubt he’s looking to progress his career within the service. The HSE recently initiated a recruitment drive for 320 new ambulance service personnel. Apart from the new recruits, the rolling out of a further 60 advanced paramedics is also planned, and 65 new vehicles are getting on to the road all across the country.

            It’s a varied career and with 320 new personnel due to be recruited by the HSE over the next three years