Walkies? You're nicked mate!
PUBLISHED: 11:22 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013
Why can't all air ambulance services be like Wiltshire's. Malcolm Twigg looks at an air ambulance service that should be a model for the rest of the country. As well as tending to the sick and injured, it catches villains!
Just as I drew up to talk to the crew of Wiltshire Air Ambulance, it took off and clattered away over my head. Conversely, when I pulled away to go to my next assignment, it clattered back again, but just as quickly took off once more. It's like that some days. On others there's hardly a shout. Luckily, administrator/co-ordinator, Lesley Duncan and Police Observer Kevin Reed were on hand to talk me through the processes that make Wiltshire's Air Ambulance such an economy of efficiency. It is practically unique amongst air ambulances, being one of only two that are operated jointly with the Police service - and just why other counties cannot follow suit is quite a mystery to me, because it makes absolute sense.
On the face of it there might seem to be rather a conflict of interest - who decides on priorities between the two roles? "In fact, there is no compromise needed," Kevin Reed explained. "The over-riding interest is the protection of life and property and the police input links in very much with the medical work in that respect. The job which has the more potential for loss of life is the job to which we divert if we need to divert. If needs be we can drop the paramedic at one site to assist until further help arrives and fly off to a purely police matter if we have to, but the reality is that there is general agreement amongst the crew as to which job to prioritise. The decision is very much in our hands as the people in the air, and it is that aspect of working with the service that is very rewarding from an individual point of view."
The crew comprises a pilot (generally ex-services and employed by the company from whom the police hire the aircraft), a paramedic and a police observer, although each are trained in the less specialist roles of the other personnel, so it is very much a team effort. The way the service came about is interesting. At the time, the police were in the habit of hiring a Gazelle helicopter during the summer solstice to keep an eye on things at Stonehenge, but they got a call to a serious road traffic incident at Melksham. Time was of the essence and they found that if they took out the passenger seats in the Gazelle, they could accommodate a stretcher to get the casualty to hospital much quicker. From small beginnings have grown a partnership that works extremely well, and one which draws a lot of support with the help of a willing and enthusiastic band of volunteers.
"The most harrowing incidents we ever have to deal with are those involving injured children," Kevin told me. "You get inured to most things in this job, but that if by far the worst. On the other hand there are some lighter moments. We once had a shout, on a police job this time, where a villain had stolen a 4x4 in Dorset and come into Wiltshire. The Wiltshire force was chasing him but he took off across country, and so we were called out. Anyway, he eventually bogged the vehicle down and took off on foot. The thing is, there was a terrier dog in the back seat when he stole the vehicle. As soon as the villain jumped out and legged it the dog thought it was playtime and chased after him. Every time the guy tried to hide the dog found him, bouncing around and wanting to play. That was the smallest - and cheapest - police dog we have ever worked with!"
Everything I heard about the way that Wiltshire Air Ambulance operates convinced me that this is the way forward for all airborne ambulance services. And one thing above all others suggests that - being flown by ex-military personnel who are trained to fly in all conditions, Wiltshire's air ambulance can actually operate at night, whereas those run by other services are purely day-time operations. A considerable one up for Wiltshire, I would say.
Volunteer for Fund-raising
Volunteers can help in many ways, such as attending events, helping to establish a local supporter group or by joining one of the existing ones, helping at collections or flag days, or by helping to service collection boxes. You would have your own small area to look after, or you could help by just giving a "home" to one of the collection boxes. Volunteers can also help by attending cheque presentations or perhaps by giving a talk on the work of the Air Ambulance.
If you would like to find out more 0845 122 1423 or check out the website at www.wiltshireairambulance.co.uk