When Forth Valley First Responders (FVFR) are allocated an emergency call out they are usually on the scene before ambulance crews.
It is in those vital moments lives can be saved and lost and the highly trained team of volunteers have the skills to make a real difference in the minutes before the paramedics arrive to treat patients and rush them to hospital.
Gavin Thorburn, FVFR group co-ordinator, said: “There are certain types of incidents first responders can attend, including life threatening calls of cardiac arrest, incidents where people have stopped breathing, strokes and anything that requires immediate assistance.
“We are an additional resource to assist the Scottish Ambulance Service, we are not a replacement for them. An ambulance is always first to be allocated to an incident, but first responders are usually closer due to being a volunteer in that particular community.
“In 90 per cent of the call outs we attend we arrive before the ambulance and are able to start immediate treatment. It also gives the opportunity to started the questioning process to ask the patient what happened so we can quickly pass on the information to ambulance crews so they can speed up their process.”
The Forth Valley branch, which is now based at the Scottish Ambulance Service station in Grangemouth Road, Falkirk, was formed back in 2005 and initially only covered the Grangemouth area, but now it has expanded to include Denny and even covers areas as far as Dollar and Bridge of Allan.
Gavin said: “At the time I joined I was looking for something to volunteer for in my spare time. I did a bit of research and found the first responders. I decided to give it a go and here I am almost ten years later.”
At the moment the team consists of 15 first responders, but that number could increase in the near future.
Gavin said: “You have people from all walks of life – people who do public service work, office workers, teachers and health care professionals who want to get involved in something pre-hospital.”
Martin Stuart, from Polmont, has been a first responder for three years.
He said: “I knew some of the people who were members of the team and I was looking for something to do with my time. I had no medical training at all apart from basic first aid, we get all our training when we first volunteer and have monthly training sessions to keep our skills up to date.”
Gavin added: “As soon as that incident comes on screen your training takes over. We are trained to such a high level by the Scottish Ambulance Service we know exactly what needs to be done.”
There are two dedicated FVFR vehicles – one donated by Arnold Clark and one paid for by the Friends of Forth Valley First Responders. However, first responders living in more remote, hard to access areas are on call and can use their own vehicles to attend any incidents in those areas.
Once the first responders have been trained by Scottish Ambulance Service staff they then take turns training each other, which not only helps them keep their skills up to date, it also builds up a strong team bond.
They also pass their CPR life-saving skills and knowledge on to community groups and are regular attendees at the annual Denny Gala Day, as well as Falkirk’s Emergency Services Days.
Tracy Aitchison, from Falkirk, joined the first responders two-and-a-half years ago after noticing an online advertisement for volunteers – like Martin she had no previous medical training.
She said: “It’s actually children who come to us most wanting to learn about CPR.”
Schools in England will soon be teaching pupils CPR and Forth Valley First Responders believe that Scottish schools should follow suit.
Forth Valley First Responders were allocated 452 call outs over the course of 2018, with members contributing 3702 volunteer hours in that time.
Martin said: “There are no real peaks and troughs throughout the year. I was called out ten times on Christmas Day and only once on New Year’s Day. It’s down to the individual’s circumstance how many hours they do – I did 390 hours last year.”
First responders are never allocated call outs which could place them in danger – road traffic accidents and incidents involving drugs or alcohol where violence could occur.
They have been sent out to people’s homes, public places – including bingo halls – and shopping centres. They deal with adult patients of all age ranges, but do not attend call outs involving youngsters under the age of 16.
Gavin said: “What we get told before we attend an incident and what we find when we arrive are often two different things, but ambulance control keep us fully up to date about what is appropriate for the patient.
“They know what first responders can do and what our capabilities are.”
They also assist medical staff in others ways – when extreme weather conditions have hit the area – as they did last February and March – first responders have been on hand with their 4x4 vehicles to drive medical staff to and from their work.