If you live in Kirriemuir, Angus, and you’re unlucky enough to need emergency medical treatment, you’ll be glad to know that help is not far away. As Claire McIntosh arrives a matter of minutes after you call 999, you’ll hear her reassuring words: “I’m a First Responder, the ambulance is on its way…”
Claire is one of a team of 19 people in Angus who give up their own time to help the emergency services respond to incidents in their local area. The Angus First Responders are supported by St John Scotland, and there are another 120 other First Responder groups across the country.
It can take paramedics up to 45 minutes to reach Kirriemuir from the ambulance station 20 miles away in Arbroath, so the service provided by Claire and her fellow volunteers is vital to this rural community.
Claire has been a volunteer with the service since it was set up in the area seven years ago. She’s always worked with elderly people, and before becoming a First Responder, felt there was a real need to have more immediate help available.
“I’d not had any previous medical or first aid training”, says Claire, “and I was always worried that should something happen to one of the elderly people I was supporting, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
The First Responders team didn’t exist at the time, so when she saw an advert for volunteers in the early stages of the scheme being set up, she jumped at the opportunity to help.
Claire completed her training, and passed assessments to prove she could administer medical help correctly, and – more importantly – keep calm under pressure.
Now she’s able to use her skills on a regular basis. She has been called out to help with everything from falls to choking incidents; to help someone who’s unconscious, or in cardiac arrest.
Claire fits being a volunteer around her work shifts as a home-help. First Responders can be flexible – they sign in to an electronic system to show when they’re available for callouts – so it’s easier to fit the role around work and family life. If someone needs help nearby, Claire will get a call from the Scottish Ambulance Service, who tell her where she’s needed and brief her on the situation.
Claire signs in to the system most days, and has been called out seven times so far this year. The latest incident she responded to saw her delivering CPR for 30 minutes before paramedics arrived.
As well as giving medical assistance, an important part of Claire’s role in an emergency situation is providing reassurance to family members and other people nearby. She says: “I can help calm people down when they don’t know what’s happening as, naturally, it can be very scary for them.
“When the paramedics arrive, I can also pass on information I’ve found out about the casualty - their injuries, any other conditions they have, any medication they’re on, which helps the ambulance service out as well. And when the person is being treated by paramedics, I can explain to the family what’s happening – they’re getting taken for an ECG or whatever – and it helps reassure them.”
Claire says she takes great satisfaction from knowing she can be there to help people in Kirriemuir: “I like the fact I can put something back into the local community. Knowing that I can be there in minutes and provide reassurance when it’s such a difficult time for people – I get a lot out of that.”
People in the local area are also glad to have Claire available on their doorstep: “The ladies at the bingo I work with say ‘we know we’re safe when Claire’s around!’”
The team of First Responders in Angus attend training in Forfar one evening a month to make sure they keep their knowledge up to date. Claire says: “We’ve all been doing it for a while now, so we can have a laugh and a joke – it’s a lot of fun and they’re a great bunch.”
At the moment, Claire is the only registered First Responder in Kirriemuir, a town with a predominantly elderly population. She’s keen to encourage more people to volunteer to provide this vital local service.
“I love what I do, and I really get so much out of it. If anyone is thinking it’s something they could consider doing to help, they should go for it.”
For information about First Responder schemes in other areas, visit the Scottish Ambulance Service website.