The Variety in Volunteering for St. John Ambulance Wales

As well as my day job and my writing, I am a volunteer for St. John Ambulance Wales (Wales’ leading first aid charity).  The volunteers of St. John Ambulance Wales keep people safe at public events and support the NHS when required.

Photograph courtesy of Abergavenny Division.

People often ask me why I give up my time for free to volunteer for this organisation.  The answer is easy.  St. John Ambulance Wales has given me incredible opportunities that I would not have had otherwise.  I have received excellent training, made superb friends and attended many fantastic public events.  There is also the potential that one day I might, just might, save someone’s life and make a difference.  There is always something going on to get involved in.

Recently, I attended the Gwent County Annual Conference in Cwmbran, South Wales – a weekend of courses, networking and socialising.  There was something to suit everyone.  It began with a talk about ‘The History of the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance’.  This was a presentation about the inspiring St. John members and their remarkable contribution during the First World War.  It was fascinating to hear the story about how these men put their own safety aside to help the wounded in several major battles in the war.

Throughout the two days, there were a variety of courses available to give the volunteers awareness of some of things we could encounter.  I particularly enjoyed the ‘Casualty Simulation’ course which involved the use of make up to create injuries to make first aid scenario training as realistic as possible.  I also enjoyed the presentation given by the Welsh Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) about the work they do.  They are highly trained Paramedics who can respond to major incidents quickly to greatly improve the chances of survival for the casualties they treat.

On the Saturday evening, there was a Gala Dinner.  This was an opportunity to get dressed up, enjoy a three-course meal, catch up with friends and dance the night away!  The whole weekend was brilliant and I would like to thank the St. John members who organised it.

One week on from the Conference and it was time for the Gwent County Competitions.  This was a day of first aid competitions for all age groups including Badgers (5-9 years old), Cadets (10-17 years old) and Adults.  The main aim of the competitions is to demonstrate the first aid skills that we learn through weekly training.  The scenarios are designed to be as realistic as possible to reconstruct situations that we could find ourselves in during first aid duties (as well as having fun with the competitive element).  I spent all day being a ‘casualty’ suffering from a range of conditions such as asthma, shock, a sprained ankle and a very nasty burn.

A very realistic burn injury created using make up by the Casualty Simulation Team.

It was certainly an experience to act as a casualty because, not only does it help the first aiders improve their skills, it also gives us the chance to understand what a real casualty would feel like in an actual situation.  The winners will go on to compete at national level and I wish them every success.  I am hoping to compete myself next year now that I have an idea of what to expect.

The final event of a hectic two weeks was a public first aid duty at the ‘Tour de Gwent’ cycle ride based in Caerleon, South Wales.  This is the main aspect to St. John Ambulance Wales and the reason why the organisation exists.  Despite the fun, there is a serious side that involves helping people if they find themselves in need of first aid.  I am an Enhanced First Aider (EFA).  This level means that I have skills beyond basic first aid including diagnostic skills.  St. John Ambulance Wales provides so much more than just sticking plasters on.  We can support with life-saving, emergency first aid and transport people quickly and efficiently to hospitals where they can get the care that they need. 

I spent the day in an ambulance following the route throughout Gwent.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the scenery in the surrounding countryside was spectacular.  The cyclists were raising money for St. David’s Hospice Care by taking on one of five different routes with the longest being 78 miles.  St. John Ambulance Wales provided first aiders at all levels as well as fully equipped ambulances and 4×4 rapid response vehicles.  Fortunately, apart from a small number of minor injuries, the day passed without incident.  We were thanked throughout the day for providing a reassuring presence to ensure that everyone could fully enjoy themselves.

So, this just gives a brief snapshot of the work of Gwent County for St. John Ambulance Wales.  I am proud to be part of such a wonderful organisation.  In returning to the question of why I give up my time for free, the answer simply is because the opportunities and experiences are priceless!

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