Gary & Alex

In Conversation with Alex ….

South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) has a number of volunteers who attend 999 calls within communities, these are known as Community First Responders (CFRs).  These individuals are from all backgrounds and ages and are required to volunteer for a minimum of 20 hours per month, drive a car and attend/pass the training given by the SCAS teams.

These CFRs are attending calls such as Heart attacks, Cardiac Arrests, Strokes, Choking, Traumas, etc.  which is fine during normal day to day activities but has been put further into the spotlight during the Covid-19 circumstances.  These volunteers put themselves on the front line alongside regular crews against unparalleled time.

One such volunteer from Oxford, Alex Barrett, who had only recently applied to become a CFR and attended the training.  Once he had passed the training and was live to go on call, Covid-19 started.  We have interviewed Alex to understand the motivation to perform such duties.

What was the reason you originally signed up to be a CFR?

Two years ago, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand where I worked with governments to help improve how they managed disaster responses. During this time, I worked with volunteers who assisted in the response. They were incredibly inspiring, giving their own time to help their community with no expectation of getting anything back. So, when I moved back to the UK, I knew that I wanted to do something similar and I signed up to become a community first responder.

What is your day job and does it impact this?

I work in an organisation, INASP, that works to improve how research and knowledge is produced, shared and used in Africa and Asia. INASP does this by addressing issues of power and supporting the needs of both men and women across research systems.

So far, becoming a CFR has not impacted my work as I usually do my CFR shifts either workday evenings or during the weekends. If anything it has been reassuring for my colleagues to have someone in their office (before the Covid-19 lockdown) who was trained to do CPR and use a defibrillator.

How did you find the training and process of becoming a CFR?

The training was motivating with a good balance of learning theory and applying practical skills. I also got to meet other people who were being trained up, all from such diverse backgrounds, ages and experience. Some CFRs, like me, were new to the medical world and so had to learn quickly the ins-and-outs of how it all works, whereas there were others with military or fire service backgrounds who had previous medical experience and where able to help us newbies through the training.

What were your thoughts when Covid-19 started and you were expected to go on call?

It was obviously very concerning when the Covid-19 lockdown started and sometimes unclear of what I should and shouldn’t do, even just as a member of the public. I would say though that the guidance given by the CFR coordinators and managers was as good as you can get during such an uncertain time, sharing information on the situation as it unfolded as well as giving guidance on how our ability to respond would change. There were obviously challenges sometimes, for example, with getting PPE out to everyone etc. but it wasn’t from lack of effort or intention and we are now at the stage where CFRs are fully prepped.

What support have you had from SCAS to gain experience in the role?

As I have only recently been trained to be a CFR, SCAS allows us to gain experience by putting us in “buddy shifts”. This is where we are partnered with an experienced CFR and shadow them to understand how they respond and give us a flavour of what happens when you go out. My buddy during this time has been Gary, a CFR for over five years. We went out three times during the pandemic, when it was appropriate, and I was able to see the varied types of calls that CFRs can respond to.

What does your friends and family think about you responding?

My friends and family are very proud (I think!) of me becoming a CFR. My parents particularly as we had help from a CFR when my brother, Dan, had pancreatic cancer. The guy was very professional and reassuring and so I hope I will be able to give similar reassurance once I start going out on my own.

Do you feel you have enough support and resources to do your job?

I am lucky that I have a good support system at home with my partner, Chrissy, as well as family and friends. SCAS also provide support and resources if necessary which I haven’t taken advantage of yet but I am glad that I have that as a safety net if needed. My buddy Gary also always calls me the next day after a shift to check that I am doing alright, which is always appreciated.

What would you recommend to others thinking about becoming a CFR?

I would highly recommend it. The benefits are numerous as you gain some great life skills, meet great people, all while you help others in their time of need. If you have just a little bit of time free month each and want to do something meaningful, then definitely sign up!

South Central Ambulance Service Community First Responders are volunteers working for the ambulance service.  South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) receives no NHS funding for Community First Responders and therefore relies on South Central Ambulance Charity to raise funds through voluntary donations to fund the training, equipment and uniform for our CFRs.

SCAS currently has around 650 Community First Responders and 200 Co-Responders responding to some of the most urgent emergencies in their communities.