First Responder plans on cards

A COMMUNITY leader is calling for the implementation of a scheme allowing Braemar firefighters to provide life-saving first aid until an ambulance reaches a casualty.

John MacPherson, chairman of Braemar Community Council, is pushing for firefighters from Braemar's retained station to become First Responders - similar to a 12-month pilot scheme currently running in Maud - and says firefighters have already expressed enthusiasm for the idea.

His call came following a well-attended public meeting on Friday evening at Braemar Village Hall, to discuss the future of ambulance cover for the local community.

The meeting followed three open days organised by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), to show communities in Upper Deeside a new rapid response vehicle, due to come into service in around three months.

As reported in the Piper in April, two ambulances, previously based in Braemar and Aboyne, were replaced with a single ambulance based in Ballater, earlier this year - much to the anger of Braemar residents.

Mr MacPherson said: "We've got to get together as a community council to discuss it, but I'm pushing hard to get the fire brigade involved.

"Our sub-officer out here has discussed it with his crew and they are very keen to be involved and have said to their bosses that 'if the Maud pilot works out, put us on the list'.

"These guys are all part of this community and are very aware that while they're turning out for someone they don't know today, it could be a member of their own family tomorrow.

"I'm going to put to the community council that we need to get one of these rapid response vehicles based in the fire station, available 24 hours. If the fire service had this vehicle and were called out to a road traffic collision, they could take it with them to treat casualties before an ambulance reaches them".

A spokesman from Braemar retained fire station confirmed the firefighters were "all keen" to get involved in such a scheme, but said he couldn't comment further at the moment.

Speaking about the Maud pilot, a Grampian Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman said: "The First Responder unit is only requested to respond to life-threatening calls, to provide initial first aid until the Scottish Ambulance Service can attend.

"The unit carries the standard first aid kit contained on board a fire appliance, with the addition of a defibrillator and the exception of gases".

Shaun Burns, Grampian Fire and Rescue Service station manager for Aberdeenshire, said Maud firefighters had responded to 32 First Responder call-outs between July 1 2007 and March 10 2008.

"The First Responder training was really a top-up on what they already had", said Mr Burns. "The ambulance service will speak to our control room and our firefighters are on pagers in the same way they are for fire calls. They use a van that's based in the fire station and will respond under lights and horns.

"At the moment, we will not allow a First Responder response to interfere with or to take precedence over fire calls".

No-one from the SAS was available to comment on the proposal as the Piper went to press.

Upwards of 50 people attended Friday night's meeting, along with SAS head of service, Allan Reid, and five MSPs - Mike Rumbles, Nanette Milne, Nigel Don, Alex Johnstone and Maureen Watt.

"The encouraging thing was that they were all singing from the same hymn sheet, so it's clearly and quite encouragingly not being seen as in any way a party political issue, because all the parties are behind it", said Mr MacPherson.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA), which represents the interests of rural Scotland's communities, backed Braemar Community Council's proposed solution.

Geva Blackett, SCA chief executive and Braemar resident said: "The SAS currently offers Braemar the cover of a new rapid response vehicle which will be kept on Upper Deeside but not used to take patients to Aberdeen, as happened with the previous ambulance cover.

"The obvious solution to allay fears in the community and actually provide a better service is to have that rapid response vehicle housed in Braemar. It can then be manned in emergency situations which are out-of-hours, by trained drivers from the local fire service and SAS trained volunteers.

"This is a sensible solution which takes a pragmatic approach to using limited resources, whilst giving patients a better chance of survival in life-or-death situations".