In the picturesque setting of Cornwall, you’ll find James Sculthorp-Wright. By day, he’s a financial adviser and company director but, by night (or, rather, in his spare time) James is a St John Ambulance Community First Responder with the South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT).
In between advising his clients and savings lives, James very kindly agreed to have a chat with I’m An Adviser to share his experience of volunteering in such a high-pressure role.
IAA: Welcome James. Firstly, could you tell us what a Community First Responder does?
James: Certainly. I’m a St John Ambulance Community First Responder and provide lifesaving intervention following a 999 call where there is an ‘immediate risk to life’. It could be that someone has had a heart attack, a stroke, they’re choking or are having breathing issues – it really varies.
As Cornwall is such a rural area, it can take time for an ambulance to arrive on the scene, and so first responders are despatched to provide life sustaining care while waiting for paramedics to arrive on the scene. In some instances, we also provide extra support once the paramedics arrive.
IAA: Could you explain what happens when you respond to a call?
J: You are dispatched by a GPS-tracked pager when you’re on call. Typically, you respond to calls within a five-mile radius of wherever you are at any time.
All first responders will have their own kit, so they’re fully prepared for when they arrive on the scene which allows us to perform extensive observations and provide oxygen. We also carry automated external defibrillators (AEDs) as well as the usual things you’d find in a first aid kit, such as bandages and dressings.
IAA: Are there any situations you wouldn’t be expected to attend?
J: Yes, we don’t usually go to incidents that could involve violence, drugs, alcohol or traffic collisions. It’s for safety reasons as we work alone.
IAA: How did you get into medical volunteering?
J: I was in the St John Ambulance Cadets when I was younger and progressed with St John from there. I’ve done various volunteering roles since joining, such as event medical cover which can be anything from a village fete to a music festival. I’ve also done paid work such as patient transport.
It’s been 15 years now, I really enjoy the work, and it’s rewarding. I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it for such a long time. I’m happy that I can give back to my local community.
IAA: Is there such a thing as a typical week as a first responder?
J: Not really, the work is so varied and unpredictable. During the summer, when there are a lot of tourists coming to the area, we tend to see a spike in the number of calls we’re responding too. During this time, first responders are a key source of additional resource and support for the full-time ambulance teams.
You could be going out for up to three calls a night, on top of working full time which can get tiring, but, as I said, it’s such rewarding work so I don’t mind.
IAA: How do you fit your volunteering around the busy life of working professional?
J: You don’t have to always be on call, so it’s just about maintaining a healthy balance between the two. There’s lots going on at the minute at our firm as we continue to see growth, and I have a Directors role in the company which keeps me busy.
That’s my first passion, and I work my volunteering around the rest of my life. I really respect the work the full-time crews do, but I can’t see myself moving away from advising. Especially not when I’m balancing the two. But – never say never, I guess!
IAA: And what about your mental wellbeing? How do you manage that when you’re dealing with several incidents a night that are a matter of life or death?
J: It can be difficult. I know people who have struggled to cope with some of the situations they’ve responded to. For me, I’ve been lucky, and I don’t think there’s been a detrimental effect on my wellbeing.
The team at St John Ambulance and SWASFT take their responsibility very seriously and offer support services to anyone who may need them. They’re very pro-active with this, and if they think a situation may affect you, they’ll be on the phone, following up with you, to make sure you’re ok and to see what they can do to help.
IAA: How much of your time is dedicated to training?
J: I do weekly training as I provide a lot of event medical cover through St John Ambulance which requires more extensive qualifications.
The first responder work is kind of a bolt on, on top of that. If you were just a first responder, you’d train on a monthly basis to make sure all your skills and knowledge are up-to-date.
It’s a real commitment to take on, but you do get to make a real difference in your community.
Thinking about volunteering?
If you’re interested in volunteering like James, you can apply through St John Ambulance or direct to your local ambulance trust. For more information go to www.sja.org.uk.