Skerries RNLI shadow ambulance staff in line of duty

Skerries RNLI Lifeboat and Swords HSE Ambulance ServiceSkerries RNLI volunteer crew recently undertook an exercise the like of which they had not done before. Philip Ferguson, a Skerries RNLI Crew member, is also an advanced first responder with the local Dublin fire brigade.   He has experienced how the various Emergency services work hand in hand together and it was his belief that it would only be beneficial for crew at the Lifeboat Station to gain some insight and knowledge into how the HSE Ambulance Service operates.                 

With over 15 years service to the RNLI, Philip has been on many sea rescues and ‘shouts’. Not all have resulted in HSE Ambulance being called to scene, but there are always those incidents that do require their specialist services. In this regard, Philip believed that for the local Lifeboat crew to witness how the Ambulance teams operate would provide invaluable experience to the crews.

All Volunteer crew, whatever their role, at the RNLI Lifeboat station, get the training that will equip them to carry out their duties to the best of their ability.  The training provided by the RNLI is one of the best in the world. As it is, the RNLI is often asked to provide training for Volunteer Rescue teams from all over the globe.   The volunteer crew who man the RNLI lifeboats around out country get intensive, tough training which allows them to take their craft out to sea in all weathers, to protect themselves and the team with whom they put to sea and, above all else, they are trained to do their ultimate to save lives at sea.

Philip approached the Lifeboat Operations Manager at the station, Niall McGrotty, and also the Divisional Operations Manager, Owen Medland, and put his idea to them, requesting permission to approach the HSE Ambulance Service to discuss the possibility of some of the local RNLI crew joining the Ambulance Teams on some of their shifts. The crew would only be there is an observational capacity only. They would not be allowed to take part or assist the HSE crew at any point, they were there to look and learn. Both Niall and Owen agreed that it was an exercise worth pursuing. At that point, Philip contacted the local HSE Ambulance base at Swords and spoke with Frank Rice and Willie Howard both advanced paramedics and station managers. They agreed it was an exercise worth doing and in turn put it to their management for approval; it would show both parties their capabilities, strengths, and it would give everyone a glimpse into the environments within which both worked and would give the ambulance crew an understanding into the world of a volunteer on an RNLI Lifeboat. All of the above would add to a seamless handover of casualty from RNLI Lifeboat crew to HSE ambulance crew.

A number of the crew at Skerries Station put their names forward to attend, in all 12 were available. Each crewmember was assigned a date on which they had to be available and attend at the HSE Ambulance base. They would spend a full shift with the ambulance crew.

Over a period of three weeks, all of the RNLI crew took either a day or a night shift with the HSE Ambulance crews. As the Ambulance teams were called out, the RNLI volunteer rode along in the ambulance, observing the HSE teams at work be it at roadside after car crashes or to the homes to which they were called. They witnessed first hand the long hours and the dedication put in by the HSE ambulance teams as they waited in A&E at hospitals and transported their patients with care. Each individual who went on the exercise said it was, without doubt, an enlightening experience. They witnessed the professionalism of the HSE Ambulance crews in sometimes very difficult circumstances. They saw how the ambulance crews worked with each other, their partners, and how they did their utmost to provide care and attention to the patient as they reviewed the situation, analysed the needs of the patient and did what was necessary to stabilise and transport that individual to hospitals. Each of the RNLI crew who went on the training came back with renewed and utmost respect for the Ambulance crews.

Speaking with Willie Howard, advanced paramedic I put the question to him “Whilst the RNLI Volunteer Crew obviously gained a huge amount from the exercise, was it in any way beneficial for the HSE Ambulance Crews?” Mr Howard said that it certainly was beneficial for the HSE Crew. He said that speaking with the RNLI Volunteers, the HSE Ambulance teams realised that the volunteers put to sea in sometimes atrocious weather, often in pitch darkness with only the light on their boat to allow them search an area at sea.

Mr Howard went on to say that he became even more aware that the RNLI crew were using their skills, including their Casualty Care training, in a lonely place at sea. Remote and with no other manpower or back up whilst on the confined space of the lifeboat, he hoped that the new partnership formed by the observational training would allow the RNLI crew understand what the HSE Ambulance crew needed to know and it would also allow the Ambulance crew provide even greater support and back up to the RNLI Volunteers.

Journey time from the HSE base in Swords to the RNLI station in Skerries was c. 12 minutes. To many of us, that doesn’t sound too long, but when a casualty is being brought back to land by the RNLI Lifeboat crew, every minute is crucial.

Thankfully, the RNLI Volunteer crew have not yet had to put their latest training to the test in 2013. However, with the knowledge they gained on the observational placements, they have added to their skills. They understand and know that the experience and the time spent with the HSE Ambulance crew will stand to them when the time comes.

Comments made by the RNLI crew who attended the various sessions ranged included “wanted to record my appreciation for all the help given by the HSE ambulance team during our recent exercise. I did the Sunday night shift. I gained more practical experience in that one shift than would you would learn in months. The lads (Brian and Noel) were very informative and helpful and carried out all tasks with great good humour and professionalism. I look forward to getting the opportunity to work with them again”

“I felt it was a hugely rewarding and beneficial exercise. It really helped me understand how the HSE ambulance service works as well as getting to observe many of the skills we covered within our RNLI first aid course in a real life situation. I think having a familiarity of the layout of an ambulance will prove very useful should the occasion arise for a casualty transfer. The staff I got to shadow on the two shifts I did were extremely friendly and shared any knowledge they could. It was quite inspiring to see the paramedics work with such calmness, skill and care in each individual case, no matter how big or small” and “thought the medical experience with the EHB was extremely beneficial in providing first hand patient/casualty care along with the following provided by the paramedics”.

Such was the success of this exercise between that it is hoped it can be repeated. Skerries RNLI would like to thank each of the HSE Ambulance Crews allowed them spend time with them and learn.