Lifeblood ebbs and flows

At the sound of a siren or pager alert, thousands of rural people drop everything to answer emergency calls, be it for a fire, car crash, medical emergency or lost tramper. Volunteers are the glue that keeps remote rural areas and larger regional urban centres together. Otago Daily Times reporters investigate the health of Otago's volunteer services.

St John emergency medical technician Craig Greenall has been a St John volunteer for 14 years....
St John emergency medical technician Craig Greenall has been a St John volunteer for 14 years. Photo by Helena de Reus.
For St John emergency medical technician Craig Greenall, the patient is everything.

Mr Greenall (50) is an electrical technician for Otago Power Services, but does three 12-hour shifts for Balclutha St John every two weeks.

He began observing with St John in Winton and became a fully trained volunteer in 2000.

For eight years, he was a volunteer for mine rescue while working as an underground electrician for Solid Energy. As a qualified mine rescuer, he could be sent to help at any Solid Energy mine.

Mr Greenall juggled volunteering for both St John and mine rescue for about a year before moving to Balclutha in 2002.

He never regretted becoming a St John volunteer - it is also how he met his wife, Jackie, who is also a long-serving volunteer. Mrs Greenall recently became an emergency medical technician.

''I enjoy everything about it. St John is a pretty awesome company. They recognise how important we [volunteers] are.''

The Balclutha service could not always double-crew but when things were tough the Fire Service or police ''stepped up'', he said.

''We have brilliant backup with the Fire Service and police. If we are short of a driver, they will pitch in.''

Paid St John staff and other volunteers were great support and the organisation provided ongoing training.

''St John is always evolving. It's a big thing today to be well read. You are always reading, always getting clinical information ... bouncing off ideas with other volunteers and staff.

''Every job keeps you on your toes. You can't be blase ... you go in with a full arsenal of education.''

But at the end of the day, St John staff and volunteers know their purpose.

''The patient is everything; that is what we are here for.''

Mr Greenall said people interested in becoming St John volunteers should start as observers to see if volunteering was for them.

''It's not for everybody. Observing gives you the opportunity to determine whether you are capable and if you want to give it a go.''

In towns across Otago and Southland, more volunteers are needed to run the 24-hour St John service.

St John Hokonui territory manager Jan Douglas said all stations needed more volunteers, especially for night and weekend shifts, but the organisation was ''desperate for more volunteers in and around Tapanui''.

St John Tapanui station manager Anne-Marie Tamblyn said that in the first three months of the year, the Tapanui ambulance travelled 1900km and attended 28 call-outs.

While there were nine volunteers on the books, only six were active, she said.

That left the six people manning two 12-hour shifts, 6am to 6pm and 6pm to 6am.

The newest Tapanui volunteer joined less than a year ago and more were needed to ease the burde,nshe said.

Further south, Invercargill needs another 19 volunteers to bring it up to its ''full establishment'' of 35. Bluff, Otautau, Riverton and Tuatapere each need between seven and 14 more volunteers.

St John Central Otago territory manager Kelvin Perriman said, overall, the organisation was fortunate to have a dedicated base of volunteers in the area.

About 15 new recruits were undertaking the initial training programme to enable them to assist in ambulance crewing.

The Otago territory was 24 volunteers short.

However, the Central Otago territory had a strong volunteer base and 15 new recruits were undertaking the initial training programme.

In North Otago, St John had new recruits in Twizel, Kurow, Waimate, Oamaru and Palmerston.

St John North Otago territory manager Ken Barton said Twizel recently had an increase in volunteer numbers ''largely due'' to support from Meridian Energy.

''With their help, we are currently processing six new staff for Twizel.''

Five other volunteers from Twizel had also come forward to work 12 hours a week, on call by pager, Mr Barton said.

St John still required more volunteers in Kurow, Waimate, Ranfurly and Palmerston.

St John is a charitable organisation providing vital services and its volunteers are its lifeblood.

Just 1700 of the 10,000 adult New Zealanders involved with St John are paid for their time.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can visit their local St John office or call 0800-785-646.

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