The Welsh Ambulance Service is paying tribute to its volunteers as part of International Volunteer Day. International Volunteer Day (5th December) is an annual celebration of the contribution that millions of people across the globe make through volunteering.
Volunteer Car Service Drivers use their own vehicles to transport people to routine hospital appointments, including dialysis, oncology and outpatient appointments. In 2022/23, they made 48,150 journeys across Wales and covered more than one and a half million miles – the equivalent of driving to the moon and back three times.
Among them is Eirian Williams, a former police officer and professional snooker referee, who started volunteering for the ambulance service in 2008.
The 68-year-old, from Llanelli, was inspired to join the Volunteer Car Service during his ‘down time’ from snooker, and now volunteers three days per week. He said:
I loved my professional snooker career, but the competition calendar meant I also had a lot of time off, especially over the summer months.
I was chatting to a friend who suggested I try volunteering, and another friend said the ambulance service were taking on – the rest, as they say, is history.
Eirian joined Dyfed Powys Police in 1975 and worked predominantly in the road traffic team based in Llanelli. He retired from the police in 1993 after spells at Llandeilo and Ammanford stations, including in CID.
Eirian gained the Class C Snooker Referees accreditation in 1981 and within five years, was the Senior Welsh Referee in the Home International Series. He refereed his first World Ranking final in 1998 at the Regal Welsh tournament in Newport, as well as four World Championship Finals at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2010. He added:
It’s mostly appointments in Wales that I take patients to, but I’ve also been as far afield as Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
You meet some interesting people, but my philosophy is to wait for them to start the conversation because you never know if someone wants some time to reflect if they’re going to an important appointment.
You don’t have to be available every day of the week, but if your lifestyle means that you have often have time on your hands, then come and join us and give back to the community.
Community First Responders are volunteers who attend 999 calls in their community and administer first aid in the precious first minutes before an ambulance arrives. They are trained by the ambulance service to administer first aid, including oxygen therapy and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as well as the use of a defibrillator.
Last year, they attended more than 10,000 emergencies in Wales, arriving at the scene of the most serious ‘Red’ calls in an average of nine minutes.
Among them is Effie Cadwallader, 70, from St Martins, near Oswestry, who has attended more than a 1,000 999 calls since she began her volunteer journey.
As a member of the Wrexham Rural Community First Responders group, Effie covers a wide area of north east Wales, from Glyn Ceiriog and Llangollen to the west, Rhosllanerchrugog and Marchwiel to the north and Bettisfield and Hanmer to the east, all centred around Chirk. Effie said:
I joined the CFR scheme when I was suddenly made redundant – I needed something of value to fill my days. It was in the very early days of CFRs, and the only first aid I’d done until that point was with the Girl Guides 30 years previously.
I book on nearly every day for a varying number of hours, averaging five hours per day, from dawn until our daily walk time in the afternoon.
I have another major commitment in my life, which takes up my evenings and weekends – singing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir – but that’s when other CFRs are available, so it works out well.
In October, the grandmother-of-one took home the Community First Responder of the Year Award from the Trust’s annual WAST Awards. She said:
I’m often asked if I enjoy what I do. I reply that I can never enjoy it because I’m visiting people in distress, maybe even having the worst day of their lives.
The best I can hope for is the satisfaction that I helped someone, that the skills which have been drummed into me were useful and that I alleviated someone’s anxiety and upset.
WAST’s training of CFRs is excellent, thorough, comprehensive, up-to-date, ongoing, with very swift access to advice, and the trainers are always happy to answer questions.
In 2021, the Trust launched its first Volunteers’ Strategy, which sets out how volunteers will be better integrated into the workforce and better supported to deliver the role.
Jenny Wilson, National Volunteer Manager, said:
Volunteering at the Welsh Ambulance Service has come a long way in the last two decades.
The role that first responders play in starting the chain of survival can literally mean the difference between life and death, while the Volunteer Car Service is a really important cog in the wheel of the non-emergency service.
There are new and exciting plans afoot as we further embrace our volunteers as part of the #TeamWAST family.
Lee Brooks, Executive Director of Operations, added:
We place high value on the contribution of our volunteers, and are enormously grateful to those who give up their time to support our ambulance service.
International Volunteer Day is a perfect opportunity to highlight the work they do and to publicly thank them for their ongoing commitment.
As well as Community First Responders and Volunteer Car Service Drivers, the Trust also relies on the support of St John Ambulance Cymru as well as ‘BASICS’ doctors from the British Association of Immediate Care, who provide pre-hospital care at the scene of more complex emergencies.
WAST have also developed a new Community Welfare Responder role, about which you can learn more here.