It was following the sudden loss of his best friend, from a stroke, that Doncaster man Chris Little determined to learn how best to help anyone in an emergency situation.
Then employed as a driving test examiner, Chris volunteered with the St John Ambulance and began learning the life-saving skills he believes should be a must for everyone.
Chris, 55, of Warmsworth, now knows that if the right action is taken quickly when someone suffers a stroke, then a life could be saved.
He said: “My friend was in his late forties and working alone in a garage when he collapsed. He was there for 20 minutes before he was found and then it was too late.
“He had had some warning signs, such as dizzy spells and headaches, and should have had them checked out, but didn’t. These could have been recognised by someone with the right knowledge for what they were indicating.”
That was six years ago and Chris has developed a passion for the vital work of St John Ambulance. Three years ago he changed his career and became a paid member of staff with the service while continuing to volunteer as area manager covering the whole of South Yorkshire.
His employed role is as a facilities co-ordinator; “I look after all the St John Ambulance buildings stretching from Hull across to Liverpool,” he said. “There are 40 in total so I’m kept pretty busy.”
Not only did he find a new, meaningful career, but Chris also met his future wife, Helen Hardy, within St John Ambulance:
“We say that the unit is like one big family,” he explained, “but actually it is. Along with Helen, my fiancee, are her parents and sister, who all volunteer with St John Ambulance. Helen has served for 34 years, and her parents for over 50.”
“With the skills you are taught within the service you have the confidence to deal with any situation, and know when it is necessary to call for specialist help.”
He continued: “We had 1500 volunteers at the recent London Marathon and they were kept very busy, particularly with the heat of the day. The photos you saw of people falling over the finish line and being helped by people in green jackets, termed paramedics for the most part, were our volunteers.
“There were over 100 runners dispatched to hospital but hundreds more received treatment part way through then went back to get on with the race.”
Chris said: “Our organisation is trying hard to get first aid skills out in to communities and we have been going out delivering training of up to four sessions each, at groups such as guides and scouts, and cadets. In the first three months of this year around 200 youth within eight different units acquired first aid skills.”
When working as a driving examiner I witnessed an accident when a guy was hit by a car, and the training kicked in immediately. Training and practice is continuous. Recently we have covered safeguarding, as children or vulnerable adults may sometimes need help that is not clinical in nature.
“Awareness in mental health is another area covered. The St John Ambulance is not about handing out plasters....it’s so very much more than that.”
Chris feels strongly that community resilience is of prime importance: “We need lots more people to be capable of assisting others when needed, particularly with today’s pressures on the NHS and sometimes difficulty in getting to see GPs.
“It used to be the case that people knew of someone on every street who could help in a medical emergency but we have moved away from that and need the help on the ground.
“Anyone with the confidence to deal with a broad range of situations can become a St John Ambulance volunteer and receive free training to help save lives. Volunteering leads many people in to careers and you make new friends and get out and about.”
Among the events covered by volunteers in Doncaster, he said, are football and rugby matches at the Keepmoat Stadium, and festivals, concerts and exhibitions at Doncaster Racecourse. Many community and sporting events require a presence and volunteers will be at the Tramlines Festival in Sheffield. Stately homes and vehicle rallies also call for attendance.
“Volunteers do anythng from two to 10 hours a week and although it sounds cliche, it is a rewarding way to give back to the community,” added Chris.
“There is an over-reliance on emergency services, and people don’t use the walk-in centres or pharmacies as much as they should. We need to empower ourselves to look after our health. We have sections for ‘badgers’ aged seven to 10, and cadets from 11 to 18 years.”