St John may be lost to Eketahuna

LISA KNIGHT
Last updated 12:00 13/06/2014

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Eketahuna could lose its ambulance service if more volunteers don't step up to the plate, which would leave the volunteer fire brigade as the town's only first responders.

St John only has one volunteer in the Tararua town and is in danger of losing the service altogether if more cannot be found, St John Manawatu district operations manager Steve Yanko said.

"We've got to the point where we can't sustain it . . . we can't sustain a volunteer service without volunteers.

"If we can't get volunteers then we don't have an ambulance service, that's the reality."

The fire service in the area, which was also a volunteer brigade, was the only other backup for life-threatening emergencies available in Eketahuna, Yanko said.

"We don't want to become solely reliant on the fire brigade, so we are looking to the community to get on board."

He said St John couldn't justify paying a fulltime officer in small rural communities so the organisation was reliant on volunteers.

"It's a community issue . . . if the community doesn't get behind us then that leaves them at risk."

A public meeting to discuss the future of the St John service in Eketahuna was held last month.

"We're really keen for people to step up," Yanko said.

"Already there are times when the ambulance is not available because we just don't have the crew to do it."

If the ambulance was unavailable help usually came from Pahiatua, about 25km away by road.

"We do get help there, whether it's the first responder fire brigade or an ambulance from somewhere else. But it's ideally nice if we have those volunteers there," Yanko said.

Eketahuna chief fire officer Max Mayer said it would help the town if there were more ambulance officers but the fire service had "always been more than happy to turn up" to first responder cases, although they were not trained for every situation.

"With the shortage of people at St John it would be nice to have more," Mayer said.

"It's a good service and we'd like to keep it . . . we do need more volunteers but [the fire brigade] is quite happy to keep doing what we are doing."

Eketahuna resident Diane Anderson said the shortage of St John volunteers in the town and relying on one person, who wasn't available at all times, left the area "hugely vulnerable".

"I wouldn't like to see them stuck," she said.

For years the community had been acknowledged as a "self-help" community that punched way above its weight, Anderson, who is also an elected member of the MidCentral District Health Board, said.

But the town was falling between the cracks and without enough resources they were being left to "shoulder tap community people" to do the training, she said.

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"Eketahuna can't solve this problem on its own. We can try but it would be really great if a collective solution could be found that ensured our local community people and those in the large area surrounding Eketahuna had ongoing equity of access to a first response ambulance service."

Yanko said St John was looking for volunteers throughout the Tararua District, even at stations that already had a paid officer as they always required backup.

"There's a big need out there. I appreciate it's getting harder with people travelling to town for work, but this is the reality of it in rural New Zealand . . . our dependence on volunteers won't go away."

For more information on becoming a St John volunteer visit stjohn.org.nz.

- Manawatu Standard

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