Giving back

21:41, Apr 11 2014
Dave St John
Dave St John

Think you're having a bad day? Become a St John ambulance volunteer and witness people who are having really bad days.

Dave St John, whose surname suggests he was born to be an ambulance officer, joined the charitable health organisation 2 years ago. He says it has changed his life.

"If you think you're having a bad day, you get in the ambulance and you see someone who is really having a bad day. And you think; hey, I'm all right; I'm doing OK."

St John's annual appeal ends tomorrow and the call is out for people to show their support for the organisation, which is a presence in nearly every community across New Zealand.

Dave is a commercial skipper who never saw himself as a "medical person".

But 4 years ago he and his wife joined Coastguard Marlborough, Janette becoming its secretary and a guard; Dave using his skipper's ticket to take St John paramedics to emergency calls in the marine ambulance vessel.


Coastguard gave Dave an insight into St John paramedics' commitment to their 24/7 emergency response service.

But the dedication really hit home when Janette had an accident one night and a team of ambulance personnel arrived to help.

"Later on, when I made a comment about what a great service we had in Picton, I was told that most of those people were volunteers."

Dave decided to show his appreciation by volunteering his own services to St John.

He did the new recruits' first aid course, then did some more training and became a "first responder" who can provide initial emergency care before an ambulance arrives.

Next he was taught to drive an ambulance.

"You have to get used to driving with a siren - how is other traffic going to react, where are they going to park if they pull over or what happens if they don't pull over.

"You have to be able to carry a patient in a very comfortable way; no hard cornering or heavy breaking or acceleration.

"Then you've got to learn [more] medical skills."

Dave is now training to be an emergency medical technician. Week-long block courses in Motueka were followed by intense study, then on-the-road training.

Thirty listed skills must be mastered before he can sit an oral examination.

When he passes that he will earn his new qualification.

Everything he has done has been in his own time but St John paid the $15,000 training fees and Dave says he feels honoured.

"At 51 there's probably not many people willing to invest that sort of money in you."

St John employs emergency medical technicians at some centres but Dave doesn't have his eye on any of those positions.

"I never did see myself as a medical person but . . I [just] get a lot of satisfaction from it and it's helped me grow as a person. It's given me more confidence."

It is extending his social circles, too.

On Thursday Dave was stationed at Omaka airfield in Blenheim for the visit of Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and on April 25 he will be on duty at the Anzac Day service.

He is on duty every week on Tuesdays and from 6pm to 11pm each Thursday - the pager he carries is never switched off.

"If something serious happens, we will respond."

Emergencies requiring a mass St John response have included explosions, logging accidents and major motor vehicle and boating accidents.

Should such a vital service depend on so many volunteers?

Dave's answer makes the question seem irrelevant.

"We need to get behind them because it is a vital service; there's no two ways about it.

"And if everyone did a little volunteering, imagine what a nice place the world would be."

The Marlborough Express