Lack of volunteers threatens future of first response unit

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Essential service... Five of the six-member Riversdale St John first responders team (clockwise from bottom left) Debbie Schriek, Dana Davis, Erin Hurley, Robyn Crooks and David Hurley practise their stretcher-loading technique at a Monday training night. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

The future of the Riversdale St John first response unit is uncertain given the low numbers of volunteers staffing the service.

Trainee station manager Dana Davis said there were only six members in the team and four were nearing retirement.

“If we don’t get recruits soon our area is at risk of losing this service,” Mrs Davis said.

In the past the team has covered an area encompassing Athol, Dipton, Waikaia and Gore.

“We cover such a wide area it’s not just going to affect this little town.”

There were times when the station had to turn down a request for help because no-one was available to staff the ambulance.

The station needed more volunteers who lived close to Riversdale.

“We require our volunteers to be within five or so minutes of the station.”

Being a volunteer did not require people to be on call 24 hours a day.

“It’s what you can give when you can give it.

“We are well aware families come first.”

Mrs Davis said she had been volunteering for nine years and enjoyed the experience.

“I like the feeling of helping people.

“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it seems to be mine.”

Station manager David Hurley said it was important the station had new volunteers before present members retired.

“It’s important they come on board now so they are trained with experienced staff,” Mr Hurley said.

The ambulance attended about 140 callouts last year.

“There has been a gradual increase over the past 10 years.

“Ten years ago we were doing about 80 callouts.”

The station would hold an open day on Sunday from 1pm-4pm so people could visit and find out more about volunteering.

“Everybody’s most welcome to come and bring their families to look through the ambulance and station.”

St John Hokonui territory manager Jan Douglas said volunteer first responders provided a critical link, supporting patients in their community who would otherwise wait a long time for an ambulance response.

“St John remains committed to supporting volunteer-led first response units around New Zealand.

“However, like many organisations, [it] is finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain volunteers and the loss of dedicated volunteers is always hard-felt.”

To find out more about volunteering, call 0800 ST JOHN or visit https://join.stjohn.org.nz/volunteer-jobs