Community first responders: every second counts in fight to save lives

From: Herald Series

When a person suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, the following seconds and the treatment they get can mean the difference between life and death.

Volunteer community first responders are often the first on the scene in these emergencies and help to save lives across Oxfordshire.

They are called upon by South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) when serious medical emergencies happen within their community.

Because they live in the area the first responders often arrive before paramedics and, because they carry a defibrillator, can immediately begin treatment.

SCAS community responder manager Richard Tracey said: “For every minute that ticks by with no active treatment, the chances of successful resuscitation drops by 10 per cent.

“Even if the community first responders arrive just one minute before the ambulance crew they have given that patient another 10 per cent chance.

“But it is not just about preservation of life, it is also about quality of life. The earlier someone is resuscitated the better their quality of life.”

He added: “When we started the project in Oxfordshire 15 years ago the community first responders would only go to cardiac arrest calls.

“Since then the project has evolved and the type of calls we now go to in addition to cardiac arrests are those types of conditions that can easily go into a cardiac arrest, so they are on the scene with the equipment should that happen.”

SCAS said diseases of the heart and circulatory system are the main cause of death in the UK and accounted for almost 180,000 deaths in 2010.

Community first responders store equipment, including a defibrillator, at their houses and are called to emergencies within their immediate area.

SCAS has about 1,700 volunteer community first responders across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hampshire.

They are particularly important in rural areas of Oxfordshire, where the ambulance service has often struggled to meet deadlines.

SCAS has a Government target to reach the most urgent emergency calls – immediate life-threatening calls – within eight minutes in at least 75 per cent of cases.

But at the end of last year it barely managed to reach half of these within eight minutes in West Oxfordshire and South Oxfordshire.

In June, the service, which has 40 ambulances in Oxfordshire, said it would need more than 90 additional ambulances to guarantee full coverage of the county.

These would cost £140,000 each to buy and equip and more than £500,000 to run and crew each year. SCAS is halfway through making £30m of cuts over five years.

Community first responders need to be over the age of 18, pass an enhanced criminal records check, have a clean driving licence and access to a car. They receive expenses for their petrol costs.

  • Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the ambulance service on 0800 587 0207 or

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