Funding for life-saving rural volunteers helping fight coronavirus pandemic

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A team of life-saving rural volunteers who have worked alongside Welsh Ambulance Service paramedics during the coronavirus crisis are celebrating a wind-powered cash boost worth more than £3,000 to fund new emergency equipment.

Denbigh Community First Responders (CFRs) who normally donate their spare time to attend 999 calls and administer emergency medical care, have stepped up to provide extra support to the regular ambulance service during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The First Responders, a nationwide organisation of Welsh Ambulance Service Trust-trained volunteers, are primarily trained to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator treatment to people before paramedics arrive, but have worked alongside them to help alleviate the pressure on the Service.

Now the Denbigh CFR branch are being helped to expand by a grant from the Brenig Wind Ltd Community Benefit Fund which distributes £150,000 a year to community projects in the area through Corwen-based rural regeneration agency Cadwyn Clwyd.

The 12-strong team, aged from their late 20s to their early 70s, have taken on a new role during the pandemic, helping to deliver medicine to hospitals and trained to assist paramedics to kit up in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep them safe on 999 calls.

When they return to their regular life-saving work, they will have an additional £3,077 to fund two defibrillators, two additional kit bags, two oxygen bags and six new specialist CFR uniforms. This will enable them to have additional team members on shift at once.

David Heelan, of Brenig Wind Ltd, said: “We are delighted to be able to support the Denbigh volunteer first responders who are carrying out invaluable work in supporting the regular emergency ambulance service in this area at this critical time.

“We hope this will enable them to extend their service in future as community benefits and assistance are central to us as a company and we look forward to working with and supporting more local enterprises and groups through the Fund in future.”

Postman Dave MacKenzie, from Denbigh, who volunteers as a CFR seven nights a week, welcomed the grant which he said would go a long way to supporting their work.

The 56-year-old, who has volunteered as a first responder for the past 11 years, said: “We are overwhelmed to receive the grant because we can do so much with that. It’s going to make a huge difference to our team.

“The kit and uniforms are expensive. It’s a big task to keep the money rolling in and to keep going.

“Before coronavirus I was working from 2pm until 4am almost every single day. I don’t see it as volunteering, I was doing the same in Scotland with the Glenelg Mountain Rescue Team and I didn’t even think about it. To me, I was there for someone and I was available. It’s something that is programmed in me.

“The majority of our call outs are related to breathing problems, heart attacks and cardiac arrests. I’ve tried to figure out how many cardiac arrests I’ve attended and I cannot honestly remember. It has to be at least 50 or 60, but is probably even more.

“Covid-19 has made a huge difference to our work and we’re not responding to the same type of calls for safety reasons.”

Since the start of the pandemic, many team members have been trained to support the WAST’s buddy system and are attending and triaging 999 falls to free up emergency ambulances.

They can help kit the paramedics out in their high-grade PPE, safely disposing of protective equipment after each job, passing equipment and ensuring hygiene regulations are followed.

First responders are usually called out to code red emergency calls in their area but Dave, who moved to Denbigh in 2000, added: “We’re not going to any red calls at all at the moment.

“Paramedics must wear PP3 level full coveralls and protective clothing. We’re trained to dispose of all the kit in a hazardous bag after every job and it takes two to do it safely.

“We would also have to be in full PPE but we won’t go into any buildings, we stay outside. We’ve also been delivering medication to and from hospitals and attending falls which relieves pressure on the regular ambulance service.”

The Brenig Fund is driven by the 16 wind turbines that are turning on Mynydd Hiraethog around Llyn Brenig and which came on stream 18 months ago to generate enough power for over thirty thousand homes a year.

Cadwyn Clwyd Manager Lowri Owain said: “The Brenig fund is intended to provide benefits to the communities hosting and living with and around the windfarm in Denbighshire and Conwy and to date £200,000 has been distributed to a range of organisations from village halls to a sailing club.

“It is important that as many people as possible are aware of the opportunities because this a huge opportunity for the communities in and around the Brenig area and we have set up a grants panel of local people drawn from the area to make the decisions on funding.

“The third round of the fund is now open and we’re inviting applications from the community by the closing date of August 7.”

Meanwhile Dave said he was looking forward to returning to red call-outs again when it is deemed safe.

“It’s life preservation and I find it absolutely fantastic. It’s not just about saving lives, you’re meeting people and actually making a difference,” he said.

“I’ve been on jobs and sat with people who’ve asked what’s the point of life? You’ll sit for a while and talk about your own experiences of life and you connect with people.

“It’s absolutely the best thing for me. I would hate to be sitting at home doing nothing. It’s unbelievable to get out and help people.”

Fellow volunteer and Denbigh CFR Treasurer, Tony Killow, said the funding would be spent as soon as the pandemic was over.

“This grant will effectively fund two other responders. We were absolutely delighted as it’s the most we have had at any one time,” said the 71-year-old from Llangynhafal, in the Vale of Clwyd.

“To get just one responder fully equipped you’re talking at least £1,400. We fund everything ourselves except the training which is provided by WAS who also replace the supplies in our kit bags.

“We do it because most of us have benefitted from the NHS at some time or another so we want to put something back and help.

“I’ve been saved on two occasions after suffering heart attacks. It’s going back a few years now. I really didn’t want to be the person who couldn’t do anything if it happened to someone else.

“We have a nurse on the team, care workers, a postman, an electronics engineer, an IT specialist and a smart meter fitter, you name it.

“Once a responder is given training they will commit to at least five hours a week but inevitably it’s much more than that. We have to be flexible because of work commitments but it can easily rise to 12 or 15 hours.”

For more information about Brenig Wind Ltd funds, contact Cadwyn Clwyd on 01490 340500, email: brenig@cadwynclwyd.co.uk or go to https://cadwynclwyd.co.uk/other-projects/brenig-wind-farm/