THE man known as Oxfordshire's 'Mr Defibrillator' has announced his early retirement but plans to spend even more time helping to save lives. 

Ambulance commander Dick Tracey will leave South Central Ambulance Service on May 31 after 24 years.

The 62-year-old said he is retiring to spend even more time helping install public-access defibrillators across Oxfordshire.

Since he launched his Start a Heart crusade in 2014, Mr Tracey has taken the number of the life-saving devices in the county from 120 to more than 500.

Across the whole South Central Ambulance Service area including Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire his team have helped raise the number to 1,394.

Now he wants to quit the office work to spend as much time as possible helping parish councils, schools and businesses get hold of them and use them.

The lifelong West Oxfordshire resident joked: "I'm sure my wife thinks I'm quite mad but this project is so important to me.

"We have saved lives.

"I have met thousands of people who are so enthusiastic about it, and now I want to commit more time to it: the only way I can do that is to leave the ambulance service.

"I don't mind being called mad so long as I'm proved right."

Assistant director of operations at SCAS, Paul Jefferies, said Mr Tracey's career was an 'outstanding example' to everyone else at the service.

He said: "Dick has given more than 20 years of exemplary service, first to Oxfordshire Ambulance Service and more recently to South Central Ambulance Service. 

"His contribution has been key to our success and his dedication and commitment to patient care is truly worthy of recognition.

"His tireless work relating to defibrillators and public access to them has undoubtedly saved many lives. Quite simply, without his efforts we would not have anywhere near as many defibrillators in our region, nor as many people trained to carry out life-saving skills."

Mr Jefferies also said Mr Tracey's retirement was a 'huge loss' to SCAS but also to the public and communities he had served with 'distinction'. 
On behalf of all his friends and colleagues, Mr Jefferies wished Mr Tracey 'a long, happy and very well-deserved retirement'.

Mr Tracey, who joined Oxfordshire Ambulance Service at the age of 38 in a career switch, was the first person there to suggest recruiting volunteer first responders.

He trained the first recruits in 1999, and SCAS now has some 300 Community First Responders who regularly help save lives by getting to emergencies early.

Three years ago Mr Tracey switched his focus to defibrillators based on the same idea that everyday people can help save lives.

Public access defibrillators, which provide instructions for their use, can be used to restart the heart of a person having a cardiac arrest.

The project was given a kick start when it launched by an anonymous donation which paid for 24 of the £1,800 devices across West Oxfordshire. 

The Oxford Mail backed the campaign within weeks of its launch.

Looking back, Mr Tracey said: "The most difficult part of any project is launching it, but with the Oxford Mail's help I was able to spread the message across the county."

On average, someone in the four SCAS counties now uses one of Mr Tracey's public defibrillators four times every week.

During his service, Mr Tracey said cardiac arrest survival rates in the SCAS area have soared above the national average of seven per cent to 14.2 per cent.

Now he wants to get that figure to 60 per cent in Oxfordshire.

He added: "I've been talking to some friends who are willing to help me with my project outside the ambulance service.

"They're going to help and together we'll see more and more defibrillators.

"I've been really fortunate that I've had a job for 24 years which I've really, really enjoyed, and I'm going to miss the service, but you go through stages in your life, and on June 1, I will embark on the next stage of mine."

Dick Tracey: a legacy in numbers

24 years at SCAS

3 years leading defibrillator campaign

1,394 public-access defibrillators now registered across Berks, Bucks, Ox and Hants

10,000+ volunteers trained to use a defibrillator and perform CPR

2,000+ schoolchildren in Oxfordshire alone given defib training last year