A MAN has gone into cardiac arrest and every minute he goes without treatment reduces his chances of survival by 10 per cent.

An elderly woman falls from her bed and needs someone to assess if she is seriously injured.

These are the situations Phil Simmonds as a Community First Responder deals with on a daily basis – and he does it for free.

The 57-year-old from Witney was the first in Oxfordshire to join the volunteer programme, which seeks to bridge the gap between a 999 call and an ambulance arriving with vital help.

Originally working as part of St John’s Ambulance, the grandfather-of-four joined South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), then Oxfordshire Ambulance Service, in 1998.

“I love it,” he beams, adding the NHS is ‘like a big family’.

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He initially became interested in first aid when he took part in a Stepping Stones training course in 1978 at Witney College and more than four decades on his passion for helping others is undiminished.

Responding to calls in the town where he lives can bring the personal and professional into uneasy contact, though.

“I remember a couple of years ago I got a call about a young girl unconscious on a trampoline and it was only when I got to the address that I realised it was my three-year-old granddaughter.”

Luckily his other grandchildren were quick to alert an adult she was ‘asleep’ and she was alright.

He said: “That time I did take a step back because the paramedics were already there.”

On another occasion though, it wasn’t until after he had given CPR to a woman in cardiac arrest that he recognised he’d known her for years.

“When the adrenaline is going I think your training takes over.”

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Asked what he does to ‘switch off’ from the stress of the job he admits: “To be honest I don’t think you really ever switch off. I sometimes get police come to my house to see if I can attend a blue light call because I have a response vehicle and they know an ambulance is going to be an hour away.”

The toll of the job mentally can sometimes be difficult.

Speaking of his most memorable cases over the years he recalls attending a man who had hanged himself and, while off duty, being first on the scene of a fatal crash on the A495 where a car had crashed into a tree at 90mph.

He said: “There is a lot of support though, you get a follow up call within half an hour of a situation that may have been difficult and you have access to the same confidential mental health service as regular SCAS staff.”

He added: “It’s difficult to know what is going to be trigger you, sometimes it will be a smell or noise, something simple that makes you remember something else.”

His job and volunteer role have increasingly entwined over the years and for the past year and a half he has worked as a logistics officer for SCAS.

Mr Simmonds' day job can see him travel anywhere from Banbury to Southampton to restock any of the around 600 first responders throughout the entire south central region.

This is on top of logging 150 hours every month on call as a first responder.

In January last year he celebrated 20 years in the role, and was presented with a bronze statue for his dedication and commitment to the trust.

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He is also now a coordinator in West Oxfordshire and manages 15 responders who look to him for help, support and guidance.

It is a role he values highly and is audibly proud when he reveals five first responders he oversaw have now trained as paramedics.

Asked if becoming a paramedic was something he ever considered he says, “I’m too old now.”

He hopes though that he can carry on with the role for the next five years ‘at least’.

“I had a hip replacement a few years ago and so to a certain extent I need to think about myself.”

With his two decades of experience as a first responder, though, even when he is unable to continue attending call-outs himself he said he wants to keep passing on his experience to the next generation.

He explained the role is now more important than ever.

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Having an ambulance attend a 999 call costs roughly £2,500 and with limited resources it can be hard to always get paramedics to the scene straight away.

That is where the Community First Responders frequently step in.

Volunteers are on duty for as little or as often as their schedules allow, they can be on the scene and providing vital care in the crucial minutes that can mean the difference between life and death.

They are now trained in dealing with everything from cardiac arrest and a stroke to seizures and major bleeds, getting updated training every six months.

Mr Simmonds said things had ‘completely changed’ since he started and that even in the last five years he had noticed an expansion in the ways first responders were used.

He explained: “We used to just have a defib, some bandages and oxygen but now there’s much more of a focus on welfare and assessment.

“We can go out to falls and report back the situation so it can be judged whether we are safe to move them or if paramedics need to come out.

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“We can also get to a scene quickly assess someone and provide a baseline for paramedics five or 10 minutes later.”

He added while the job was often high-pressured things were not always life or death: “Sometimes it’s not what you are expecting, one New Year’s Eve there was a woman who reported she’d had a fall but when we arrived it turned out the home care had forgotten to put her socks on.

“Cases like that are rare but better us attending than diverting a full ambulance crew away from their work.”

For more information about the role of a first responder, which also includes public education like defibrillator training, visit scas.nhs.uk.

The volunteer programme is supported by the SCAS charity, which has recently funded 40 replacement vehicles for the first responders. See sca-charity.org.uk