Paramedic Paul Runs UK Best At 24-Hour World Championship

A South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) senior paramedic has become one of the top ultra-runners in the world.

Paul Maskell, 41, competed at the 24 Hour World Championships in France, and managed to run an incredible 156 miles (251km).

He was the first British man in 15th place, after running as far as he could against hundreds of other athletes.

The SWASFT Operations Officer regularly runs 11 miles between home in St Austell and work in Bodmin in between 12-hour shifts.

He was selected in a team of six UK men for the race on October 26-27 after running 154 miles (248km) at another 24-hour event in London.

Paul said: “I loved doing the race. To be able to compete in a world championship was such an amazing experience, and it was a real honour to represent Great Britain. Putting on the vest was such a proud moment.

“There were highs and lows during the 24 hours. It’s a case of enjoying the highs, and battling through the lows by remembering family and friends and having the willpower to keep going. We were running in 27 degree heat during the daytime. I was also encouraged by the team atmosphere in what is usually an individual event.”

He was cheered-on by a group of 10 school friends who travelled to France for the event.  

Paul said: “They flew out and surprised me. I saw them all standing beside the track wearing specially-made t-shifts. They stayed for the whole 24 hours which was a huge boost to me and the other athletes. It was quite emotional at the finish line.

“I lost a toe nail during the race and had sore feet afterwards. Apart from that I felt great!”

Paul, who has worked for the ambulance service for almost 20 years, said: “I’ve never had any serious injuries, and have never had to take a sick day off work.

“Although I love my job, when I returned to work for a night shift there was definitely a feeling of ‘back to reality’.

“Since the race I’ve already done a 10km event in Newquay raising money for Cornwall Air Ambulance.”

“I’m going to keep on running and hope to get re-selected next year.”

The Great British team finished 4th overall and narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.

Since 2012 Paul has competed in multiple long distance and ultra-distance runs, including the London Marathon and 100-mile events.

He has won several ultra-runs in recent years, including the Arc of Attrition along the coast path from Coverack in South East Cornwall.

Jo James, who works with Paul, said: “The race was an extraordinary physical and mental challenge.

“We’ve been so excited by Paul’s journey and have been supporting him all the way. His selection was an achievement in itself. But for him to finish among the top endurance athletes in the world was phenomenal.”

Daughter’s Rescue Leads A Father To Become An EMT

Jerusalem, November 7th, 2019 – Two years ago, Hila Zohar, aged 17 at the time, fell off of the roof of her home in Or Yehuda after she suffered a seizure. The fall, more than 8 meters, caused a serious head injury, massive bleeding and complete loss of consciousness. United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Avi Yosefov, who lives in the same neighborhood, received the emergency alert, rushed over to the scene and arrived in less than a minute. Yosefov treated her for her injuries and his near-immediate response and treatment saved her life. 

Hilah’s father, Yaakov Zohar, witnessed the terrible incident and saw how fast Avi arrived and treated his daughter. At that very moment, Yaakov decided that he too would become a volunteer EMT. On Tuesday night, Yaakov, together with 15 other new EMTs graduated their training course and became United Hatzalah volunteers. 

“I recall very clearly how Avi arrived with incredible speed and fought hard to save my daughter’s life,” recounted Yaakov. “Hila was brought to Tel HaShomer Hospital and was in the intensive care unit for two weeks. After that, she underwent months of arduous rehabilitation. When she had recovered enough and was finally out of danger, I slowly began to understand what exactly had happened and the desire to become a part of United Hatzalah awoke inside me.” 

From right to left: Yaakov Zohar, Hila Zohar and Avi Yosefov at the graduation on Tuesday 
Photo Credit: Oren Cohen

Yaakov, an electrician by profession, underwent the admissions process to participate in a training course and two days ago, came full circle by graduating the course with honors. He will now join the team of volunteers serving the area of Bika’at Ono under the guidance of Yuval Shlafman, United Hatzalah’s Chapter Head of the region. Shlafman, upon presenting Yaakov with the award of excellence in the course said: “I believe that Yaakov’s personal story will push him to become an excellent EMT with a high level of motivation that will help him continually assist others in their times of need.”

Avi Yosefov attended the graduation in order to honor Yaakov’s accomplishment and recall the traumatic incident that brought them together. “We are neighbors and live right down the street from one another. However, until the incident with Hila, we did not know each other very well, just enough to say hello when passing in the street. When the incident occurred, I was at home. When I saw the address of the call I knew that it was my neighbor. I raced outside, ran down the street, and in just a few seconds I was treating Hila. After everything calmed down, we stayed in touch and about a year-and-a-half ago, Yaakov told me that he too wanted to volunteer for the organization. Watching him graduate today with honors brought me a lot of joy.” 

Hila is now 19-years-old and healthy. “First of all, I want to thank United Hatzalah and Avi, for without them, I wouldn’t be alive today. I am also very proud of my father who has decided to volunteer and become a part of the organization so that he can now save others just as I was saved.”

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Brave Crash Victim Raises £6K For Ambulance Charity

A courageous mum whose husband died in a motorway crash has presented a cheque to the South Western Ambulance Charity after raising thousands of pounds in his memory.

Ceri and Rod Walsh, from Cheddar in Somerset, were involved in a multi-vehicle collision on the M5 near Taunton in September 2018.

Ceri sustained serious injuries in the crash, and doctors feared she would not be able to walk again.

But a year later Ceri defied expectations to complete a 10km run with their children Thomas, 14, and Carys, 11, and many other family members and friends.

Ceri handed-over the cheque for £6,387.75 to South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) staff on behalf of the charity at Taunton Ambulance Station on Tuesday 5 November.

She said she was “blown away” by the amount raised.

Ceri said: “I’ve been through a rollercoaster of emotions during the past year. But once I realised I was going to survive, I wanted to do something for the people who responded to the incident.

“The ambulance service deals with incidents that no human being would want to witness. They work professionally to maintain life at the worst possible time. Without the ambulance service my two wonderful children would be living without their mum.”

Two of Ceri’s colleagues also raised more than £2,500 from a skydive in March.

Zoe Later, head of South Western Ambulance Charity, said: “We are so grateful to Ceri, her family, friends and colleagues for their incredible fundraising for the South Western Ambulance Charity.

“Alongside the generous donations, I’ve been honoured to read some of the heart-warming messages from Ceri’s supporters on her fundraising page.

“To raise a total of almost £9,000 for the charity is a fantastic legacy to her husband, Rod, and a real testament to how loved Ceri and her family are. They are such an inspiration to us all.”

The family described Rod as a “gentle fun-loving family man” who was “loved dearly”. They praised his “laughter, love of life, kindness and loyalty”.

Rod was a committed member of the parish church in Cheddar, and had been an NHS worker for almost 40 years.

Ceri has worked as a NHS nurse for more than 30 years.

South Western Ambulance Charity uses gifted monies to benefit those in our communities who use our service, and to improve the welfare of SWASFT staff and volunteers.

At Ceri’s request, the funds she raised will be used specifically to support the staff of ambulance stations in Somerset.

Zoe added: “Every donation to the South Western Ambulance Service Charity makes such a difference, and stories like this one show the impact that SWASFT and the NHS has on our communities.”

If you would like to raise money for South Western Ambulance Charity, please email or call 0300 369 0108.

To donate to the charity, please click on this link:

United Hatzalah: Creating a National Flashmob of EMS Lifesavers Through Education

By Raphael Poch, International Media Spokesman, United Hatzalah
Published in Ambulance Today, Issue 3, Volume 13, Ahead of the Curve, Education and Technology Special, Autumn 2019

One key element in creating what is likely the fastest EMS response time in the world (a national average of less than 3 minutes) was developing what has been termed a national flashmob of EMS first responders, comprised of fully trained EMTs, paramedics, and physicians who immediately drop whatever it is they are doing at a given moment specifically to respond to emergencies within their local vicinity. In order to achieve this national network of volunteers that numbers around 6,000 men and women from all communities, cultures, and religions in Israel, United Hatzalah needs to expand its operation from simply responding to medical emergencies to also include focus on continual training.

United Hatzalah is a national EMS organization serving Israel, fully staffed by volunteers, which provides all of its services completely free of charge. The organisation teaches between 35-40 fully accredited EMT training courses that are recognised and supervised by the country’s Ministry of Health. Each course is comprised of between 25-40 people and is based in speci c regions where the need for additional responders is greatest. “We have a dedicated education department that not only attends to the needs of the instructors and students whilst dealing with the logistical challenges of these courses that are offered across the country, but they also assess where a new course is needed based upon population density, the average number of emergencies in the given area and how many responders are already in that area,” explains President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer. “The system is incredibly effective. If for example, we see a rise in medical emergencies in a city in the north, say Nahariya, then we will work with our chapter head in that region and open a new training course to increase the number of volunteers we have there. The more volunteers we have, the faster our response time will be.”

A search and rescue training drill for collapsed buildings

Graduates of the EMT courses given by United Hatzalah hold the level of EMT-b and respond to all types of medical emergencies around the country.

Each volunteer responds to medical emergencies in their close proximity in order to arrive at the scene within less than three minutes. The more volunteers that the organisation has, the more widely its lifesaving network will expand and the faster it will have a fully trained first responder in the door whenever and wherever a medical emergency occurs. The volunteers either use their own private vehicles or one of the organisation’s iconic ambucyles or ambulances.

But the basic courses are just the beginning of United Hatzalah’s educational component. As the official training partner in Israel of the American Heart Association and the US- based National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT), United Hatzalah is Israel’s only organisation that can train volunteers to be licensed both in Israel and in the United States. United Hatzalah offers training classes that are certified by both the AHA and the NREMT respectively and has a medical department that continuously oversees the level and quality of training. Each volunteer that wishes to become a first responder in Israel must undergo no less than three rigorous tests administered by seasoned paramedics (EMT-p) whose responsibility it is to ensure that the volunteer has not only a mastery of the information learned and its practical application but also the expertise to manage a scene by themselves, even if that scene is an MCI (mass casualty incident).

A general training exercise for United Hatzalah. Photo courtesy Shira Hershkop

Proper triage and scene management protocols are taught to every first responder as part of the EMT training course. “With a response time as fast as ours, our volunteers often find themselves at the scene of a medical emergency long before an ambulance arrives,” explained Chief Paramedic Avi Marcus. “These scenes can be anything from assisting an elderly patient who is suffering from weakness, to suicides, a major motor vehicle accident and even terror attacks. Our volunteers need to know how to respond to any medical emergency in the appropriate fashion befitting that scene.”

A water rescue training exercise in Tiberias.
Photo courtesy of Shira Hershkop

Together with the head of the medical department, Alon Basker, Marcus is in charge of making sure that each and every one of the 6,000 responders also fulfil their requirements of participating in an annual retraining course. “To be a licensed EMT in Israel, each responder needs to undergo an annual training course that focuses on a number of specific items that the organisation feels need an extra level of attention. We generally focus on techniques that are not commonly used in the field by all first responders. This year we covered some newly developed techniques of wound packing, paying closer attention to the number of questions asked when taking an oral history so as not to belabour the patient, and familiarising the responders with the techniques of applying the Asherman chest seal bandage, an item that was just brought back into the standard protocol of application on open chest wounds in Israel. By focusing on the less used aspects of the tools and techniques an EMT uses, we build the volunteer’s exposure to them so that they can more comfortably use them in the field, should they ever come across a situation in which they are required.”

A water rescue training exercise in Tiberias.
Photo courtesy Shira Hershkop

Other elements that are unique to United Hatzalah’s EMS training program include cultural sensitivity courses that educate responders about how to properly treat patients from other cultures or religions while taking into account their religious sensitivities. This course often bridges the gap between Muslim and Jewish students who often participate in courses together. Another unique element of the course is the addition of a special psychological first aid (PFA) training class given by one of the members of the organisation’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit that teaches EMTs how to identify patients or other first responders who are suffering from shock or emotional stress reactions at a traumatic scene.

Defensive Ambucycle Training

In the past 12 months, United Hatzalah has graduated 35 training classes, and more than 1,000 new volunteers have joined the national network of first response volunteers. The goal of the organisation is to train enough responders across Israel so that the national average response time goes down to 90 seconds.

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Coming Full Circle: Some Holiday Inspiration From A United Hatzalah Rescue Vehicle

Jerusalem, October 7th, 2019 – Rina and Yacov Kauffman dedicated an ambucycle a number of years ago in honor of Rina’s brother Leon Lebor who was killed in the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers. The couple knew that the donation would go towards saving lives in Israel, but they never imagined that the donation would one day help Yacov’s own father.

 During a wedding that took place in Israel on the 23rd of Elul, the Hebrew date of September 11th attack in 2001, and consequently the Yartzheit of Leon, President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer was approached by Rina and Yacov’s son Yair Kauffman who wished to relay a special story.

Yair told Eli that his grandfather, Yacov’s father, had suffered a heart attack earlier in the day. Concerned family members called emergency services for help and the first person to arrive was United Hatzalah volunteer EMT and ambucycle rider Dov Bash who rides the very ambucycle that Rina and Yacov had donated. Dov happened to be riding his ambucycle nearby when the call went out and he arrived at the address within 20 seconds of receiving the alert.

Dov Bash with the donated ambucycle
Photo Credit: United Hatzalah

Bash initiated CPR and attached a defibrillator which provided a shock to Rina’s Father-in-law and then Bash was joined by other first responders and the team carried on CPR for close to an hour and finally managed to bring the man’s pulse back. He was taken to the hospital where he stayed alive for another two hours, long enough for his family to gather by his side and say goodbye.

“The good deeds we do come back and repay us in kind,” said Eli Beer once he heard the story. “I am so happy that the ambucycle that was donated by the Kauffman family, which is a truly special family that believes in giving to save others, was able to help someone in this family as well.”

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EMTs Perform Successful CPR on Woman 39 Weeks Pregnant Saving Mom and Baby

Jerusalem, Thursday, October 10th, 2019 – On Motzei Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, United Hatzalah volunteer EMTs Aharon Avital, Tomer Tzenani, Yossi Cohen, Naftali Friedman, Adi Avivi, and Lior Filshteiner were summoned to the home of Yaron and Limor Golan in Hod Hasharon. Limor had just suffered a heart attack. To complicate matters more, Limor was 39 weeks pregnant when the heart attack occurred. 

“I was sitting in the living room watching TV when I heard a noise in the bedroom,” Yaron recounted. “I saw Limor on the floor and I rushed over to her and tried to wake her up. She didn’t respond. I called a neighbor for help. He began performing CPR on her. I didn’t know what to do so I called the emergency number for an ambulance.”

Aharon Avital, head of the Hod Hasharon team for United Hatzalah together with EMT Yossi Cohen were the first responders at the scene. The pair arrived in less than three minutes and immediately took over CPR from the neighbor. Aharon and Yossi attached a defibrillator and administered an electric shock. The duo spared no resource in their efforts to save the life of the young mother and that of her unborn baby. Moments later they were joined by 4 other volunteer EMTs from their local team who joined their efforts.

A mobile intensive care ambulance arrived sometime later and after more than 30 minutes of active CPR, the combined team managed to restore a steady pulse. Limor even started breathing again independently. She was rushed to the maternity ward at Meir Medical Center for an emergency C-section, which was successful in saving her child’s life. Limor was then treated in the hospital for her heart attack and later regained consciousness in the hospital and awoke to meet her healthy little boy, the couple’s first.

This past Friday, the United Hatzalah volunteers were invited by Yaron to reconnect with the family in the hospital. During the meeting, Yaron and Limor shared their profound gratitude with the team of first responders and thanked them for their quick arrival and lifesaving intervention.

(From left to right) – Aharon Avital, Tomer Tzinani, Yossi Cohen, Yaron Golan, Limor Golan, Adi Avivi, LIor Filshteiner, and Naftali Friedman – During the hospital visit. Photo Credit: United Hatzalah, taken with family’s permission

Yaron thanked the volunteers for saving the lives of his wife and son. “You saved my wife’s life and my son’s and in truth mine as well as I’m not sure I would have survived this had they both died. You arrived so quickly and treated my wife with expertise, commitment and caring that I have no words to thank you. You’ve literally saved us. I now know that I have to do a CPR course. Every family should do this. It is imperative. I was upset at myself that I didn’t know what to do when my wife collapsed. You people, who don’t know me and don’t know my wife came to save her life. You volunteered their time. I too will now volunteer to go out and help others. I am committed to this and it will happen.”

“This was the most moving CPR I have ever done,” said Aharon, who has performed dozens of emergency CPRs during his years volunteering as an EMT. “As I ran into the house I saw what tragedy could befall the family if Limor wasn’t saved. Limor who was unconscious, the baby who was about to be born, and Yaron whose life was literally crashing down around him in a moment. I knew that we needed to save Limor and prevent this tragedy from occurring.”

Aharon added: “When Limor woke up on Monday, two days after the incident, Yaron called me and asked if I could come with the team who saved her to visit them and meet the new baby. I gathered the crew of volunteers and we ended up coming in to visit them a bit later in the week so as to give Limor time to heal after her ordeal and surgery. We spent some time with them and I was pleased to see that everyone was recovering. I have never seen a miracle quite like this.”

Limor and her son, being fully recovered, were released from the hospital before Yom Kippur.

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REDROW is working with Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust to reuse defibrillators from completed construction sites across the region and re-home them within local communities as a lasting legacy.

To kick start the initiative, it has paid for a brand-new defibrillator which has been installed at Sherburn High School, in Sherburn-in-Elmet, North Yorkshire.

Redrow Homes’ Wakefield-based operation was originally contacted by Jason Carlyon, community engagement coordinator at Yorkshire Ambulance Service, to discuss the idea of leaving a life-saving legacy in the cities, towns and villages where it builds.

Sales director Steve Jackson explained more: “This was a great opportunity to explore how we could transfer the defibrillators from our sites to elsewhere in the community and we have worked with Yorkshire Ambulance Service to develop a plan. 

“The aim now for us is that every time a Redrow development is completed, the defibrillator will be donated to the local community. At the moment it’s a Yorkshire-wide initiative but we’re hoping it will be embraced by our colleagues in other parts of the country.”

Redrow has defibrillators at all of its live developments and regional offices across England and Wales, which can be accessed by staff, contractors and the local community in the event of a medical emergency. Redrow has also created an eLearning module about the use of the defibrillators, which is available to all staff.

Jason Carlyon, community engagement coordinator for Yorkshire Ambulance Service said: “I’ve been very keen to get backing for the initiative from housebuilders for some time so I’m delighted that Redrow Homes (Yorkshire) is supporting us.

“As well as agreeing to provide a Community Public Access Defibrillator (CPAD) after the completion of every new development by ‘recycling’ the defibrillators already housed on site during construction, Redrow has also agreed to meet any costs of replacement pads/batteries to make them ‘rescue ready’ once the development is completed.

“We would very much like to see this scheme rolled out nationwide with Redrow and replicated by other housebuilders.”

Fervent defibrillator campaigner Lizzie Jones, whose husband, Rugby League International player Danny suffered a fatal cardiac arrest whilst playing for Keighley Cougars in 2015, has welcomed the new partnership, describing its value as “priceless”.

Lizzie Jones campaigns for defibrillators to be installed at all sports pitches, schools and colleges, and the Danny Jones Defibrillator Fund founded in her husband’s memory has helped hundreds of community clubs and teams across the country to purchase a defibrillator. She also works as an ambassador for the ‘Restart a Heart Day Campaign’, which was started by Yorkshire Ambulance Service and its partners in 2014 and now trains thousands of schoolchildren every year to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). 

Welcoming Redrow’s initiative, Lizzie said: “Defibrillators are life-saving machines and everyone should know where their nearest machine is located. As an ambassador for the life changing initiative that is ‘Restart a Heart Campaign’ I couldn’t be happier to learn about Redrow’s decision to leave a defib at the heart of each community it builds in Yorkshire. Not only will that community be safer but its children will know how and be confident to hopefully save someone’s life one day. Redrow will give that community the best chance of life and that is priceless.” 

With the defibrillator at Redrow’s Saxon Gardens housing development in Low Street, Sherburn still currently in use, Redrow agreed to buy a brand-new one for Sherburn High School along with a cabinet, and this has now been installed outside the school gates using £500 raised by members of the Lady Popplewell Centre in Sherburn. 

John Wagstaff, Site Manager at the 790-pupil school, commented, “The Lady Popplewell Centre approached us saying they’d like to help us purchase a defibrillator at almost exactly the same time that we learned about Redrow’s donation. It was perfect timing, especially as we’d been trying to get funding for a defibrillator for a couple of years. The school has been involved in the Restart a Heart Day campaign for some time and recognises the value of CPR and public access defibrillators.

“We’ve had advice from Yorkshire Ambulance Service on where exactly to position it and it’s now been installed just outside the main gates so that it can serve the whole community not just the school. The new defibrillator is powered and monitored by the school but whether our gates are open or closed it can be used in an emergency.”

Redrow construction sites earmarked to donate their defibrillators in the coming months include Springfields in Highburton, near Huddersfield, which is currently drawing to a close. Talks are underway to potentially relocate the existing site defibrillator to the neighbouring tennis club.  

A site defibrillator from The Green at Horsforth Vale, in Horsforth, Leeds, is due to be re-homed at an existing sports pavilion within the development and, in addition, residents belonging to Horsforth Vale Community Group are raising funds for a second defibrillator that will be installed at the local convenience store. 

Redrow is also looking for a suitable community location for a defibrillator that will shortly become available from its Lancaster Mews development in York.  

EMS for Democracy: The Case of Människan Bakom Uniformen

By Mark S. Weiner
Published in Ambulance Today, Issue 3, Volume 13, Ahead of the Curve, Education and Technology Special, Autumn 2019

A hard rain was falling on the streets of Stockholm that night as a man lay unconscious in the parking lot, his face illuminated by flashing blue lights. While onlookers snapped photographs—me foremost among them, because I was observing this special simulation exercise—police led the dazed bus driver from the scene and the medics got to work.

A neck brace. A spine board. TBI? An elevated train raced overhead with a deafening roar. Where was that smoke coming from? A firefighter dragged a hose through the hazy dark.

More medics arrived—more blue lights on, off, on, off. They carefully boarded the bus through the rear, boots thumping as they walked. A man sprawled in the aisle was complaining of chest pain. Smoke began to billow through the door. What to do?

On the tarmac in front, meanwhile, the lead medic checked that his patient was secure, and he prepared his team for the lift. His glasses reflected the flashing blue lights back into the shadows. “One, two, three,” he called. His team wheeled the stretcher toward the open doors of the waiting ambulance.

Perfectly done—textbook.

He’s just a teenager, I thought admiringly, as I walked through the smoke, hoping that my camera would survive the downpour. I was thinking not of the patient, but of the medic. I was thinking in fact of
all the participants in this special evening organized by Människan Bakom Uniformen (MBU), the Person Behind the Uniform. Most of them were young people from rough, ethnic minority neighborhoods.

MBU students navigate a high-level simulation involving a bus

I caught the gaze of one of the firefighters. “Bra,” I said admiringly (that’s “good” in Swedish). He nodded, smiled, and reached for a nozzle to switch off the smoke. The second patient smiled as he walked off the bus.

Novelists use fiction to reveal the truth. Literature creates a moral universe that allows readers to see the world as it really is. One could say something similar about EMS simulations. A fictional emergency exercise reveals something basic about the nature of the profession—and in the case of MBU, I think it shows something in particular about its social and political role. It highlights its public importance well beyond medical outcomes.

In a book that I am beginning to research, I aim to explore this broader aspect of EMS, which I believe is underappreciated even within the profession itself. The book has the working title of A Social Theory of Emergency Medical Services, and in writing this essay, and a series of occasional articles to follow, I hope to explore some of its themes in an open-ended way. In doing so, I am reaching out to you, the readers of Ambulance Today, for input and advice.

The largest underlying questions of the book are these: How can we understand ambulance work not simply in medical terms, but in social and political ones, too? What social and political values are enacted by EMS personnel in their daily professional practice and by the EMS system more generally? Finally, what is the social and political role of EMS in a modern liberal democracy?

These are somewhat unlikely questions, I know. I have been led to ask them through an unlikely train of events. Before I return to that rainy night in Stockholm, let me share a story about how I got there in the first place—a story about how two different ways of thinking gradually came together.

I have spent my career not in ambulances, but rather in libraries and lecture halls. By training, I am a professor of cultural history and constitutional law. I teach students about the basic principles of democracy, and the books that I have written consider how those principles are expressed in social practices. Many of them touch on issues of citizenship and civic belonging, and they have a philosophical bent.

Snapshot of a training exercise between professional medics and MBU students

One day when I was at my kitchen table writing one such book, I heard a crash. Or, rather, I felt it—the sound struck me like a body blow to the core. By the time I reached the old sedan that had smashed into a wall at the end of my street, carbolic smoke was filling the cab. Through the window I could see the driver, a bariatric middle-aged man, twitching and foaming at the mouth, turning blue as I wrenched open the door and began tugging at his jammed seatbelt. I felt utterly helpless.

I started hack coughing. Frantically coming up for air, I saw that a crowd had formed. Among the onlookers was a young gentleman in a button-down shirt. “You!” I shouted, pointing straight at him. “You. Come help.” The only time I had ever pointed at someone like that before was when asking a student an especially tough question in class. Together we dragged the driver from the car and lay him on his side. He vomited and began to breathe in rasping gulps.

A few minutes later, he was whisked away in an ambulance. “We’ve got it from here,” intoned one of the EMTs as I sat on the curb, dazed and panting. Sirens blared as I watched them pull away.

When one of my first EMS instructors asked, months later, “so what was the emergency you thought you couldn’t handle that brought you to this course?”, that was an easy question.

One EMS course led to another, and another, and eventually I found myself with a basic EMT license—and that very nearly led to … nothing. After I certified, I looked for ways to participate in wilderness search and rescue (I spend a lot of time outdoors), but opportunities near me turned out to be scarce. Without regular training, my skills began to wane. Things got busy. In time, I began to count my EMS training as just an interesting interlude.

Then the world threw me another curve ball. I was at an academic conference in New York, about to deliver a philosophical paper, when I heard a voice call out, “has someone called 911?” I turned and saw a colleague slumped against a wall, gasping for air, his eyes bulging. This time, I reacted differently. My training kicked in just enough for me not to fumble things completely.

When the pros arrived in an ambulance a few minutes later, I handed them my notes. “Thanks,” said one of the EMTs, looking them over. “Really helpful.” I am con dent that they must have been the most poorly organized, illegible set of patient vitals he had ever seen, but his words still felt good. Letting my EMS education go to waste suddenly seemed like a very bad idea.

I recertified. I renewed my license. I began to volunteer for a suburban ambulance service not too far from my home (I am still just a probationary fledgling). Then, as I watched my colleagues work, trying to learn from their example, I naturally began to ask the kind of questions about EMS that I have been asking about other institutions and practices throughout my life: questions not about technique, about how to do, but rather about societal significance. When first responders do what they do best—saving lives—they also send important social and political messages to the whole community. What messages do they send?

Cooperation between professional medics and MBU participants during the main simulation exercise

Take lights and sirens. On one hand, they serve a utilitarian purpose: to clear a path so an ambulance can reach its destination swiftly and safely. That’s why there is growing empirical literature about whether driving with them is truly helpful or, ironically, increases EMS vehicular accidents.

But consider lights and sirens not from the perspective of a medic behind the wheel, but rather from that of average citizens going about their business blocks away. For them, the siren’s wail isn’t utilitarian; whether they hear it or not is immaterial. Instead, it plays a cultural role. The siren tells a story: “there has been an emergency, perhaps an accident, but medics are taking care of the victims.”

That story has a profound political importance. One of the first purposes of government, at least in liberal democracies, is to protect life. Government’s ability to protect life is indeed one of the basic justifications for the state’s existence. In the words of the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, life is an “unalienable right,” and it is to secure life that governments “are instituted among men.” When an ambulance siren sounds, it signals that this basic aspiration of government is being fulfilled.

MBU founder Janina Sabra shows the signed helmet she received as thanks from first responders and MBU participants

Switching on lights and sirens, then, is an act of political communication as well as a utilitarian tool. Switching them on proclaims the benevolent character of public authority. Medics using the siren make this proclamation nearly every day they work, weaving it deep into the social fabric.

Or consider the interaction between a medic and patient. On one hand, the encounter is a pragmatic one. Making patients feel secure, taking their vitals, treating major injuries, getting them to definitive care—that’s the chief goal of EMS. Yet something happens in the encounter that also goes to the core of civic life.

A long line of philosophical thinking, reaching back to G. W. F. Hegel in the nineteenth century, tells us that people come to know themselves as members of their political communities only when they are “recognized” as individual subjects by an institution that wields public authority. Indeed, Hegel argued that it’s only by encountering and being recognized by something or someone outside themselves that people become full psychological beings at all.

In these terms, when a medic approaches a patient, he or she implicitly announces—as a community representative—“I see you.” When the patient in turn responds by placing trust in the medic, he or she accepts a relation of dependence on the community that is providing for his or her care. He or she comes to self- consciousness as a community member through EMS as an institution. The patient sees his or her own image reflected back in the mirror of the medic’s eyes.

Mark Weiner in conversation with Swedish Ambulance Nurse/Ambulanssjuksköterska, Leila Haddadi

This psychosocial moment of recognition means that the way medics interact with patients is significant for political, as well as medical reasons. When a patient feels disrespected, it not only erodes the conditions for optimal treatment but also degrades public life. Remember the 1990 hit single “911 is a Joke,” by the American rap group Public Enemy? Watch the video. It builds its wide-ranging critique of American society on the back of a completely slanderous portrayal of EMS.

As unfair as its portrait is, the video teaches an important lesson. For civic culture, a medic who acts dismissively toward a patient is the medical equivalent of a police officer who roughs people up without cause.

Alternatively, medics can treat patients in ways that foster community cohesion. For instance, when a patient speaks a foreign language and a medic can say a word or two of greeting in it, the medic “recognizes” the patient as a full person, which in turn can help bind together the separate parts of
a pluralistic society. Likewise, when medics invite patients to participate in their own care, for instance by asking them to hold a bandage on their own wound, they encourage a sense of personal agency and self-sufficiency, which helps support democratic life.

Finally, consider the fact that one of the most common locations to which medics are dispatched is a family home. Patients often need our care precisely when their families are incapable of handling a health crisis on their own.

According to Aristotle, the family is the core political association that gives rise to all later, more complex political units. Family to tribe, tribe to village, village to city, and, now, city to nation— the family lies at the heart of it all. In arriving on scene at a home, then, first responders step in and perform one of the key roles of the family, caring for one another, but they do so as agents of the larger political community.

Moreover, by doing so they participate in a vital drama of public sacrifice. In assuming the family’s role, first responders often put themselves in personal jeopardy. They suffer in all the ways that readers of this magazine know well. They expose themselves to blood-born pathogens. They confront the danger of angry bystanders. They endure post-traumatic stress.

In all societies, modern as much as ancient, complex as much as simple, such sacrificial activity makes community possible. And it draws the boundaries of the community to include those for whom a sacrifice is made. (This dynamic, indeed, lies at the ancient core of most religions, but that’s another matter.) We are used to thinking about the personal sacrifice of ambulance medics as the basis of their public reputation as heroes. But it also establishes and fosters the cultural preconditions of civic life.

The stakes of EMS, in short, are social, political, philosophic, and even metaphysical. I think most of us recognize this fact instinctively, and we may even talk about it in a general way in after-work conversation. But I believe that we could help ourselves professionally, and personally, by speaking about these issues more than we do, and by developing a systematic way to understand them.

Close up of the famed MBU helmet, a testament to the deep bonds and inspiration created through the program

This brings me back to MBU. Channeling Hegel and Public Enemy, both philosophy and politics came to mind as I watched the emergency simulation in Stockholm’s deep December dark. That was no surprise: I had been prepared by my conversations with Janina Sabra.

Sabra, 31, is the tough yet caring director who heads up MBU from its base in Gothenburg, a bustling port city on Sweden’s west coast. I was spending the 2018-19 academic year in Sweden as part of an American citizen-diplomacy program, and I had been speaking with Swedish ambulance personnel in various cities as a way to get to know the country. Along the way, I heard about MBU, and I thought it could provide an interesting window into Swedish society. Sabra offered to show me the group’s headquarters.

As we strode through the swinging glass doors of a youth center in the eastern half of the city, two bearded hipsters playing guitar on an old couch looked up and smiled. Both clearly had ethnic roots in the middle east. In the meantime, a young woman wearing Doc Martens, whose parents hail from east Africa, was preparing sandwiches in the communal kitchen. Her hand gestures were straight out of American hip-hop, even though she had never been to the United States. Sabra led me up a set of open metal stairs to her office, where she proudly displays a hardhat signed by dozens of first responders—a gift of gratitude for her work.

The children of immigrants, Sabra and her colleagues embody one of the most significant facets of contemporary Sweden: it’s a country in the midst of a demographic revolution. Long known for its ethnic homogeneity—in 1930, only 1 percent of the population was foreign born, half from neighboring Nordic countries—Sverige has become a coveted destination for economic migrants and asylum seekers. Today the foreign-born population stands at nearly 19 percent of 10.1 million inhabitants. The majority of new arrivals are Muslim, an important point of difference in historically Lutheran and now deeply secular Sweden.

Humour acting as the best teacher during an MBU training session

Many of these foreigners have ended up living in the majority-minority districts that the Swedish government officially calls “socially vulnerable areas.” Swedish ghettos. Sabra grew up in one herself. Not surprisingly, social tensions have emerged in these neighborhoods, and first responders have been among the first to feel the heat. In a spate of headline-grabbing incidents, for instance, minority youth in numerous cities have pelted emergency vehicles with stones. Police have been the most common target, but re trucks and ambulances have also been on the receiving end of the violence.

It’s unclear just how widespread these incidents have been, but it would be difficult to overstate how deeply they trouble citizens in a country known worldwide for its respect for state authority.

One especially dramatic incident took place in Gothenburg in 2009 and led to the creation of MBU. Sabra speaks sadly when she talks about it, her voice trailing off into silence. Some young men standing on a bridge pushed a breadbox-sized rock onto a passing re truck below, smashing the front window and sending a firefighter to the hospital. He soon left the service in frustration. Episodes of petty violence had been common at the time, but this felt like an escalation. Concerned service members felt that something needed to be done, fast. But, ironically, what they created wasn’t fast, but slow.

Människan Bakom Uniformen is a community outreach program with a twist. Rather than the usual one-off meet-and-greet, it’s an extended, focused seminar that requires significant time and effort from everyone involved. Imagine a college class called “First Response 101,” taught by the coolest professors you’ve ever met, with individual sessions devoted to different branches of the field: EMS, re, police, private security guards, and even tram operators.

Each MBU term runs for a full 10 weeks and includes about 20 participants between the ages of 15 to 25. Attendance at all sessions is mandatory to earn a certificate of completion, which adds real value to school and job applications. After each semester ends, graduates are encouraged to continue to be a part of the organization in a leadership role, tutoring new participants and serving as MBU ambassadors in their communities. It’s all about time, commitment and focused attention—yet despite its demand for resources (in fact, I would guess precisely because of the good things those demands produce), what began in Gothenburg has now spread to over a dozen cities throughout the country.

The program begins gently. Participants and first responders play games and shoot the breeze, enjoying each other’s company. Each student receives a stylish black T-shirt bearing the MBU logo. There’s plenty of comfort food—this being Sweden, that means cinnamon buns and coffee. The participants create a warm community based on good times. But the next meetings—each lasting three hours, at night—are far more dramatic and intense.

MBU founder, Janina Sabra

Sabra leans forward in her chair as she explains. Half of the sessions feature first responders talking frankly about the difficulties of their work and participants sharing their own prejudices about first responders. That can be tough, but the groundwork for serious exchange was laid in previous sessions. On other nights—and this is the part that interests me most as a scholar—participants are taught practical emergency skills by each service. They study CPR. They learn how to roll a patient on backboard. They climb a fire ladder. They use handcuffs. They drive a tram as it is pelted with stones, and they learn how to respond to an argument on board. The kids not only step into the shoes of first responders, they step into their boots.

Now that the participants are equipped their new real-world abilities, the program culminates in a multi-casualty incident—one that goes all out for realism. Sabra invited me to watch the exercise taking place in Stockholm a few months later.

From my home in Uppsala, I took a night train to a dark suburban station and met my contact, Ambulance Nurse Daniel Björsson, 43. Tall, bald and muscular, he looks like a Viking from Erik the Red’s medical response team, if Erik the Red had employed EMTs. I knew he was a deeply respected member of his service—an obvious leader.

Earlier that year I had tagged along with Björsson on an all-night shift to see the Stockholm service in action. I had watched him hold up a half-naked girl as she vomited into a bag after drinking herself into a stupor, take an ECG of a man panting on his bed as his wife watched on anxiously from above, and coordinate EMS response to a multi-alarm re in a high-rise apartment block. Now I would see him in a very different role—a civic one.

Could an EMS simulation play a positive part in helping Sweden through its demographic revolution? And if it could, what might that reveal about the nature of EMS? Björsson was going to help me find out.

Ambulance Nurse, Daniel Björsson

Björsson invited me to sit in the back as he drove an ambulance to the scene of the simulation. Sitting in the front passenger seat was a diminutive girl dressed in the service’s green-and- yellow uniform. If she had been holding a couple of electric cables in her hands, I suspect that the excited energy she was radiating could have been used to power the ambulance itself. She was absolutely still and silent while she waited for dispatch. The call came through the crack of the radio. Priority one.

For its drama and adrenaline-inducing special effects, the scene at which we arrived surely would have made Steven Spielberg proud. There was a large red bus pulled over at the edge of a parking lot, stopped at a distinctly strange angle. A man lay beneath the front wheel. The back door of the bus opened and out stepped a long line of talkative young women in headscarves. They began snapping pictures. With the rain, smoke, and flashing lights, it felt just like the scene of a major accident.

Björsson pulled his ambulance into position. The girl in the passenger seat stepped out. Remembering that her hair fell beneath her shoulders, she secured it tight. She got the stretcher from the cab. The last time I saw her, she was wheeling it toward the bus.

Björsson was proud of how his students worked that night—especially proud of the young medic who took care of the injured man at the foot of the bus. He did just as he had been taught to do. “Sometimes you think they don’t listen—but they did!” Björsson laughed. But what struck him most, he said, was that the young man had actively assumed a leadership role during the incident. He took command. I witnessed that myself. “On my count: one, two, three”—it was the voice of a young man growing up through EMS, imagining himself performing a vitally important civic role.

The main simulation involving a casualty with a bus, organised from MBU

Could he or his peers ever look at EMS the same way again? Would they ever look at Sweden in quite the same way again—this place for which they were learning to take responsibility and, thereby, make their own? Could I ever look at EMS the same way again, seeing how it was used here as a vehicle through which young people could envision a society in which they would take care of others at the same time that others pledged to take care of them—a society of mutual interdependency?

EMS was helping bind this society together. But perhaps that’s what it’s always done, and is always doing, even as each of us focuses our attention on the patient immediately in front of us.

The opening scenes of the high-level simulation, organised by MBU, involving a bus

There are many other ways that EMS has a social and political role beyond its medical outcomes. Can you help me think about them? Are there some that you would especially like to see addressed in these pages, or in my book? I would love to hear from you, either directly or through Ambulance Today’s social media platforms. Next time, I’ll be meditating on the cultural perception of ambulance personnel as “heroes”—who are nevertheless apparently not important enough to pay sufficiently, and on the frequent conflation of EMS and police.

To share your thoughts, feedback and ideas over this article and any others by Mark Weiner feel free to get in touch with us via:

Mark S. Weiner, Ph.D., J.D., EMT-B, is the author of The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom, among other books. In 2018-19, he was the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Uppsala University.

The More You Know…

By Joseph Heneghan, Editor
Published in Ambulance Today, Issue 3, Volume 16, Ahead of the Curve, Education and Technology Special, Autumn 2019

Albert Einstein once incisively remarked that “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”. There is a subtle difference here between the traditional ideas of education and training which we pick up in our school years, and the true meaning of education and learning which we find in real life. And this subtle difference holds great weight and poignancy in emergency healthcare.

Very quickly, when we leave school and adult life and responsibility are dually thrust upon us, we realise the importance of adapting. We learn very quickly that life does not follow a script, and that the set things we have learned at school are not always 100% applicable to that scenario. Life and its many guerrilla-esque lessons, which seemingly spring up on us from nowhere, very quickly teach us that the most valuable lesson we can adopt is indeed how to learn in the first place. That we will never have all the answers to every possible scenario, as the array of possible scenarios that can hit at any one point is just too vast and uncertain.

The only thing we can do to prepare ourselves is to learn two things: how to learn quickly and how to think even quicker on the spot. How to take a core lesson, and to spontaneously adapt it to the situation lying on the ground in front of you.

Learning never stops and is about adapting to a situation in order to solve it. Here’s a problem, now give me a solution. Yes, it’s an incredibly similar problem to the one you encountered with that neonatal case last week, almost identical in fact, but it might not be the same. Are you going to give me the same solution? Thinking quickly and adapting, as I say. Using a mix of lessons and experience to grope your way along in the dark, fishing out details along the way, until you get to an understanding, and then a solution.

Yes, learning never really stops. Certainly, the more educated I get, the thicker I realise I am. Every new lesson reveals further pools of unexplored knowledge I never even knew existed. This shows me that, no matter how expert I get, there is always something more to learn. Someone who has been there and done it before me. Is their method outdated in my eyes? Maybe they haven’t heard the most recent study we were taught in class last week? Maybe the problem is that my understanding of learning is still too naïve, as the modern-day teachings and new discoveries can be mixed with more ‘old school’ approaches quite beautifully, often leading to a very balanced mix of high technical ability with exemplary shows of understanding and care.

There are many interesting articles in this edition of Ambulance Today, as usual. The overall focus has been on education and training, as well as a slight focus upon technology. I suppose, without quite realising it, I was going for a unifying theme of development in this respect. Either way, despite the amount of truly stimulating and thought-provoking articles in this edition, I feel that two in particular really embody what I am trying to say here.

Firstly, our South African correspondent, Mike Emmerich, gives an amazingly insightful discussion on the importance and nature of critical thinking. Here he observes—rather wisely in my opinion as I feel many innocently overlook this point on a day-to-day basis—that “for the lifelong learner, everyone has something of value to contribute, irrespective of what environment or years of experience are on the table”. And I haven’t been able to put it better than that in the past 600 words. You don’t know everything. Never can, no matter how deep your expertise. Other people know things you don’t. Never disregard an opportunity to learn something new.

Secondly, we have an article that I am highly excited to introduce you to. Academic and qualified EMT, Mark Weiner, delivers a piece which looks at what can be learned from the patient’s perspective. This is something which is constantly on the minds of EMS staff, or at least as much as realistically possible anyway. This job takes its toll on you, and you can’t all be flawlessly and consistently empathetic all of the time. Patience and empathy can dip a bit when you go from one truly traumatic call onto another where the person might be being a little bit overly sensitive to the situation, if I want to put it politely. Mark takes a look at what can happen when we are able to overcome this and remember that some people, hurtfully but truthfully, do not see a person trying to help but only see a badge and a uniform.

More so, he not only takes a look at what this means for you, for the public at large, and for society in general, but at how this can then be taken, used, and turned into something truly beautiful where both sides can learn something from each other. As I said. You never know everything. Some people know things you don’t. Never write off an opportunity to learn… even if it’s from the annoying patient shouting in your face. There’s always another perspective, always a cause behind the action, always a piece of information which can help you find a solution.

So, with that, this edition celebrates the many fruits which education and learning have to offer. I hope you thoroughly enjoy it and get as much as you can out of it. Milk it for every useful drop, in the name of education. Experience, learning, education—they are key to expertise and proficiency.

Joe Heneghan,
Ambulance Today,
Autumn 2019

In the back of an ambulance, two paramedics tend to a patient who has recently experienced a miscarriage

The Miscarriage Association Launches New E-learning Resource for Medical Professionals

View the Free E-Learning Course Here:

Published in Ambulance Today, Issue 3, Volume 13, Ahead of the Curve, Education and Technology Special, Autumn 2019

Dealing with the trauma of a miscarriage is something one can only imagine without having experienced it themselves. Non-profit charity, the Miscarriage Association, explains how they are currently supporting medical professionals in providing care and understanding to women going through that very trauma, through the use of a fantastic new, completely free to use, e-learning resource.

Founded in 1982, the Miscarriage Association is a UK-wide charity that offers support and information to anyone affected by miscarriage, ectopic or molar pregnancy.

Along with a staffed helpline, the Miscarriage Association have developed a new e-learning resource to support medical professionals in providing the best possible care to women experiencing pregnancy loss.

The resource is based on the real experiences of health professionals and those who have experienced miscarriage, ectopic or molar pregnancy, and also includes a cache of films and interactive activities.

“Not being able to answer their questions is very difficult and makes me feel like I’m inadequate in my job, when in fact I’ve just not had adequate training.”

Taking only around two hours to complete, the new resource is an excellent tool for continuing professional development and learning towards revalidation.

Ruth Bender Atik, National Director at the Miscarriage Association, said: “Pregnancy loss can be a deeply distressing experience and the support health professionals give can make all the difference to helping women through this difficult time.

“We know it isn’t always easy for those working in clinical environments to find the time to reflect on the care they provide. This is why we wanted to create a resource that they can dip in and out of and access easily from their phone, iPad or computer, so the training is available to them anytime.”

The five units focus upon different aspects of care, such as having difficult conversations, considering language, and taking care of your own wellbeing while providing that care.

“I was on my own at home. I couldn’t walk, I was on the floor so I had to call an ambulance. The paramedics were wonderful. They called my husband, asked if there was anyone else I needed contacting. They locked my house. They made sure that just the basic little things that really mattered were done and dealt with. And they gave me some gas and air, which I needed.”

Having experienced two miscarriages herself, Cerian Gingell is passionate about improving the care that is provided to those who experience pregnancy loss.

Cerian, said: “Miscarriage is a devastating loss, often without explanation. Nothing can take the
pain away, but a kind word, the correct information on what to expect next, the truth about what’s happening – these things can all help make a horrible experience slightly less horrible.

“To me, good care is saying ‘I’m sorry your baby’s gone, it wasn’t your fault’. It’s letting me cry, answering my questions with honesty and sensitivity, reassuring me that because it’s happened once it doesn’t mean it’ll happen again. It’s about respect, sympathy and honesty.

“I think this resource is so important and will help create more consistent care across the country. Every single person that goes through pregnancy loss deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion. Whether they’re speaking to their GP or being treated in hospital, every contact can have a huge impact on the way that person copes with their loss.”

The new e-learning resource was peer reviewed and produced with the help of Janet Birrell, Gynaecology Matron at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Nicola Davies, GP at The Pinn Medical Centre, Annmaria Ellard, Miscarriage Specialist Nurse at Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, Amanda Mansfield, Consultant Midwife at London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, and the Association of Early Pregnancy Units.

Dr. Sarah Bailey, Lead Nurse Recurrent Miscarriage Care and Clinical Research Specialist at University Hospitals Southampton, said: “The Miscarriage Association’s e-learning resource is extremely useful, informative and easily accessible.

“I would thoroughly recommend this excellent training package to any care professional who is involved in caring for women with miscarriage.”

The Miscarriage Association’s staffed helpline and online resources help thousands of people every year to get through the emotional and physical distress of pregnancy loss and, in many cases, to manage the anxiety of pregnancy after loss. They work with health professionals to promote good practice in medical care, support clinical research and strive to raise public awareness of the facts and feelings of pregnancy loss.

You can visit or call the Miscarriage Association on +44 1924 200 795 to find out more. For more details and interview opportunities please contact Ruth Bender Atik, National Director at the Miscarriage Association:

You can access the e-learning resource at: