A North Wales radio presenter has swapped the decks for a defibrillator by becoming a volunteer for the Welsh Ambulance Service.
Oli Kemp, one half of ‘Lois & Oli’ on Heart North and Mid Wales, has just completed his training as a Community First Responder so that he can administer life-saving first aid to people in his community.
Oli, originally from London, now living near Llangollen, Denbighshire, has had a long-held ambition to become a first responder, ever since the sudden death of his 20-month-old daughter in 2012.
He explained how the COVID-19 pandemic presented a perfect opportunity to pursue his passion, saying: “I’ve always loved the idea of becoming a paramedic but my career as a radio presenter has never really allowed me to pursue it.’
“I think lockdown provided a lot of people with clarity on what they want to do, because you want to look back on your life and to have achieved something.’
“We moved to Wales seven years ago and the community has been very good to us. This is my way of paying something back.”
Oli’s daughter, Willow, was being treated for a chronic lung infection at Manchester Children’s Hospital in 2012 when she suffered a cardiac arrest and sadly died. It was this life-changing event which inspired Oli to think about a career in the ambulance service and which also compelled his wife to train as a nurse.
Oli said: “Willow is my main inspiration for doing this, and also my wife’s, who now works as a nurse at Denbigh Community Hospital. That period in our life had its challenges, but we also learnt a lot about the NHS and how it works.’
“The community we live in is very rural, and I imagine that sometimes it’s difficult for an ambulance to get there quickly.
“Anything I can do to help people in the time before the ambulance arrives will hopefully make a difference.”
Community First Responders are volunteers who attend 999 calls in their community and administer first aid in the precious first minutes before an ambulance arrives.
They are trained by the Welsh Ambulance Service to administer first aid, including oxygen therapy and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, as well as the use of a defibrillator.
Oli said: “It is a bit nerve-wracking, especially when I think about the prospect of attending my first cardiac arrest, but that’s why you do your training.
“The fact that I’m helping people in my own community means there’s some familiarity there, so that helps to take the edge off. I’ll fit the volunteering around the radio show, so will likely do mornings and weekends.’
“My colleagues at Heart are really proud of me; there was definitely some gentle ribbing when I told them I’d qualified, but they’re chuffed I’m doing something positive.”
Glyn Thomas, the Trust’s Alternative Responder Manager, said: “Every second counts is an emergency, and the role that first responders play in initiating that chain of survival can literally mean the difference between life or death.’
“Oli’s one of seven new volunteers to join the service in North Wales, and we’re pleased that he has turned a tragedy into something positive to help people in their hour of need.’
“The Covid-19 pandemic has meant we’ve had to think differently about the way we deliver training to volunteers, and Oli was part of a cohort of new recruits to complete a brand new training package, which included some e-learning.’
“We’re taking some time now to evaluate that training, so while we’re not recruiting volunteers right now, we look forward to opening our books again in the coming months.”
Glyn added: “Volunteering at the Welsh Ambulance Service has come a long way in the last two decades.’
“Our volunteers don’t just provide life-saving support at events such as cardiac arrests; they’re also trained to deal with a broader range of medical emergencies, including non-injured fallers.’
“There are new and exciting plans afoot as we further embrace our volunteers as part of the #TeamWAST family, and we extend a warm welcome to our new recruits, including Oli.”
You can learn more about the role of Community First Responders here at http://www.ambulance.wales.nhs.uk/en/96