Sunday 18 March 2018

Civil defence gets patients to hospital

Civil Defence members transporting a patient from Kilmacurragh to St Vincent’s Hospital had to rely on the help of a JCB and snow plough to get past snowdrifts of up to two metres.
Civil Defence members transporting a patient from Kilmacurragh to St Vincent’s Hospital had to rely on the help of a JCB and snow plough to get past snowdrifts of up to two metres.

Mary Fogarty

Members of the Civil Defence worked tirelessly last week to get dialysis and chemotherapy patients to their appointments.

Michael Richardson, Civil Defence Officer for County Wicklow, said that the process began last Monday with the onset of severe weather warnings.

Wicklow County Council's crisis management team convened to go through their plan of action. Michael represents the civil defence on that team, with others representing gardaí, the HSE, the fire chief and the council directors.

The members out on the road during the snow are all volunteers, many of whom were leaving their own families to help others, Michael was keen to point out.

They started bringing people to critical care appointments in hospitals from Wednesday.

They continued that on Thursday and throughout the following days and also helped with Meals on Wheels in Bray. Patients and their families needing to get to hospital were able to get in touch with Michael, who was coordinating the runs.

He worked in conjunction with the dialysis unit at St Vincent's. 'There was great cooperation in both directions,' said Michael. He said that the unit was able to work out a priority system.

There were five jeeps on the road from Thursday to Saturday, from 7.30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Michael said that the drivers were very familiar with driving in those conditions and the drivers and crew were trained in manual handling and patient movement. One of their passengers was blind and another a wheelchair user.

'They were able to get them safely into the renal care unit, keep them warm and comfortable and get them home,' said Michael.

They also provided some assistance to the ambulance service - in one case helping them to get a lady out of a house in the Kilmacanogue area to a waiting ambulance.

The Wicklow unit worked in cooperation with Wexford Civil Defence, with the Wexford units driving patients bound for St Vincent's as far as Jack Whites, where the Wiicklow crew would take over, and vice-versa. 'The guys are familiar with their own terrain,' said Michael.

He added that the Eircode system worked perfectly, as well as electronic mapping systems.

'There was reassurance and security there for people,' he said. 'They were confident that you knew where to find them.'

He said that, with electronic mapping, you weren't wasting resources trying to find an address.

In one case, a driver was having difficulty accessing a patient and asked a digger driver for help, which was duly forthcoming. Michael said that the cooperation between the services throughout the week was exceptional.

'All members of the Civil Defence are volunteers,' said Michael. 'They are leaving their own homes to help others. Some took holidays from work. One member's wife rang in a state of distress because the kitchen was flooded.

'I have to take my hat off to the members for their resilience and care for the community.'

He said that they were determined to get out there and do what they could do help. 'It was like they were in the starting blocks at Shelbourne,' said Michael. '"Where can we go? What can we do?" - that was the attitude.'

By Monday, when parts of the county were experiencing a thaw, many were still in great need. The Civil Defence teams were bringing district nurses to calls in places still affected such as Woodenbridge and Glencree valley. The nurses needed to deal with things such as a new infant, or changing dressings.

'Thankfully we haven't had injuries to our people or damage to vehicles,' said Michael.

The last such crisis took place in 2010 and Michael said that, in just seven years, technology has changed how we face an emergency.

'The four-wheel drive vehicles are better,' said Michael. 'The communication system is better and the local authority infrastructure is more efficient.

'The equipment for clearing motorways is better and forecasting is more accurate. In that short period, everything has improved and made the job better.'

Drivers use Google maps, and they have members' maps set up on their PCs so they can track where they are. If the hospital calls them, they can tell them exactly where the jeep is and hopefully exactly how long it will take them to get there.

A frustration as the thaw started was the onset of 'snow tourists' heading for the uplands and blocking the roads. That said, Michael insisted that the goodwill from the community towards members of the Civil Defence had been uplifting.

There are around 45 members in active training in County Wicklow. They train two or three hours a week in the main training centre in Greystones, unit training in Baltinglass, and Greysotnes fire station. 'I offer my personal thanks to the volunteers,' said Michael. 'The unit is nothing without them.'

Wicklow People