They’re a common site at events around the country with their volunteers giving up tens of thousands of unpaid hours a year to serve the public, and due to this demand for their services, St John Ambulance (Northern Ireland) are always looking for new members to join them, to learn first aid, and get out on duties helping the public. With a mission statement of No one should suffer from a lack of trained first aiders, the aim of St John is to raise awareness of and availability of first aid training among the public and ensure that first aiders are available at events. The Northern Ireland commandery of St John was founded in 1881 but the parent organisation that SJA(NI) belongs to has an extensive history going back some 900 years and has some half a million worldwide volunteers. The charity is the largest provider of first aid training in the UK and Ireland with volunteers serving unpaid and nearly 30,000 volunteers between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. When you join, you join a division, generally near to where you live, undergo your initial training then attend weekly refresher training on a range of subjects and attend duties providing first aid to the public.
When someone starts university however, they may end up travelling some distance from their home divisions which leaves them unable to continue attending, to solve this problem of both losing volunteers as well as the volunteer losing access to life-saving first aid training, SJA introduced Links Divisions. Ulster University, like many universities around the country, has one of these division, Links Divisions are higher and further education attached training groups, basically a student society, who serve to ‘link’ students with the charity allowing them to train in first aid while studying away from home.
I spoke with Micheál Kerr, a first-year biomedical science student at Coleraine campus, who volunteers with UU Coleraine Links. Joining at the start of first year, he’d already volunteered closer to home before arriving at university. While having been in for only a short time Micheál, has attended numerous events not only here in Northern Ireland but also events in London where SJA(NI) volunteers are invited to assist with and experience some of the larger duties such as the London Marathon, Pride in London, and the Notting Hill Carnival among others. Closer-to-home duties include marathons and triathlons, Christmas and Halloween events, sporting events like rugby, football, cross country and motorcycle and horse racing, cultural celebrations such as Culture Night and Féile an Phobail, The Tall Ships, Pride parades and the 12th of July parades to name but a few.
SJA(NI) is also a popular route for those looking for basic first aid training and those progressing towards a healthcare career providing an introduction to pre-hospital healthcare, basic first aid and regular contact with healthcare professionals who give regular talks and training and provide networking opportunities.
The training itself starts with a 22-hour basic first aid course which covers all the basics from the role of a first aider, incident management, patient observations, casualty care and communication to resuscitation, wound and burn care, management of broken bones, recognition of some of the more common medical conditions finishing with a first aid scenario where the trainee demonstrates the training they have received. Following this, if they wish, the volunteer can progress to Advanced First Aider which includes a range of more advanced manual handling options, additional resuscitation training and ambulance aid among other skills then onto ambulance crew roles plus there’s a range of specialised roles such as cycle response, medical response team, management, youth and more. A recent introduction is that of FREC, or First Response Emergency Care, which is an externally recognised qualification, vs the internal SJA(NI) qualifications. This means that the volunteers are able to take away something that can be externally recognised benefiting them even further.