Bognor ambulance staff invited to reunion

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SUS-151007-100301001

Retired, ex and current Bognor Ambulance men and women have been invited to a staff reunion.

The reunion will be held at the Claremont Pub in Scott Street, Bognor, this evening (Friday July 10) at 7.30pm.

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Brian Janman, who joined West Sussex Ambulance Service in 1975 and was stationed at Bognor Ambulance Station for the entirety of his 25 years’ service, wrote the following account of life in the service.

The face of the Ambulance Service in Bognor Regis has changed a great deal since the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948.

The county councils had two choices; to operate the ambulance service directly or to contract it out to a third party. West Sussex County Council chose the second option, contracting the St John Ambulance Brigade to provide the service in every town except Midhurst, were the British Red Cross Society took on the job.

In Bognor the St John Ambulance Brigade operated from their headquarters on the corner of Belmont Street, directly opposite W. Jones Garage in Lennox Street, and both full time paid staff and volunteers operated from these premises until the County Council took direct control of the service in 1963.

As the St. John Ambulance Brigade did not want to let out their existing headquarters to the new service, the County Council decided to build a brand new Ambulance Station in the grounds of the Bognor War Memorial Hospital which opened in 1966, the crews operating from temporary premises in Hawthorn Road in the meantime.

This building remained in use until 1998, when it was demolished and the current ambulance station erected on the same site.

This building will soon be vacated when the new ‘Make Ready’ or ‘Hub’ ambulance depot at Tangmere is opened in the near future.

This will see all the ambulances and staff currently based at Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Pulborough Ambulance Stations transferred to the new central facility.

During this period of time there have been huge improvements made in the level of service provided to the patients and to the skill levels of the staff, beginning with the basic First Aid trained ambulance drivers of the immediate post war period and ranging up to today’s highly qualified Clinical Care Paramedics.

A similar story exists with the ambulance vehicle themselves, today’s extensively equipped Emergency Ambulances bearing little resemblance to the vehicles of old.

One thing hasn’t changed however, and that is the character of the ambulance men and women who have served the community over the years.

The knowledge levels have increased out of all recognition and the uniform has changed colour a few times, but it still takes a person with distinct character traits to be a good ambulance person.

Excellent people skills are an absolute must as is the patient of a saint. Thick skin helps, so does the ability to empathise with and offer support to your comrades when they need it.

And need it they will at some stage in their service. There is no other emergency service that spends all its time and effort helping people when they are at their worst ebb.

Trauma, sickness, mental illness, drug misuse, drunkenness and of course death itself, in all of its distressing manifestations, are encountered on a daily basis.

The Ambulance Service is the first point of contact for distressed and ill people everywhere, and there is no doubt at all that the long term effect of repeatedly dealing with these situations has and will always have an accumulated effect on the health and wellbeing of ambulance staff.

This is why the self-supporting help provided by comrades back at the ambulance station is so important. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome is not confined to the military.

Long before the service management offered staff counselling in time of need, sitting round the crew room table having a cup of tea and talking through the day’s events was, and is, the best form of therapy available.

Black humour is commonplace as a way of getting past the worst events, although this is obviously not confined to the ambulance service alone.

But what then of staff when they leave the service? They lose that all important crew room support and bad memories don’t go away just because you’re no longer in the job.

You’re probably also going to miss all the company and the crew room banter when you lose touch with those you’ve been working with for years, which is why organisations such as the West Sussex Ambulance Service Retirement Association are so important, keeping you in touch with your old mates, reliving the good times and organising social evenings and events throughout the year.

Similarly, that is why this year’s Bognor Ambulance Station staff reunion matters; it helps to keep alive comradery and self-help that was so much a part of the service back in the day.

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