We asked our Operations Manager and paramedic Nigel Hare a few questions, to give you an insight into what working with the Devon Air Ambulance is like for him…
What is your working day like on the Air Ambulance?
Once the equipment and the aircraft is fully checked the crew have a briefing outlining aspects such as the weather, tide times, and on the moors, details of whether the firing ranges are in use. From that point onward we are ready to respond to emergency calls.
Each day starts with a full check of all our equipment. That is both medical and aviation. Even if I have worked the day before and know everything was present and working yesterday, we will still check each day as occasionally items of equipment get used at an incident by other paramedics or if equipment is electronic in nature, the batteries might become flat overnight.
How did you become a member of the Air Ambulance crew?
If I track the start of that path right back to the beginning it would be fair to say that Dartmoor is responsible. When I entered my teenage years I was keen to take part in the Ten Tors challenge and as my school had no involvement in the expedition I needed to find another organisation that did. My options were either the Scouts or the St John Ambulance, both of which were entering teams. However as their meeting nights were on the same day of the week I had to choose one or the other; I chose St. John. As well as taking part in the Ten Tors for several years, eventually going on to manage my own teams, I also became passionate about first aid and helping people, which in turn led to me embarking on a career in the ambulance service, and ultimately, joining the team on the Air Ambulance.
What was it like when you first started on the Air Ambulance?
My first operational shift was in 1997. I was mentored by an experienced member of the aircrew and even though I had been a Paramedic for five years, the challenges of working on the Air Ambulance were so different from my normal role that it felt like I was fresh out of training college. There are so many other factors to take into consideration, such as the weather, the amount of fuel we have, the choice of treatment centre, as well as all the normal challenges of treating the patient. My first few weeks remain a blur ,however I will never forget the time very early on in my time with the team when a patient who I did not think would survive their injuries subsequently visited the airbase to meet the crew. It was very apparent that the speed of the Air Ambulance played a significant part in their survival – from that point forward developing the service, in partnership with the South Western Ambulance Service, has been a big part of my life.
How often do you fly with the Air Ambulance?
Most of my role now is in supporting and developing the service, leaving a great team of pilots and paramedics to deliver the service to the patients. However I am still very fortunate to fly three or four times a month which enables me to continue to see first-hand the benefits the service brings to patients.
The Air Ambulance is often seen on and over Dartmoor, do you recall any particular incidents on the moor?
Dartmoor is indeed a place we attend frequently to help people. In fact last year over 130 incidents we responded to were on Dartmoor, either on the open moorland or in its towns, villages and hamlets. I remember many different incidents, each for different reasons. There have been several challenging rescues on steep ground or between the rocks on Tors. There have been occasions where we have had to carry people long distances to reach the helicopter because of the steep terrain or poor weather meaning the helicopter could not quite get to the top of the hill which was covered in cloud. It is amazing how often on moorland that seems deserted people appear as if from nowhere offering to help lift and carry the patient. Unfortunately it is also surprising how often they don’t; and the crew have to persevere alone! But I will never forget the expression of immense relief on one lady’s face, followed by tears, when we landed just yards from her husband who was having a heart attack, miles from anywhere or any other help.
Do you have a favourite area of the moors?
I have a couple. I am very privileged to have seen all of the moors from the air; flying across the moors between Mortonhampstead and Burrator on a clear sunny day is a wonderful experience; open moorland, farmsteads, Tors on either side, the imposing view of the prison at Princetown and then the panorama of Burrator Reservoir, the Tamar Valley, Cornwall and the Atlantic; all at the same time! But if I’m walking on the moors on a day off, I love the walk to my name sake, Hare Tor, via Tavy Cleave, an experience I can now share with my son as he practices for his first Ten Tors Expedition this year.
What does the future hold for Devon Air Ambulance?
We are always looking to develop the service we provide to the people of Devon. This year sees us celebrate 21 years of the Devon Air Ambulance. In that time we have moved forward from using a second-hand ex-military aircraft operating just five days a week, to two aircraft operating 7 days a week covering a period of up to 14 hours a day in the summer. Later this year we take possession of our second brand new aircraft, designed specifically for the needs of the patients we meet and all made possible by the support of the people of Devon. Extending even further the hours each day we can deliver our service to the seriously ill or injured, whilst at the same time increasing the clinical capabilities of the service, will help ensure that we can help even more patients in their time of need.