It's that time of year again: dark miserable nights, cold winter mornings and then the daily bustle to get to work. Well it could be worse and when the good old British weather decides to turn against us it often is far worse.
Well spare a thought for the emergency services, not just the police, fire and ambulance services. Of course, all of these services are vital and that is why they receive public funding. However, other essential services receive no public funding and rely solely on volunteers and donations.
A big problem with the smaller charitable organisations is many people simply don't know that they exist until they need them most; well it is about time these people got some recognition for their hard work and voluntary efforts.
This month we are looking at Sussex 4x4 Response and some of the challenges that lay ahead of them over the winter period. We spoke with Adam Cooke from the organisation here is what he had to say.
Safety is paramount; we always advise people if you can find a safer alternative route then do so and if you're not sure walk away and call for help
It's not all about transporting doctors and nurses or meals on wheels all the time Adam says, a lot of our time is spent raising awareness of what we do and gathering donations to help us continue. Some of the most recent activities of Sussex 4x4 Response include a sponsored walk up mount Snowdon, to put this in to perspective; it's not how most of us would choose to spend our weekends in cold miserable weather climbing a mountain. Nevertheless, good practice for the real thing no doubt.
We asked Adam what's involved in a typical response call out. Most of the time it's either flooding or snow and mainly picking up essential medical staff and getting them to hospitals and home again, it's about keeping the hospital running. We have done meals on wheels for the elderly, driven a district nurse all through the night to ensure some of the most vulnerable in our community could still get the care they needed.
How many volunteers do you have?
We have just over 120 but this is growing all the time, we need many more when it gets really bad. For example 3 days of snow in East Sussex last February had about 30 people and 19 vehicles involved at one point; imagine if the snow had lasted longer or been nationwide.
As most of us work there is only so much we can do before we need to take a break. I was doing the early morning pick ups for medical staff about 04:30am going to work then doing a few in the evening, you can only do that for so long before you need to take a rest. Even if you are only able to help-out once in a while, that would be a big help and take some of the pressure of the organisation as a whole.
How can people get involved, do they need any special training or a special vehicle?
No we even need people able to do dispatch, to take the calls and organize the drivers. All that is needed is a PC, Phone and access to the internet, some knowledge of the local area also helps too. It's actually the most important role if we can't dispatch vehicles it sort of stops what we do.
But if you have a 4x4 why not contact us we are a friendly bunch and are happy to have you attend our in house off-road training course. We also organize first aid training and Amateur Radio courses as well, it's the complete package really and we have fun along the way.
What other authorities / organisations do you work with?
Most NHS trusts have agreements with us some ambulance services and county councils too. Many frontline services have to actually make formal emergency plans so we help fill the gaps in these areas. Other groups across the country have also done the same so we essentially "together" provide a net of constant coverage between the various groups.
We occasionally work with search and rescue and the police we hope to get this finalised soon, this is a work in progress for us. In this big society situation and in times of shrinking budgets the volunteers are going to play a larger role in times to come.
If Sussex 4x4 Response did not exist who would do your job?
A good question; maybe some members of the public, some emergency services have a few 4x4's but not as many as will be needed and many people may not know how to drive them, or may not have the correct tyres which limits what you can do. We all did this before we joined but now we are backed by a team, have training and communications to back us up.
What's your / colleagues most scary moment on the job?
To be honest no one has had a scary moment so far, this is because a good knowledge and a savvy risk assessment often helps to avoid any dangerous situations.
For example say a steep icy road has looked too dangerous so a new route is found or another vehicle is there to make it safe. You have to remember we may have a young nurse or an elderly person in the car and the last thing we want to do is scare them.
Flooding is another good example my vehicle is set for wading but might be off putting for a passenger to see water at the window. Our training site and trainers mean you shouldn't have a scary moment, but if you do there is always someone to call or to come and help.
Did you ever approach a response situation you thought you might not be able to complete?
Yes a few hills in Hastings with cars both sides and about a foot of snow, took some thought to make it up and down but thankfully we found a way. The floods in Bognor Regis too, there was one road that was just too deep to be safe, safety is the main consideration at all times.
Most satisfying response or just something that brought a smile to your face and made you think this is so worthwhile?
When you pick up a doctor or nurse who really needs to get to work and you see that smile and relief on their face when they see you arrive and the thank you when you drop them off, usually quickly followed by the question "will you be here to take me home?" It's good to know we are filling a genuine void and making a difference.Often medical staff are the most important people in foul weather conditions it is vital they get where they need to go.
The Isle of Wight when young and old all covered in mud come up and give you a hug, as they really had no idea how they were going to get their car out of the mud. These are the more light hearted moments but it gives you great perspective for the harder times and is great off road experience for some of the drivers.
How important are the vehicles to the job, & what is the typical cost of a work ready 4x4?
Vehicles are important but experience and common sense are the most important factors. Anyone can drive a heavily modified vehicle but most of us have; what I would call semi modified vehicles as they are in a lot of cases the only vehicle our members have and also gets them to and from work every day. A Suzuki Jimny with good tyres is great and they are reasonably cheap too. It really is about having enough members to be able to pick the right person with the correct training and vehicle/kit to make the best of a job, if need be more than one vehicle with a collection of skills. Prices for these vehicles can vary but often some are just road going versions with a trained driver.
Besides the early mornings and late nights sometimes, we thoroughly enjoy what we do and that really makes the difference, I'd like to think there are people out there that would come to my aid should I get stuck somewhere.
If you would like to donate or get involved with this great service contact Adam Cooke or follow the directions below:
For more information visit sussex 4x4 response Email us or visit us on facebook
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