Woking Community First Responders

Woking Community First Responders are an award-winning team of volunteers who are trained to respond to emergency calls through the 999 system in conjunction with the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

Based within the community and surrounding areas of Woking, they are able to attend the scene of an emergency in a very short time – often within the first few minutes, and in the majority of incidents they would be first on scene. The responder can then begin vital life-saving first aid before the arrival of an ambulance, further increasing the patient’s chance of survival.

How it works
When a caller asks for an ambulance via 999 call, the BT operator transfers the caller to the ambulance service. For the Woking area calls are passed to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Crawley. Help starts as soon as the 999 call is answered by the EOC. The Emergency Medical Advisor will triage the call to determine the nature and urgency of help required, confirm the patient’s address and provide initial medical advice.

As soon as this information is given, a “Dispatcher” will immediately start an ambulance en-route. At this point the Dispatcher also checks to see if there is a Community First Responder (CFR) on duty within the area, as well as their proximity to the incident, and if available will dispatch the CFR. They will alert the CFR by sending a message to an ambulance service smartphone or airwave radio via the computer system directly within seconds of the call being made. Voice contact will also be made if additional information needs to be passed to the CFR en-route such as a change in the patient’s condition or local scene information.

The EOC alert message will inform the CFR where the incident is (the address) and gives brief details as to the condition of the patient. The CFR can contact the EOC on arrival to update on the patient’s condition which EOC can then pass onto the Ambulance or Fast Response Vehicle who will also be mobile and travelling to the scene using blue lights and sirens. CFRs can speak to EOC at any time to ask for directions to the incident or to obtain medical advice if required.

First responders will carry an ambulance service smartphone.

Each CFR covers an area within approximately five minutes of their house, ensuring they are able to provide that vital immediate response. CFRs are dispatched to the majority of calls the ambulance service receives but are not sent to incidents which could put them in danger such as road traffic incidents. CFRs carry emergency medical equipment in their cars such as oxygen, a defibrillator and medication to treat certain conditions.

As soon as the on-duty CFR receives an alert they will drop what they are doing and proceed to the scene. On arrival, the CFR will have all the training and equipment necessary to manage the patient in those first few critical minutes before the ambulance arrives. In many cases, the CFR may not actually be required to do anything other than reassure the patient and make sure that the ambulance is able to find the location. However, in other instances the CFR could undertake life-saving interventions such as managing the airway of an unconscious patient, providing defibrillation to a patient in cardiac arrest or treating a patient who is choking. CFRs will always be backed up by an Emergency Ambulance as soon as possible.

Recruiting volunteers

Recruitment for CFR roles is handled via the NHS Jobs website which advertises Community First Responder positions on a needs-based priority system (e.g. recruitment is focused on specific areas).

Anyone who wants to become a CFR should monitor the NHS jobs page for vacancies and submit an application to South East Coast Ambulance Service. If successful at interview, applicants will undergo a six-day training course (usually provided over three weekends) and must pass a series of assessments to qualify. Thereafter the newly qualified CFR will be assigned to their local CFR team and undergo a period of shadow training before being signed off to respond on a solo basis.

This role is purely voluntary but the potential for satisfaction is great and it is a fantastic way of giving something back to your community. We all recognise that in an ideal world we would have an ambulance parked on every street corner in readiness for that emergency call, but being realistic this is never going to happen so CFRs play a vital role in serving their local communities.

No previous first aid experience is necessary to become a CFR as full training is provided by the ambulance service along with regular team sessions to keep skills at a high level.

This training covers:

  • Basic Life Support (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation)
  • Use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Using various diagnostic tools to help assess a patient
  • Giving a professional hand over to ambulance crews upon arrival

The team are trained to manage medical emergencies such as:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Unconscious patients
  • Asthma attacks
  • Chest pain
  • Stroke
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Burns
  • Bites & Stings
  • Fitting
  • Bleeding
  • Trauma

Each new responder will complete a formal assessment at the end of their training and commit to regular ongoing training and refresher sessions.

CFRs carry a response bag with essential first aid equipment along with oxygen and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). This equipment is heavy so CFRs have to be physically fit.

The Knaphillian caught up with Woking CFR team leader Conor Maher to find out a bit more about the valuable work he and his team are able to provide and about the inspiration behind the initiative.

The Knaphillian (TK): Hi Conor. We are delighted to be able to feature such a valuable service in The Knaphillian. Please tell us when and how the scheme started.
The Woking CFR scheme was started back in 2008 by my predecessor Simon Ramm at a time when CFR schemes were in their infancy nationally but growing. Today South East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust alone has almost 500 CFRs operating across Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

Here in Woking the team has eight operational responders but we are currently expanding this number to 12 with plans for further expansion in 2020. Aside from being able to recruit willing and suitable volunteers, voluntary funding is a big factor as it costs almost £2,000 to fully equip a new CFR and all of this funding is raised from local companies and organisations.

TK: What area does the Woking Community First Responder scheme cover?
Conor: As well as Woking town centre the scheme also covers the surrounding areas of Sheerwater, Woodham, New Haw, Old Woking, Kingfield, Westfield, Mount Hermon, St Johns, Hook Heath, Mayford, Maybury, Knaphill, Brookwood, Horsell, Goldsworth Park, Byfleet, West Byfleet & Pyrford.

TK: Who runs the team?
Conor: I am the Woking CFR Team Leader and look after our local team of CFRs. I work closely with the ambulance service who support us with our training, recruitment and operational needs. I also collaborate with other CFR teams to ensure best practices are shared along with periodically undertaking joint training exercises with the ambulance service and partner agencies.

TK: What is your background and how did you come to be involved in first response?
Conor: I am a Treasurer by profession and work in The City so being a CFR at the weekend or at other times is very different! I have been a CFR since 2014 and over that time have provided approximately 3,500 volunteering hours and attended over 600 emergency 999 calls in the area. I have been involved in a number of volunteering interests in the Woking area for many years including as a Medic at Chobham Rugby Club which generated my interest in doing something further such as the CFR role.

TK: What is the favourite part of your job?
Making a difference to someone in urgent need. Saving a person’s life is of course hugely rewarding but most of our calls are to people who need medical help to varying degrees. There are also many people in our community who are isolated, vulnerable or infirm and your encounter with them can often be the beginning of a longer term help plan for them.

TK: What is your motivation or inspiration for being a volunteer?
Conor: I have always believed in the personal benefits of volunteering and the Community First Responder role offers a unique opportunity to develop new skills while giving something back to your local community. It is a privilege to be invited into someone’s home at a time of great personal need, helping them and their families through an emergency medical situation.

TK: How much time would volunteers have to give?
Conor: As there is big investment in training and equipment, the minimum requirement is 20 hours per month. This does not mean 20 hours of working but rather 20 hours of being on call and ready to drop everything to respond to an emergency. In addition to being on call, CFRs are expected to attend regular team meetings/training sessions every month (typically two hours in duration) and further training sessions provided the ambulance service from time to time.

TK: Do I need any previous First Aid or Medical training?
Conor: No. All the training you require will be covered during the training course. If you have first aid experience then it will be useful but many people that become successful CFRs have never had any previous training.

TK: What if I want to get more information on our local ambulance service or the role of CFRs?

Conor: You can visit the website for South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and search under the “Get Involved” section.

TK: How should people apply to be a volunteer?
Conor: Please keep an eye out on the NHS Job website for vacancies and when to submit an application.  

TK: What if people would like to provide financial support to the Woking CFR team?
Conor: There is a continuous need for funding not only to train and equip new CFRs coming into the team but also to replace existing equipment, uniforms, etc as they wear through time and usage. We have been fortunate to receive generous funding, as well as practical support, from local companies, individuals, organisations and Woking Borough Council over the years but it would be great to expand our funding base.

Donations and sponsorship
Donations however small can be made to the team directly or via the ambulance service’s charitable entity if preferred.

If any readers are from companies that would like to sponsor the Woking Community First Responders, or learn more about how you could help them, please contact Conor via email: info@woking-responders.co.uk

Woking Community First Response is entirely funded by the generosity of their sponsors and donations. Conor has asked us to share how very grateful they are for donations and/or support from:


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