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49 BY THE D AR T INTER VIE W


DONNA FRANCIS


DARTMOUTH PARAMEDIC


When most of us are opening presents and getting the turkey ready on Christmas Day, there’s a dedicated team of paramedics out and about dealing with anything from heart attacks to broken legs. South Western Ambulance Service crews work 24 hours a day and never stop, even to watch the Queen’s speech! Dartmouth Paramedic Donna Francis, told our reporter Steph Woolvin about shift work, challenging transport and festive hampers...


H


alf way up College Way sits Dartmouth’s am- bulance station, many don’t know it’s there as it’s hidden behind the hedges next to the fire


station. But this important base is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Crews of two work 12 hour shifts ready to deal with any emergency whether that’s here in town or as far afield as New- ton Abbot or Plymouth. “You never know where you are going to end up when you start your day,” says Donna Francis who has been on the team for five years. “We always prioritise ‘Category Ones’, these are situations where someone has a life-threatening injury or illness. So we could be on our way to an elderly gentleman who’s fallen over in Dartmouth when another call comes in with a cardiac arrest in Brixham and we will be redirected there. We have to go to the most serious first; if your husband was having a heart attack or your baby had stopped breathing you would want us to prioritise your call.” Donna started her career as a


“That’s one of the


disadvantages of working the late shift - going the long way round. I always dread a call


coming in at about 22.45 as you know you’re


likely to just miss the last ferry.”


carer in a residential home and then became a dental nurse. This need to help look after people led her to join the South Western Ambulance Service in 2015 as an Emergency Care Assistant and she qualified as a paramedic this summer. This Christmas Day, Donna and her teammate Sam will take the day shift ( 7am to 7pm). She says it’s not all bad because head office send a hamper to each


station on Christmas Eve with tasty things like sausage rolls, cakes and biscuits to keep them going. She is hoping for a quieter day especially as there are no ferries after lunch for the Torbay Hospital run. But she is used to the transport issues round here: “That’s one of the disadvantages of working the late shift - going the long way round. I always dread a call coming in at about 22.45 as you know you’re likely to just miss the last ferry. The Totnes way can be a pain with all the bends. The Dartmouth streets themselves are quite challenging to get around at any time of day! If we can’t get up a narrow road we have to park at the bottom, grab as much kit as possible and run. It keeps us fit!” Donna doesn’t mind the shift


work which is either 7am to 7pm or 7pm to 7am. Her children are grown up and she has got used to sleeping during the day but admits it’s not always easy. She says after five years in the job there’s not much that shocks her. “At first I wasn’t too keen on dealing with


vomit but I’m fine now! We have to be ready to tackle anything. Sometimes you go to jobs which seem straight forward and they end sadly, but I must say the service are very good at helping us with trauma and emotional issues. Other times we go somewhere where we expect there to a difficult situation and it ends up fine with everyone smiling. I enjoy the ‘sweet- er’ incidents where we help older patients who’ve


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