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Newtown First Responders ‘bridging the gap’ in emergency response times

It’s been five years since the Community First Responders were first set up in Newtownhamilton and the service is still just as needed now as it was then.

Made up of ten volunteers drawn from the local community, the service covers the town and the surrounding area, playing a vital supplementary role in assisting the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

Gemma Keenan, the Chairperson of Newtownhamilton First Responders, says the purpose of the service is to “bridge the gap” in response times, when the Ambulance Service simply can’t be out in time.

Most of the volunteers have their own full-time jobs, but are equipped with defibrillators and are available on-call when needed. The First Responders aren’t contacted directly, but are directed to callouts when the Ambulance Service needs support.

Alongside visiting local schools to teach CPR, they even raised money to install a defibrillator at the filling station on the Armagh Road.

Said Gemma: “The First Responders was set up by the Ambulance Service because of increased waiting times, so we can go out and get to the patient quicker. We’ve had calls where people have had cardiac arrest and we can go with the defib and be there before the ambulance, because our nearest ambulance station is Newry or Armagh.

“We don’t do trauma, but we go out to things like chest pain, strokes, collapse and cardiac arrest.

“The Crossmaglen and Keady First Responders crossover with us so there’s nearly always somebody on call. Thank God there’s not very many we’ve missed.”

As part of the fifth anniversary celebrations, the First Responders have received funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to run a special ‘Health and Wellbeing Day’ to thank the community for all their support.

Taking place from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, April 13, in Newtownhamilton Rural Hall, the event will offer a range of activities such as; crafts, games and wellness and health checks.

A number of organisations will have stalls too, such as the Newtown Together Men’s Shed.

There’s also a raffle, with prizes including two full health check ups at the locally-based Tullyvallen Clinic.

“We’ll have blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checks, like a wee MOT for people that aren’t usually going to the doctor’s,” Gemma said.

Most of the activities are free, with no booking required. However there are a number of sessions which require forward booking: Farm Families Health Check Bus, It’s An Art Thing and Recharge You can all be booked via Facebook.

Angel Holistic Therapy from Lisa Dougan can be booked by contacting 07796960666.

In the service’s fifth year, Gemma is especially keen to welcome new volunteers on board.

“We all have our normal jobs. We have child minders, teachers, community workers and a few nurses. We get our training from the Ambulance Service. It’s a two-day training session but then we train every month, which is great.

“It’s a really rewarding thing to do. You feel you’re helping the people in your community because, at the end of the day, if one of your family members was having a heart attack you would want somebody there with a defib straight away rather than waiting on an ambulance.”

Contact Newtownhamilton & District First Responders on Facebook for more information regarding the upcoming ‘Health and Wellbeing Day’. The group have also organised a blood donation session to take place on Friday, April 26 in the Newtownhamilton Rural Hall. You can get booked in by visiting the link here.

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