Serve On and other voluntary agencies have been praised for their ‘life-saving’ efforts during the snow chaos brought by Storm Emma.
A dozen Serve On volunteers worked tirelessly from Thursday evening until Saturday evening, clearing roads, freeing trapped motorists, and ferrying district and community nurses to remote patients in need of vital medication.
They even helped a pregnant woman in labour urgently make her way to Salisbury hospital, by pushing her struggling car through the snow.
Other agencies did as much or more, often coordinated from the Serve On operations room set up at its HQ at Salisbury Fire Station.
Through the ‘Voluntary Agency Cell’ (VAC) which Serve On is pioneering, its volunteers were able to collaborate with other groups, including Support2Ops, Raynet, Team Rubicon UK and the British Army to deliver tasks passed to them from the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) via the excellent Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service control room.
Together, with nine four-wheel-drive vehicles, they transported 18 district and community nurses through the snow to reach more than 50 patients scattered all over Wiltshire.
In the meantime, the snow-clearing and nurse-transportation efforts of volunteers helped keep Salisbury District Hospital and Savernake Community Hospital in Marlborough open.
The drama started on Thursday night as the effects of Storm Emma, on top of the chaos brought by the snow storm dubbed ‘The Beast From The East, began to close roads and cause devastation.
Individual Serve On volunteers joined other spontaneous responders to clear roads and keep important junctions open around Salisbury.
It quickly became clear that more coordinated efforts would be needed and so Serve On put into operation their well-rehearsed ‘VAC’ facility, undeterred by the power failure which left their HQ in the garages at Salisbury Fire Station without light or heat.
Running their operations room by generator, the Serve On volunteers, including two youngsters from their Rescue Rookies programme, liaised well with the likes of Support2Ops, Raynet, Team Rubicon UK and British Army 4x4 drivers, to quickly and efficiently perform the tasks passed to them by the Fire Control.
Sarah Orr, the Resilience Officer for Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & Wiltshire Health and Care, tweeted: “A huge thanks to @W4x4Response & @SERVE_ON for their incredible support in keeping the NHS functioning across Wiltshire. They’ve all been incredible and their volunteers have definitely saved lives this weekend.”
She added: “I have heard a huge amount of praise for the Serve On teams that have been out today and their support has been greatly appreciated,” and she praised the coordination work of our volunteers Craig and Helen.
Brilliant nurse Harriet Fletcher, who was helped to battle through the snow to her patients by our volunteers Dan and Dave, said: “I would like to say a massive ‘thank-you’ to these two lovely gentleman who helped the community nurses in the snow today.
“These guys were at the upmost of professionalism and passionate about their work and I am truly grateful. True heroes. Many thanks.”
In another message of praise from nurses we were told: “I would like to say a huge thank-you to Matt and Tom who supported the Devizes District/Community team today. With great humour and kindness they enabled us to safely deliver essential care to our patients in and around Devizes. Thank you from all the team.”
The High Sheriff of Wiltshire’s office tweeted: “Community spirit @SalisburyNHS. 4WDs ready to drive patients, nurses, doctors. Also @SERVE_ON & @NARU_org assisting. Very well organised.”
Salisbury Hospital staff tweeted: “Thanks to volunteers from @SERVE_ON and our estates team, our car parks are now almost cleared and cars can now enter and exit the car parks. Great job all of you.”
Someone visiting a patient at the hospital, who witnessed our volunteers Paul and Ross freeing trapped cars and clearing the car park, tweeted: “I was watching this from the window of Amesbury Suite whilst visiting an hour and a half ago. Total respect for this!”
Initial figures, to be updated when a clearer picture emerges, show that Serve On volunteers contributed more than 550 hours, worth a minimum of £4,125, during the snow chaos, though to the patients who received essential treatment, without which they would have been in great danger, the help was priceless.
When you add in the voluntary hours of other groups, it amounted to a brilliant collaboration.
Team leader Steve Pickering, who was in the thick of the snow clearance from early evening on Thursday, said: “The people who volunteered have done something they can be very proud of.
“We have had some fantastic feedback, from the local authorities, from the emergency services, from the NHS, from the military and from other voluntary agencies.
“We have genuinely made an impact but that’s why we do it. We are proud to help the community.”
Operations manager Craig Elsdon said: “I can’t stress enough the value of the interaction we had with other agencies and the importance of the VAC.”
Operations Director Dan Cooke said: “We aren’t set up as a 4x4 response team, but it made sense to offer what 4x4 assets we had and to support those voluntary agencies who are and who did a brilliant job.
“We are all about being adaptable and what we achieved is testament to volunteers getting out there and making it happen.
“As I tried to explain to the amazing nurses we were helping, the cold late nights, the early starts and the personal sacrifice are all done with pleasure, especially when we get the chance to assist such great people.”
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