NSW–When Bob Richards bought a one-way train ticket west as a teenager in 1973, he could not have imagined the future that awaited him. Arriving in Bourke, he worked as a labourer on the railways before, at age 25, he was encouraged to join the NSW Ambulance as a paramedic.
Today, Mr Richards is marking his retirement after almost 33 years with the service – the past 24 in Bulahdelah.
Despite being born and raised in Sydney, Mr Richards disliked city life intensely, and had a yearning for country life. He spent his first years with Ambulance working at Bourke, Dubbo, Brewarrina and Gilgandra, before relieving at almost every station in the west. In 1988, he relocated to Bulahdelah as the station officer with wife Colleen and their two daughters.
Mr Richards, 57, described his first years in Bulahdelah as “traumatic”, due to the high road accident rate.
“When I came here it was the trauma capital of the world – they had car crashes every day, and I mean every day, for about 10 years. Then, when they put in the deviation around O’Sullivan’s Gap, the trauma rate decreased by about 80 per cent.”
Mr Richards said the main difference between paramedic work in the city and that in the country was the geographic remoteness of the call-outs and the skills required to look after patients for longer hours.
“In the country, we can be hundreds of kilometres away, so you have to be able to maintain a high level of pre-hospital care over an extended period,” he said.
The biggest change to country paramedic work, in transport terms, has been the availability of helicopters.
“We could take 45 minutes to get to a property, but once we treat a patient and stabilise them, they have a very good mode of transport back to John Hunter. The distance from Bulahdelah to John Hunter is over 100km, but just 16 minutes in air time.
“Technology wise, throughout the years, I’ve seen paramedics go from being virtually senior first aiders and ambulance drivers to being highly trained clinicians able to defib, deliver drugs and pharmacology.”
Mr Richards said that working in small communities meant paramedics were often called to assist people they knew.
“I’ve had a few with trauma cases where I’ve known the patient. Even just doing medical emergencies around town, of course you’re going to know people. Because it’s a small community, you tend to go above and beyond the call of duty. You call them a couple of days later and see how they’re going, or you’ll see them in the street and say, ‘How are you going?’ You have a good working/social relationship.”
Off-duty, Mr Richards has fully embraced the social life, being charter president of the Bulahdelah Lions Club and holding executive positions within the football, golf and bowls clubs.
“I just liked the camaraderie, the real friendliness of the rural people. You do become part of the local community. And the ambos are very highly respected within the country communities. The country, fresh air, lovely people; you can’t beat them.”
Mr Richards’ love of the job and community is evidenced by the fact his retirement, which became effective on August 31, will not be spent too far away from the Bulahdelah station, where he lives in an attached residence.
“We’ve bought a house across the road (from the station), we’re going to retire there,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll become a lights and sirens groupie. Now, whenever I hear the ambulance go out at night, I just roll over and go back to sleep.”