10 November 2009

Everyday heroes

The Centrum Guardian Project acknowledges and celebrates the acts of bravery members of the Emergency Services demonstrate daily.

The Centrum Guardian Project (CGP), now in its second year, is an initiative that was launched by Centrum, and represents a platform for the public to express their gratitude to the members of the Emergency Services industry.

It acknowledges and celebrates the acts of bravery and selflessness that the men and women in this industry demonstrate every day. Saving people from burning buildings, rushing an accident victim to the hospital while performing CPR, rescuing citizens from drowning in rough sea conditions and other such acts are all in a day’s work for these individuals.

The participants in this national campaign include the Department of Health’s National Committee on Emergency Medical Services, the National Sea Rescue Institute, SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service, the Institution of Fire Engineers and the Southern African Emergency Services Institute.

A panel of judges that are made up of the head representatives from various Emergency Services disciplines and Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, recently chose the five finalists from the nominations received from the Emergency Services industry.

The Five Finalists

The finalists

Pieter Pieterse and Peet Laubscher
Pieter Pieterse, Intermediate Life Support Paramedic, and Peet Laubscher, Basic Life Support Paramedic for Netcare 911 in Gauteng both assisted in a mine accident in Carltonville on the 4th of October 2007. A ventilation pipe had fallen down the shaft, damaging power cables, cage cables and telecommunication wires. The pipe was blocking the first level below ground, trapping some 2 600 miners underground. There was no way of communicating with the trapped miners.

Pieterse and Laubscher were the first paramedics to accompany the proto team – a special search and rescue squad without advanced medical training – down the dust shaft to assess the situation underground. Since the power cut had disabled water pumps, overflowing underground dams were discharging water down to the lower levels where a large number of people were still trapped, meaning that the team had to act quickly to prevent miners from drowning. The team was then met by panicked miners who were rushing to get into the emergency cage, which could only evacuate 30 people at a time, causing tremendous stress among the already traumatised 2 600 strong workforce.

Pieterse helped to direct and escort frantic workers trapped on the lowest levels up to sublevel from where they could be taken to the surface. Pieter and Peet attended to the panic-stricken workers for nine hours and assisted in the evacuation of 1 500 people.

JJ Viljoen
J.J. Viljoen, Fire Fighter and Divisional Chief for City of Joburg Emergency Services, extricated a driver from a crashed cement truck during the early hours of the morning on the 29th of May this year. A large cement carrier had ploughed into the back of another truck carrying sand to a road construction site. The impact of the crash had trapped the injured driver of the cement carrier behind the steering wheel.

With no time to waste, he found a way to climb into the cab of the mangled truck from the passenger side to assess how badly the driver was injured. Both the man’s legs were trapped as the accident caused the dashboard and steering wheel to collapse onto his legs. An ambulance arrived and the crew helped Viljoen to administer oxygen. The driver had no other serious injuries, except for suffering from severe pain in his legs.

During the rescue, a man who worked at a nearby scrap yard stopped at the scene and offered Viljoen some much needed assistance by offering him the use of an angle grinder, a generator and heavy-duty hydraulic jack. Viljoen covered the patient with a blanket and removed the windscreen, then used the angle grinder to remove the "A" post nearest to the driver. Next he removed the door in order to insert the hydraulic jack, which was then able to lift the steering wheel and dash from the patient’s legs.

Viljoen then stabilised the patient with a c-collar and secured him onto a full spine board with head blocks and a spider harness. The patient was transported to hospital in a stable condition with no obvious fractures. The entire rescue operation took less than 15 minutes.

Shaun Paul
Shaun Paul, Advanced Life Support Paramedic and Operations Manager for Netcare 911 in Ballito, saved a drowning father from turbulent seas. On the 6th of March this year, Paul received a call regarding a drowning in progress at Umhloti beach. A tropical storm off the coast of Madagascar was causing huge waves to batter the KwaZulu-Natal coast, threatening people in the normally placid tidal pool at Umhloti.

A 50 year old man had drowned when he was swept out to sea and a similar fate awaited the young family that were in distress. At the time of the call, the husband, his wife and their six year old son were fighting for their lives as they were dragged out of the Umhloti tidal pool by a huge swell. By the time Shaun arrived at the scene, lifeguards on surf skis had managed to rescue the mother and her young son.

The father was still in serious danger – he was floating facedown in the rough sea about 100 metres off shore when Paul arrived at the scene. The mother and son were not in need of immediate medical attention, but the lifeguards who had saved them were exhausted and not able to assist the father. Using his knowledge of the currents and rip tides at Umhloti, Shaun had to make quick decisions.

He grabbed a torpedo buoy from one of the lifeguards and ran into the surf. He swam out to the father and took him back to shore within five minutes. He resuscitated and stabilised the exhausted, semi-drowned man on the beach and rushed him to hospital where he was in the Intensive Care Unit for two days.

Mlungiseleli Ciko
Mlungiseleli Ciko, Fire Fighter and Shift Commander for Fire and Emergency Services in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, treated casualties of a 16-seater taxi accident. On the evening of the 27th of May this year, Ciko was off-duty and on his way back to PE from East London when he came across an accident scene where a 16-seater taxi that was full of passengers had overturned on the N2. Injured people were lying in the road, so Ciko immediately phoned for medical assistance, but with no time to lose he assessed the accident scene in the dark to see how he could assist the injured.

There were badly injured passengers all around him, some of whom were stumbling around in a confused state. A seemingly lifeless man was lying on the road surface, bleeding through his nose and mouth. Nearby a young boy was crying uncontrollably. Ciko saw that the child was bleeding from his mouth and had a swollen forehead. Ciko calmed the child, cleaned the blood from his mouth and then put blankets and jackets on top of him to ensure his body temperature remained stable.

Ciko moved on to assist a young woman who was lying face down on the road. Her airway was blocked and she was bleeding badly. Ciko managed to open her airway and put her in the recovery position while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

In the meantime, there was a man trapped inside the taxi who was crying for help. As the taxi was not properly stabilised, Ciko was very cautious when he slid into the vehicle and tried to recline the seat so that the man could feel some relief and reassuring him that the medical team was on their way. Ciko then disconnected the battery, fearing the vehicle might burst into flames with the man still trapped inside.

As he monitored the injured, the ambulance, metro and police services arrived. Ciko assisted the medical crew to stabilise the heavily injured patients, who were then transported to hospital.

However, the trapped victim still needed to be removed from the wreckage, but the crew had no “jaws of life” equipment available, so Ciko had to improvise. He borrowed a spare wheel and a jack from a nearby car. Since the taxi wreck was lying upside down and had no windscreen left, Ciko realised it was possible to create enough space between the ground and the crushed front part of the vehicle to free the trapped passenger through the windscreen area. With the help of a bystander, they jacked up the vehicle, sliding the spare wheel underneath to prop it up, until there was enough space to free the patient from the taxi.

Ms Alta “Mossie” Haschick and Mr Donald Olivier
Ms Alta “Mossie” Haschick and Mr Donald Olivier are both Volunteer Rescue Swimmers for the National Sea Rescue Institute. On the 24th of September 2008, they were called out to the Groot Brak river mouth between George and Mossel Bay to assist with an accident involving four small boats that had capsized in turbulent waters, resulting in nine schoolchildren being swept out to sea into the pounding surf by a powerful rip current.

Within minutes of Olivier arriving at the scene, donned his wetsuit and fins, grabbed a torpedo buoy and dived into the seething waters without a moment’s hesitation. The wave sets were so frequent that he hardly had time to take a breath before the next wave was crashing over him. Undaunted, Olivier struck out for the bobbing bodies that he could see. His first attempt to reach the survivors was unsuccessful as the current pulled him into the impact zone and onto the backline. Managing to escape the constant pounding by getting onto a nearby sea bank, he located a survivor some 20 metres away, swam to him and helped him to the beach.

Olivier then immediately jumped back into the dangerous waters to help another child he could see some 80 metres offshore, beyond the surf line, hanging onto an oar. Allowing the current to sweep him down to the casualty, Donald secured the child and began to swim back against the current and through the surf. However, the strong current started dragging them off into the sea again and Donald realised that the child would not survive another pounding in the surf. Summoning his last reserves of energy, he struck out for the beach, dragging the nearly lifeless body with him, reaching the shoreline utterly exhausted. Willing hands then took over and resuscitated the child he had saved.

Haschick, a strong NSRI swimmer, only paused a moment to don her wetsuit and struck out for the nearest group of small life-jacketed bodies she could see. With waves continually crashing over her, Haschick reached the first casualty, who was face down in the water. It was impossible for her to attempt to perform CPR in these conditions, so she swam back to shore with the child.

Two surfers were trying to help, but as one of them approached Haschick, a huge wave turned her head over heels and she found herself surfacing under a surfboard. The child had slipped out of his lifejacket and disappeared. Haschick desperately clutched after him, but was unable to find him in the seething waters.

Haschick found herself being pulled by a powerful rip current. In the chaos, she spotted two life-jacketed bodies floating close by and swam towards them. In such rough conditions, she could do nothing more than hold on to them. Fortunately, NSRI Station 15’s inflatable rescue boat was now close by and she handed over the casualties. Exhausted, Haschick found herself swept out through the surf line into the open sea beyond. Seeing her predicament, the small rescue craft braved the pounding breakers and with great difficulty picked her up and took her to shore.

Not content with what they had done and tired as they were, both Olivier and Haschick volunteered to fly as observers in the helicopter which had arrived to help, to search for one of the teenagers who were not accounted for. Three children lost their lives that day. Both Donald and Mossie showed tremendous courage, determination and initiative in awful conditions in the river mouth. Donald saved two lives by braving the dangerous waters.

Vote and win
There are great prizes up for grabs for the members of the public who vote for their favourite finalist and the winning finalist will win R30 000 for their base station.

For more information and for people to vote for the finalists, they can log on to Voting closes on the 30th of November. The winner will be announced on Wednesday the 2nd of December 2009.

(Press release, Hello World Agency, November 2009)


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