Outback ambo a real community asset

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First it was the outback cop and her sidekick roos.

Now it’s the outback ambulance volunteer and although Susan Pearl has no furry friends by her side – she agrees that life in remote South Australia is never dull.

The Blinman resident is the historic copper town’s first responder, providing locals with emergency medical cover until an ambulance crew arrives from 100km away.

Like some country areas, Blinman has no ambulance station and therefore relies on first responder volunteers like Susan who are first on scene in medical emergencies until an ambulance crew shows.

Former nurse Susan Pearl is the only first responder volunteer in Blinman, supporting the crew 100km away in Hawker.

The former nurse has lived in the Far North historic mining town for the past four years and also runs tours at the Heritage Blinman Mine.

She says she is rarely called to incidents in Blinman – considering its population is only 18 permanent residents – but is rostered on in Hawker when she travels there for training once a fortnight.

Susan also often drives 200km to Port Augusta to serve as a third ambulance officer in the crew.

With South Australia recording the highest population (21.4%) of volunteers among the states, Susan says giving back to her community is simply a part of life.

“When you move to a new community you have to give something back and I’ve always done volunteer work,” she says.

“I’d like to think my first responder role gives people a bit of peace of mind.”

If an incident occurs in Blinman, Susan’s pager will go off and she will gather her medical equipment.

At the same time an ambulance is dispatched from Hawker, 100km away.

Blinman, about 500km from Adelaide, is a historic copper mining town and home to only 18 people.

“Most people in Blinman live on properties and already have first aid training, but they don’t have all the equipment,” Susan says.

“The accidents I attend are mostly motorbike riders who have hit a kangaroo or emu on the road.

“It can be quite challenging because it’s not a controlled environment out here.

“It can be a freezing cold night, driving on slippery dirt roads, or it can be boiling hot with no shelter.”

Susan moved to the Flinders Ranges four years ago after travelling around Australia with her partner Simon.

The couple gave up “well paid jobs” in corporate careers to fulfil a desire for adventure and the outdoors.

Susan had worked in nursing and safety management roles over three decades, helping to improve support for nurses.

But in 2013 while camping in a remote area Simon died from a massive heart attack.

“I had to start life again,” Susan says.

She initially settled in Hawker and began pursuing her Certificate IV in ambulance officer training.

A job opportunity soon arose at the Heritage Blinman Mine, so she moved to the old copper town.

Susan is also manager of the Heritage Blinman Mine, which is open for underground tours until January 15, 2018.

As Blinman has no residential health service, she continued volunteering in the ambulance service as a first responder.

SA Ambulance Service’s Flinders regional team leader Janet Brewer says first responder roles only exist through “community empowerment”.

“Susan is not typical of the general ambulance officer volunteer model, as she is quite remote from her team (In Hawker),” she says.

“Her role only exists because Susan accepted the challenge of being a solo responder for the Blinman community.”

Janet says Susan is supported through the provision of patient treatment kits, a portable defibrillator, radio communication equipment and a reimbursement of travel costs.

She says the SA Ambulance Service relies on local volunteers.

“SA Ambulance is always inviting the community to continue to provide a local ambulance service, so as long as the volunteer has basic good health, a drivers licence and looking to acquire some basic patient care skills,” Janet says.

“They would find it an enjoyable and rewarding experience.”

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