Unforgettable….My Years as an Ambo.

Owen Zupp Paramedic(A much younger me on duty.)

Unforgettable…My Years as an Ambo.

At the core, I always wanted to be a pilot. However, the path to the cockpit is an expensive business and the road an even longer one. On leaving school, I entered a business cadetship with a major multi-national company but, in less than a year, I knew that it wasn’t for me and it definitely didn’t allow the time or brain space to train as a pilot. And then a chance meeting at the NSW Air Ambulance hangar changed the direction of my life.

I have always said that the four years that I served as an Ambo were among the most valuable years of my life. I would not swap that time for anything as the life experience and perspective that it provided has remained with me to this day. I was 19 when I joined the Service and I grew up very fast. Seeing people at their best, worst and most vulnerable expanded my view on life far beyond the spectrum that my upbringing could ever have provided. Our parents instil a moral barometer as we grow and then, as a first responder, you soon realise that not everyone shares the same code.

I gained “street smarts”, learned how to really listen and performed some of the most rewarding work anyone could ever hope to execute. In a single shift we could be asked to deal with life and death, two-year olds and ninety somethings. Effective communication was vital and a sense of humour was compulsory.

My memories are many and not all relate to patient care. There were 2am games of cricket in the garage and free 4am bread rolls given to us by the local bakery. Nervous trainee probationary officers, grumbling superintendents and some of the finest human beings that you’d ever meet. Blokes like Wilko – one of the best paramedics, whose last-second driving saved me from being part of another vehicle’s radiator grill.

There were times when “the job” made you reflect on your own mortality. There were times when I wondered how I ever got into this situation? There were times that I was angered at the apparent random injustice of life and death. They were all conversations that I had to have with myself and I hope that they ultimately made me a better human being.

All the while I studied my aviation subjects at night school and invested my pay cheques in my flying training. After four years as an Ambo, I was ready to take the leap and pursue a career in aviation. Amidst the excitement of my next career was a tinge of regret as my final shift drew to a close. Strangely, there are some parallels in the two fields beyond the commonality of flashing red lights. Both jobs call for a measured response, to break down problems and then prioritise. Communication has to be clear and concise and both call for a need to maintain focus on the task at hand, in spite of the potential chaos that may be going on around you.

I will never regret a single moment of my time in the NSW Ambulance Service as it prepared me well for the life that I was to lead. Even now, as I pull to the curb to allow the wagon rush past, its lights flashing and its sirens blazing, I recall what it was like to weave through the peak hour. And I pause to thank the guys and girls that, day and night, still selflessly serve our community.

Owen Zupp Ambulance Officer