Watch: A day in the life of Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS), the county’s volunteer team of life-savers

The NARS (Norfolk Accident Rescue Service) team with the Critical Care car. From left, Bethaney John

The NARS (Norfolk Accident Rescue Service) team with the Critical Care car. From left, Bethaney Johnson, A&E doctor; Chris Neil, chairman NARS and a Critical Care paramedic; and Steve Maddams, NARS First Responder. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

For nearly 50 years, a highly-trained group of medical experts have provided volunteer support and assistance at serious road crashes and other life threatening emergencies across Norfolk. The group, Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS), invited editor David Powles along for the day to learn about their work.

The NARS (Norfolk Accident Rescue Service) and Critical Care logos. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The NARS (Norfolk Accident Rescue Service) and Critical Care logos. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

It's in the car park of a garden centre on the outskirts of Dereham that I get my first glimpse of the value NARS offers to the county and its people.

We've responded to an emergency situation north of the mid-Norfolk town following reports of an elderly man suffering from serious heart complications.

Crews from the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) have arrived first on the scene, but do not have the same level of expertise in critical care as the crew of NARS.

So, instead of him being transported to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) for treatment, a journey that could take anything from 20 to 30 minutes, NARS has been despatched to meet halfway.

David Powles out with Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS)

David Powles out with Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS) - Credit: Archant


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The rendezvous point turns out to be the garden centre and what could be vital minutes are saved by the patient being tended to out in the community, before continuing his journey to hospital when it is safe to do so.

It's the type of incident that NARS volunteers respond to every single day.

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The charity was formed in 1970 amid a desire to increase the level of expertise at life-threatening incidents. It relies solely on the commitment of caring (and highly trained) medical experts to give up their days and nights to be called upon when needed.

Kind and caring people like critical care paramedic Chris Neil, my guide for the day, along with Dr Bethaney Johnson, an NNUH emergency medicine trainee with ambitions of joining NARS and Steve Maddams, a first responder.

David Powles out with Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS)

David Powles out with Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS) - Credit: Archant

By day (and night) Mr Neil works for the East Anglian Air Ambulance, but for the past eight years he's also volunteered with NARS, giving up around five days a month, often on the back of long shifts on the helicopter, to enhance the level of care that is available to people in Norfolk when they need it.

He's also a father-of-three, one a one-year-old, and you can't help but wonder where he gets both the energy and drive to give up so much time. But I'm glad he does.

He explained: 'A lot of what we deal with are cardiac arrests and in such incidents a quick response is so vital. I just want to do my bit to improve the survival chances for these people.'

Currently Chris spends a lot of his time on the front-line but increasingly, he says, he'd like to train more people to be part of NARS, as part of ambitious plans to expand the charity and its level of care.

David Powles out with Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS)

David Powles out with Norfolk Accident Rescue Service (NARS) - Credit: Archant

Today's shift runs from 9.30am to 6pm on a warm Monday in September. Such is the nature of the work, demand fluctuates, but it isn't long before the first call comes through, a report of a 15-year-old boy in a fall in South Norfolk. Fortunately, within minutes of us beginning the blue light journey through Norwich city centre, we are stood down.

Soon we are off along the A47 to mid-Norfolk for the aforementioned garden centre meet up. This call lasts for a few hours with Chris and Dr Johnson eventually escorting the ambulance paramedics to the NNUH to make sure the patient is okay.

He's quickly out of trouble and afterwards Chris briefs the paramedics about certain signs to spot and how to treat such incidents in future. Not only is the level of expertise NARS provides vital to the patient, it can also help improve the knowledge of those on the frontline of emergency care in the county.

Much of the afternoon is taken up by the sort of call emergency services are attending increasingly often. A middle-aged man has collapsed in Norwich city centre and apparently turned blue. It quickly becomes clear it's the impact of a cocktail of alcohol and illegal drugs. NARS, two paramedics and three police officers end up being called upon to deal with the situation.

They all think he'll be fine but no risks are taken and he's escorted off to hospital on the advice of Chris and Dr Johnson.

It's clear from a day in their company that we're all a little bit safer from having NARS to call upon.

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