Paramedic’s half-century of saving lives in London

18 November 2016

One of the longest serving paramedics in the UK is still saving lives in the capital after50 years at London Ambulance Service.   Kevin Walker

Kevin Walker, 70, still rides his bike to from his nearby home to Ilford Ambulance Station where he has spent his whole career, having returned to work part-time after just one month spent in retirement.

“The highlights have definitely been resuscitating people,” said Kevin, who was awarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his work as a paramedic. “I joined up because I wanted to try and help people and I still enjoy the job. Being a paramedic makes you feel you’re doing something worthwhile.”

One of his most memorable moments was saving the life of a woman he knew as a receptionist in one of the hospitals he took patients to.

“When you see someone you know in cardiac arrest, it’s not nice,” said Kevin. “Thankfully we brought her back and when I was out shopping she came up to my wife and said ‘your husband saved my life’.”

Before the city had fully felt the effects of a series of clean air acts it was subject to thick ‘pea soup fogs’ and Kevin recalled how they had to navigate the streets with burning torches to reach patients and take them to hospital in the late 1960s.

He said: “They used to put a third man on the ambulance who would walk in front with a foot-long wax taper. Between walking to the patient and then to hospital they could end up walking about seven miles.

“In those days we didn’t do so much treatment; if the patient was badly injured we just had to try and stop the bleeding and get them to hospital as quickly as we could.”
The state-of-the art ambulances Kevin uses today, fully equipped to deal with a range of emergencies and navigate quickly through the city streets, are a far cry from the original fleet.

He added: “The vehicles then were old diesels; you could do about 50 miles an hour going downhill with the wind behind you. In the winter they wouldn’t start so we had to put a mattress on the only petrol coach in our fleet then push the diesel ambulances around the yard until they started.”

Assistant Director of Operations Ian Johns said: “By any measure Kevin is an extraordinary man who has committed his life to making sure people are taken care of.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

• Fifty years ago, nine ambulances services merged to create the London Ambulance Service as we know it today.
• Although the Service as we know it is only 50 years old, there have been ambulances working in the capital for well over 100 years.
• In 1965, ambulance crews had eight weeks training, compared to many today who have three-year paramedic science degrees.
• They used to just ‘scoop and run’ the patients to hospital, whereas they are now highly skilled clinicians who diagnose and treat patients at the scene of incidents and decide the best place for them to go for treatment.
• In 1965 they had very basic equipment including oxygen, a splint, stretcher, breathing apparatus and bandages. We now have defibrillators to restart someone’s heart and ECG machines to detect heart attacks at the scenes of incidents.
• There were one million 999 calls per year in the whole of the UK five decades ago – between 2014/15 we received 1.8m calls in London alone.
• One thing which hasn’t changed is the commitment of ambulance staff to the health and well-being of Londoners.