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Volunteer community responder was sacked by South Central Ambulance Service over speeding to get to emergency
Buy this photo » Godfrey Smith prepares to go out in the snow earlier this year. Picture OX56941 David Fleming
A COMMUNITY first responder has been stripped of the role after driving 33mph in a 20mph zone on his way to an emergency.
Godfrey Smith, who has volunteered for the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) for 15 years, said the decision had left him “heartbroken”.
The 64-year-old was stunned when he was told his services were no longer required after an investigation found he had “breached road traffic law”.
On July 23, Mr Smith, who lives in Faringdon, was called from Carfax to St Clements in Oxford to a man who had collapsed with breathing problems.
He jumped in his marked SCAS Land Rover and, on his way, pulled up alongside an RAF responder car at the lights by Longwall Street to ask if they were also attending.
He said following the conversation he drove around the bollard to get ahead of the traffic, but that at no point was anybody at risk adding: “If I thought it was dangerous I wouldn’t have done it. There was no traffic coming the other way, the lights were on red.”
But following a complaint about his conduct, it was discovered on Mr Smith’s satellite navigation system that he was travelling at 33mph in the 20mph zone.
He said: “I am gobsmacked, it feels like they have ripped my soul out. “There was no thanks whatsoever for my 15 years.”
The decision has sparked outrage from the community of Faringdon and a petition has been launched in the town along with a Facebook campaign to get him reinstated.
Mr Smith said: “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing with messages of support. The ambulance service has broken my heart.
“I have shed tears over this. It meant everything.”
The trust last night said responders do not have the same rights to break road laws as ambulances but it refused to comment on Mr Smith’s case directly.
A letter to him from SCAS said: “It is felt that your standard of driving on this occasion fell far below that required of someone driving a SCAS marked vehicle.”
In June the Oxford Mail reported an urgent plea for volunteers after county drivers – who completed 19,800 trips in 2012 – dropped from 45 to 28.
That month we reported how SCAS said it would need 90 extra county ambulances to meet life-saving response times.
Mr Smith has been driving for 46 years and says he always obeys speed limits. He has attended more than 2,000 call-outs and said: “It is a brutal punishment.
“They should have made sure that the mapping in the sat nav we are given is up-to-date.”
Mr Smith – who provides first aid training through Blewbury’s EMC Medical Services Ltd – estimated he had saved six lives in his role, which he said was the “most rewarding thing you can do”.
About 60 people have signed a petition in three Faringdon supermarkets and The Bell Hotel since Monday, said organiser and family friend Carolyn Williams, 68.
She added: “It is a huge injustice. If it was one of us who had stopped breathing and a community responder was coming at 20mph, you wouldn’t appreciate it. It is a huge loss to Faringdon.”
Mr Smith’s son Matthew, 19, has now resigned as a responder, with the SCAS response vehicle going to another volunteer.
He said: “I thought it was bad enough for my dad to see that every day to know that he can’t use it, let alone me going to use it.”
David Hatton, 45 said his life was saved by Mr Smith in 2007 when he collapsed with a heart attack at his Hampden Close home.
Mr Hatton – who said Mr Smith’s use of a defibrillator and CPR kept him alive in the hour before he got to hospital – said: “It is very petty. How can they get people to volunteer for the service and not give them the tools to do the job?”
The trust has to get to 75 per cent of most serious calls in eight minutes and latest figures, for July, show it hit 84 per cent in Oxfordshire.
Last year we reported that SCAS had refused to admit any other staff had secret criminal pasts after it emerged one of its senior officers – Robert King – was a convicted murderer.
Mr King, who became operations manager, retired after he was arrested for drink-driving before his previous conviction was revealed. SCAS refused to justify its action in relation to Mr Smith.
- Were you the man Mr Smith was on his way to help? Get in touch with us 01865 425405.
WHAT THEY CAN DO
- Community first responders are not “authorised to practice beyond the scope” of their skill level regardless of any previous training, qualifications and/or knowledge unless they have written permission from the trust.
- They are not allowed to break speed limits or any other road traffic rules even when responding to emergencies.
- In the manual for community first responders it states that if any rules are broken during a journey “appropriate action” is considered by the trust.
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