Friday, July 28, 2006

Volunteer AO days

In my last year of my electrical training I had also become a volunteer ambulance officer (VAO) with the Auckland Ambulance service. Our official title was Honorary Assistant and we were the second crewmember on the ambulance, helping the full time Ambulance Officer (AO). It was an exciting and very different from the fire brigade.

We completed a one-week Elementary Ambulance Aid course, which included learning how to administer oxygen, entonox (laughing gas), apply the 'Hare' traction splints for fractured femurs and use the stretchers and other equipment as well as basic first aid (bandaging, slings etc).

We also learnt how to take a patients blood pressure and pulse and learnt about some of the common medical complaints and how to treat them. It was all a little daunting but I found it fascinating and therefore very enjoyable.

Once I had finished the course I was initially rostered on either a 7-3 or 3-11 shift at a South Auckland station during the week or weekends and then eventually worked the week-ends and on-call for the night shifts for the local rural town ambulance.

The work was varied and included attending car accidents, cardiac arrests, heart attacks, strokes and even a home birth. I really didn’t know what I was doing most of the time so I just ended up providing reassurance by talking to the patient and completing the dreaded paperwork.

Some of the full time staff were vehemently against volunteers whom they perceived as a form of cheap labour. Their argument was that using volunteers for free labour prevented the service from having to provide full time, permanent personnel for double crewing all the vehicles at all times.

This attitude was understandable to some degree, as they perceived it as a safety issue. Unfortunately a small minority of staff transmitted this attitude in their appalling behaviour towards the volunteer staff that they worked with.

Being on the receiving end was quite unpleasant and included being blatantly ignored in front of patients, being be-littled or having condescending remarks made in front of the public, being deliberately unhelpful and even being blatantly downright rude.

One particular officer I worked with considered me simply as an extra pair of hands to lift the end of the stretcher and that was it. He would snap at me in front of patients and therefore make me reluctant to ask for help or guidance. I would often think twice about turning up for duty if I was rostered on with him.

I remember attending a job with a one of these officers in my early days. The callout involved a collapsed female patient in the main street of town. The patient appeared intoxicated and after only momentarily examining her, the ambulance officer walked off to the lotto shop next to where the patient was, to buy a ticket cursing that the callout was a waste of time.

I was flabbergasted, as were the on-looking by-standers. Here an ambulanced had just turned out to a collapsed patient and one of the officers obviously couldnt give a damn! I was left standing there with this incoherent patient and really had no idea what I should do. I embarrassingly reassured the concerned public audience that it appeared that the patient was probably just drunk.

In another bizarre incident with a different officer, we were called to a motor-vehicle accident in a rural outback road in the early hours of a weekend morning.

A car containing some boy-racers had lost control and skidded into a ditch. On our arrival the occupants had managed to get out of the car but one patient had a small arterial laceration to his forehead above his left eye.

The other passengers were holding a tee shirt on it to try and stop the oozing blood flow.

Using some initiative I immediately grabbed the first response kit, which contained the dressings and bandages, but the grumpy AO snapped at me in front of everyone and ordered me to put it away. He then proceeded to fish in the open wound with a pair of non-sterile scissor clamps he was carrying and managed to clamp the small leacking artery.

He then bandaged the clamp in place. Although it obviously stopped the bleeding it was a procedure I had never seen carried out before or since. It was certainly not standard procedure.

Although these two particular gentlemen had many years of experience in the job and I’m sure had helped thousands of grateful patients, their attitudes towards their unpaid colleagues reflected that of someone burnt out from working in such a stressful environment for too long.

Thankfully both of these staff members did not remain too much longer in the ranks and they soon moved to a less stressful occupation.

Despite these minor setbacks it wasn’t long before I was hooked on the job and longed to be a full time ambulance officer.

As a volunteer, I often worked twenty or more hours a week on top of my normal job, so apart from the urge to be employed in a more exciting occupation I was exhausted by the end of each week.

Fate was to be on my side and I soon had my chance.

Friday, July 21, 2006


While in the drawing office, I got to work with a rather outspoken and radical young electrical engineer by the name of Graham (not his real name).

Graham was a bit of a socialist and took every opportunity to voice his left wing views about politics, the management or religion to anyone that gave him five minutes of their time. He was actually well educated and quite an intelligent man it obviously ran in his family as his father was a professor at a university.

On this particular day Graham had chosen a completely different topic to air his views about, one that was aimed personally at me!. He was giving me a hard time about my brother whom he accused of causing a motorvehicle accident that his friend had been involved in.

My brother had been doing some weed spraying for the District Council during his university holidays and was carrying out this out on a side road off the main approach road to the Steel Mill. There was a spray boom attached to the council truck he was driving, and he was spraying the edge of the road. He had posted signs around the road he was spraying on to warn motorists but came out onto the main road to turn around when the accident occurred.

The main road curves around a tight bend and the road that my brother was working on came off that road at the bend.

A friend of Grant, who worked as an electronics technician at the steel mill, was racing home in his sports car and came speeding around the corner when he was suddenly confronted with a council truck blocking half the road. Taking evasive action he swerved violently to avoid a collission. Unfortunately, his high speed maneuver resulted in the car rolling over and ending up in the ditch. Although he was fortunately uninjured the car was extensively damaged.

Graham and I ended up having a heated exchange of words as I defended my brother against his accusations that he had being negligent. Graham insisted that he should have provided adequate warning signs on the main road to prevent such an incident occuring in the first place.

Despite not actually having prior knowledge about the crash or having enough facts to determine my brothers innocence, Grahams persistant and passionate opinion that my brother was definately to blame made me angry and all the more determined to defend him.

After an hour of bantering from both sides and reaching a stalemate and with resentment running high between us it came to knockoff time and I was glad to see the back of him for the day.

I had always been taught not to part with someone on bad terms so despite my inner frustration I pushed it aside and wished him a "good night" and he replied “See you later”. However neither of us realised how tragically true that statement was to be.

That night the fire siren hailed me to a fire call-out which turned out to be a motorbike versus a milk tanker. Evidently the rider had turned too sharply into a road at speed, cutting in front of the tanker as it was approaching the intersection and the driver had no choice but to brake and brace for the inevitable impact.

It was too late for the bike rider who went under the truck and was dragged up the road. As his bike collided with the front of the unforgiving truck, he was catapulted head first into the front of the rig. His face obviously took the majority of the impact because when we saw the body, his head from the jaw upwards was missing. Brain matter and flesh were strewn up the road in a bloody trail as the driver bought the truck to a skidding halt.

Our job was primarily to wash the human remains off the road and being one of the crew members on the pump that attended, it was me that had to do it.

Being a small town we all wondered who the poor unidentified victim was and I was astounded to hear the result when the Police traced the motorbike to a surname that was the same as Grahams. The trouble was the owners first name was not Graham. Looking at the body however, I did begin to wonder.

The next day at work Graham didn’t turn up and my increased suspicions were sooned confirmed when the supervisor received the dreaded phone call. It had indeed been Graham, riding his father’s motorbike that had been killed last night.

An ashen and sullen supervisor announced the tragic news to the team and the office mood became rather sombre. He was even more shocked to learn that I had actually attended the accident and had to literally wash his brains off the road.

I never did go to his funeral and the office was never quite the same without his vocal outbursts but at least I had the peace of knowing that we had parted on his last day on good terms.

RIP Graham. This blogg is dedicated to you!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Other side of the fence

When I left school I got an electrical apprenticeship at a nearby steelmill. It was great fun and well paid with plenty of overtime.

The mill had various plants where the steel was processed. The dirtiest and best paying area was the Iron Plant. Here Iron sand was melted down and transformed into pig iron. The plant was filthy with iron sand spread everywhere.

In my second year there I had an accident. I was walking back from the plant to the workshop and took a shortcut through the plant. I must have stood in a hole covered in iron sand. Although the sand was cold on top, underneath it was red hot.

The hot sand poured into my boots causing circumferential burns to my ankles. I raced over to a safety shower and whipped my boots off hosing them down with cool water. Another worker passing by went for help and a supervisor came and picked me up in the workshop utility vehicle and raced me off to the medical centre.

I walked into the medical centre and said to the nurse “you have a patient here with burns to his feet”. She replied ok well bring him in then. I replied “its me”!

With my feet in a basin of icy water the burning subsided but the skin was peeling off my ankles. An ambulance was called and I was ferried off to Middlemore hospital with my feet in plastic bags of the icy water and my hands and face covered in dust and dirt.

When we arrived at the hospital the ambulance officer told the nurses to take extra care of me because I was a Volunteer fireman, which somehow made it into the notes. I was seen promptly and my ankles bandaged with soothing SSD cream.

The next day the junior doctors came around for their daily patient rounds with the consultant. I felt like an exhibit instead of a patient as they read out my notes and pointed at my bandaged feet. I had to chuckle silently when the doctor read from the notes that I was a fireman and got burnt while attending a fire.
After several months off work and some painful hobbling around I returned to work and resumed light duties in the drawing office. With my feet still tender I was unable to wear the required steel cap boots so was confined to office work. Although boring, it did lead to another interesting episode!

Monday, July 17, 2006

BA operator

One of the first call-outs I attended as a qualification BA operator was to a house fire in the middle of the night. I made the first pump and we pulled up outside the apparently vacant house with smoke billowing out one of the windows.

We had donned the BA sets en route so we put our masks on outside in the fresh air and handed in our tallies to the pump operator.

Our first priority was to search the house to ensure no occupants were inside. I entered the house with BA on with another crewmember and we began our search.

We went room-by-room, looking behind doors, under beds and in closets in case the frightened victims became confused or scared and tried to shelter from the smoke. Thankfully the house was empty but it was exhilarating to carry out the job properly as I had been instructed.

An unusual job potentially requiring BA came on a Saturday morning on an orchard just on the outskirts of our town.

A young farm worker had been driving a tractor with a mower on the back cutting the grass between the orchard trees when disaster suddenly struck.

At one end of the orchard the rows of trees sloped down a small bank, which led into a pond. The worker had come out of one row of trees and turned sharply along the bank to go into the next row and got the shock of his life. The grass was wet and instead of driving into the next strip the tractor slid sideways into the pond trapping him half under the tractor.

We arrived soon after and scrambled into the pond with our BA on our backs in case we had to submerge to extract him. Fortunately he was able to hold his head above water, which prevented him from drowning.

Even luckier was the fact that the bottom of the pond was soft which cushioned the impact and prevented him from breaking any limbs. We were eventually able to pull him out safely to the waiting ambulance. Thankfully it was only his pride that was injured.

To become a certified driver and pump operator I also had to attend more courses. I had never driven a truck so the first step was obtaining a Heavy traffic, (HT) license. I was allowed to use the Fire Appliance to sit my HT license and soon had that credited to my name.

I booked into a weekend driving course at the Fire training school. There was an instructor and four volunteer fire fighters students. In the morning we had to drive an older manual Ford appliance around the city.

I was not only the youngest candidate at 18 but also clearly the least experienced. I had a few problems handling this old truck, particularly with handbrake starts, much to the crew’s amusement and the instructor’s frustrated instructions.

The afternoon involved driving an automatic International appliance. This was much easier except I had an embarrassing experience, which led to me failing the course. I had to brake suddenly and violently as I approached an intersection with a red traffic light, which was over a blind hill.

A car had stopped for a red light and I was fast approaching it. The wheels locked as I slid the machine slightly sideways with smoke issuing off the screaming tyres. The instructor gave me a filthy look and the other volunteers all chipped in their sarcastic comments, claps and laughter.

I suddenly realised that being eighteen didn’t mean I had the skill or ability to be driving these big beasts, especially at high speed. The instructor had a word with me at the end of the course and said not to bother coming back for the second day and to go get some more driving experience before returning.

Although I never went back for a drivers course I did end up attending a pump operators course and learnt how to regulate water flow, read what was happening at the end of the hose from the pressure guages, use the pump to suck water from wells, ponds or other water sources and generally how to operate the pump.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

BA Training

A key skill of a firefighter is being able to wear and operate Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) referred to as BA. This allowed firefighters to enter contaminated environments (smoke, gas etc)to carry out search and rescues.

To be able to become a BA operator meant attending a 4 day course (over 2 week-ends).

I applied for the course along with two other recruits. We did plenty of local training first though, including crawling through dark damp storm water drains wearing BA, which I hated as I was a little claustrophobic.

The course was at a permanant (perms) fire training centre. The instructors were very strict and there was some animosity towards us as volunteers. It was like being in a military camp - we had to line up and acknowledge our name as it was called out. We also were inspected to ensure our gear was clean and boots shiny. I took great pride in my gear and always ensured it was in top condition, even polishing my helmet.

The course consisted of some initial classroom teaching going over the theory involved in gas, oxygen etc. I loved it and caught on very quickly. Next came the practical part. We had to dress up in overalls and learn how to put the BA on and test it was working correctly. Wearing the BA we were paraded around the yard and made to run, jump, climb, do press ups and anything else that caused exertion and made us use up the full cylinder of air.

My friend and I had done a lot of physical training for this and so were very fit. I learnt how to conserve air even during exercise. This meant that whilst most candidates were down to their last gasps of air in a short space of time, we still had a quarter of a tank left.

This frustrated our instructors, as they wanted the recruits to suffer by having to literally suck out the last shreds of air from their tanks. They attempted to empty our tanks by pushing our facemask demand valves but eventually they gave up much to my delight and their disgust.

The next exercise of the day was to go through the specially constructed, double storied, concrete, smoke chamber wearing the breathing apparatus.

This building had a metal catwalk running through the two levels and had two metal door entrances on the lower level and two on the top. There were also several windows on the outside of the chamber and these were covered with moveable metal shutters. The chamber was fitted with a sprinkler system as well. Two large diesel gas burners fired heat and filthy black smoke into the building.

Our first tour through the notorious chamber was easy, as all of the chambers steel windows were open allowing daylight to help us navigate the way and there was no heat or smoke to contend with.

The course was a maze of moveable steel and wooden partitions which divided the chamber into a narrow pathway. Candidates followed a roped guideline in single file at timed intervals, which took them through a series of obstacles including narrow catwalks, a small wooden box, large concrete pipes, up hot metal stairwells and scaling over and under the walls and various other obstacles. It required using every muscle in the body to squeeze, bend, stretch, crawl and hoist oneself through the difficult route.

As if this wasnt difficult enough, wearing a heavy metal air cylinder that caught on everything it could, it also all had to be done in pitch blackness in 40-60 deg C (104-140 deg F) heat with putrid diesel smoke filling the enclosed environment.

We survived the initial tour and changed cylinders bracing for our final test of the day.

The instructors fired up the two diesel burners, which continually spewed out hot thick black smoke and heated the chamber up like a sauna. They also closed all the windows blocking out the natural light and keeping the heat and smoke in.

Navigating my large six-foot frame through the course was a very physically arduous task. Being so tall meant that with the bulky BA tank on my back I only narrowly fitted through some obstacles and had to go sideways through most of them.

One of the large concrete pipes that was angled upwards was particularly tricky. The entry to it was via a sharp narrow right angle bend. The only way through was to manouver my body into the pipe, hands first, and using my feet push myself fully around the bend into the pipe.

There was not enough room to move your arms once inside the pipe so I would reach up as far as I could and grip the end with my fingers. This way I could haul myself through to the top of the pipe.

The other very difficult obstacle was a small box on the catwalk. It was wider than it was taller and therefore only just large enough for me to fit through it sideways. Once again I would have to reach my arms through to the other side and try and pull myself through at the awkward angle.

Occasionally the large diesel burners would fire up, shooting out bright flames that illuminated the maze in an evil orange glow. When it did I would utilise the light to race through the maze as fast as I could and take whatever shortcuts I could. Apart from that I just tried to memorize the course and make my way using the guideline.

It was very challenging but we all carried it out bar one, who pulled out. For seriously clausrophobic candidates or those scared of the dark or heat this was not the place to be.

The next day we arrived at 8am to find the grinning instructors had already started up the smoke chamber, which was heating up rapidly. We got changed into the regulation overalls, had roll call then donned our BA units preparing for the worst.

By now the heat in the chamber looked intense. Smoke seeped out the narrow gaps of the metal windows and under the doorways. I don’t know the exact temperature but it felt like it couldnt have got much hotter. To make things harder we had to take a wet 90mm coiled hose through the obstacle course with us and ensure it remained coiled. These things weighed about 25 kgs (55lbs).

Despite my fitness, I found it totally physically exhausting. As I crawled through the maze the loose, wet, heavy hose kept uncoiling or get snagged slowing my progress. The extra effort of manoeuvring the hose used valuable air. I also found it stressful as I fought off feelings of claustrophobia and getting stuck.I managed to complete the course successfully. Not everyone did however and a few more people pulled out of the course or were eliminated.

The second weekend involved much of the same. One of the more enjoyable tasks involved being paired up with another candidate and dragging a dummy through the chamber. Having someone else to help made all the difference. Comradrie really helps, not only physically, but mentally as well.

However the scariest test still lay ahead. On the last day we were driven out to a neighbouring suburb where and a manhole was opened in a suburban street.

The instructor told us the route to take. We were to go down into the manhole wearing BA and take a spare cylinder with us and head along the large undergorund drainpipe until we came to a concrete room. We were to feel our way in the pitch backness to find the furthermost pipe on the right and take that route. Then we would come to a larger room with three pipes leading out of it and once again take the pipe on the right. If we ran out of air while down there we were to change cylinders. The course had to be done completly by feel, as there was absolutely no light source at all.

One by one, at set time intervals, we had to lower oursleves into the dark underground tunnel and crawl through the storm water drain along the given route. It was pitch black, slimy and, I hate to admit it, but very scary.

I just concentrated on getting on with it and scurried along the tunnel as best I could, blocking out the thoughts of rats, rainwater downpours and unexpected earthquakes. I eventually found the first room and using my hands managed to locate the next tunnel entrance. I raced through that and came to the larger room, which had much larger pipes coming out of it. At least I could almost walk through this one instead of crawling but the down side was that it was also waste deep in water.

Eventually I could see light at the exit and I waded through the water into a small outside creek. Thank God it was finally over.

After everyone was accounted for, we returned to the training school and had a shower. As I bathed naked under refreshing hot water I was shocked by what I suddenly discovered. My right knee that I had injured many years ago had swollen up to the size of a softball. I cursed but it was also becomming too painful to ignore. Getting dressed, I plucked up the courage and I went to see the instructor.

Without hesitation he had a fireman get a van and whisk me away to the nearest ER where I was promptly seen. The doctor said it wasn’t anything too serious, probably just some fluid collection due to all the crawling and I returned to the training centre with much relief and a bandaged knee.

The instructor was initially furious thinking I had made it all up but the fireman that came with me placated him explaining my injury was legitimate buit not serious. I was petrified he would fail me from the course.

Thankfully I was allowed to stay and carry out the final practical test. We had to sit a written paper and put the BA on within a given time. I had practiced this exercise down to a fine art and passed both tests no problem. Finally the day was over and I had passed what was probably the hardest physical and mental challenge I had ever encountered in my life.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More tails from the fire front

Another fatal accident I attended involved a petrol tanker. The driver got too close to the gravel verge and lost control. In doind so he bumped into the car in front of him causing it to slide sideways into an oncoming which was towing a horse float.

The unfortunate vehicle involved in the head on had some teenage girls in it and at least one of them was killed outright. I remember seeing her still trapped in the car frozen in her last moment of action. She must have seen the car coming straight for her as there was a look of horror on what was left of her face as her life was violently forced out of her.

Motor vehicle accidents were always emotionally draining but structual fires took the cake when it came to phyical endurance.

Being a rural service town we often got called out to Hay barn fires, which were always long and arduous events. A farmer would put his hay bales in the hay shed too early and the decomposing grass woudl give off enough heat to cause spontaneous combustion.

Once the blaze had been extinguished, each heavy sodden hay bail had to be individually pulled out and hosed down. The hay was always ruined, as the animals wouldn’t go near it, probably because it smelled smoky. Not only would the farmer loose his shed and any machinery inside he would also loose his winter feed.

It was also a challenge finding water for country fires. In towns and cities the water main provided easy supply via fire hydrants, but rural addresses were a different story. Each Fire Engine carried portable pumps that could suck water out of creeks, tanks, rivers, lakes or wherever we could find it.

An unusual incident that I attended involved a leaking acid chemical tank at a Dairy factory.

A faulty valve allowed concentrated acid to flow unconctrollably into the confines of a small brick wall which surrounded the tank.

A Technical Liaison Officer (industrial chemist) attended as an advisor who thought it would be best to dilute the acid with water to a safe level then remove it.

Now in theory this seemed like a reasonable resolution, so we set about hosing down the toxic solution with copious amounts of water. Unfortunately we soon discovered that diluting this quantity of acid with water caused an exothermic reaction to occur that heated up the container rapidly to boiling point. One moment we were happily hosing this thing down and the next thing it started vibrating with the heat, threatening to explode and shower us all with acid.

There were some very tense moments as we waited for the worst to happen. Fortunately the heat dissipated and we continued to dilute it, albeit at a slower pace.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Playing With Fire

As I near completion of my High School years, my fascination in Fire engines had not dwindled over the years and the chance to be directly involved with them soon presented itself.

The local Fire Brigade in the town I lived in was manned completely by volunteers. Whenever there was an emergency, they would be hailed to the station by the double- barrelled air raid siren that would wail over the town. After hearing the siren and watching them turnout several times I was determined to join their ranks.

When I turned sixteen another kid from my school and I applied to join the Fire Brigade. My application was successful and I joined as a junior firefighter.

Training was on a Monday night and I was soon taught all the basic Firefighting skills. This included learning how to hoist and scale ladders, roll out and roll up hoses, how to connect the standpipe (to get water out of the underground fire hydrants)and how to handle the branches (nozzle). It was exciting and challenging and I was determined to prove myself.

Our Station had two front line fire appliances and a small rescue tender, which carried the ‘Jaws of Life’. This is a hydraulic tool used to extricate people from their mangled wrecks at motor vehicle accidents. We were also taught how to use this equipment.

The town was one of the closest stations to a major intersection on state highway one as it ran out of Auckland. The long stretch of motorway abruptly came to a series of sharp bends and then the intersection which were controlled by traffic lights.

There were many accidents on this stretch of road due to these factors. I remember one particularly bad accident I attended on a Saturday afternoon.

The siren hailed us and I managed to get onto the number two pump which that day was also carrying the Jaws of Life because the Emergency Tender was away for repairs. We were all in high spirits as we sped off to the call, laughing and joking to dispel the tension.

We soon arrived at the scene and adopted a more sombre attitude as we realised the extent of the trauma involved. A large solid sedan had collided with a much smaller vehicle head on. The small motorvehicle had four adults and two unsecured baby occupants and the larger vehicle two adults and three kids.

The smaller car was virtually destroyed by the force of the impact, which split it open like a tin can. The occupants had all been thrown clear and it became apparent that both babies and at least one of the adults were killed instantly.

We got to work and cut the remaining victim from the mangled wreck but she was unconscious with a serious head injury and was not expected to live.

There were not enough ambulances initially and I ended up looking after a teenage boy who was in the back seat of the larger sedan. He had a tender abdomen, which turned out to be internal bleeding. All I could offer was re-assurance until the medics arrived and carted him off.

The scene was eventually cleared of patients and debris and we returned to our station as a more subdued and silent crew. The bar was opened and alcohol flowed freely as we informally de-briefed each other over by discussing the details of the harrowing event.

This was to be my introduction to trauma accidents on the roadway.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Flying at 2000ft above the water the helicopter shook rythmatically as the blades chopped through the air and made the well know supersonic thumping sound.

I was one of twelve passengers, sandwiched on the edge of the seat onboard the Bell 212 chopper, as it flew over the Tasman sea on my way to the Maui B offshore oil platform.

This was my first tour of duty as an offshore medic. It was a sixth month contract, a convenient fill-in job, while I decided what to do with myself longer term.

As we chugged along in low cloud, I could occasionally catch glimpses of the mesmerising deep, blue water, well below me and I started to think about what the new role would entail.

I was about to Live and work with a group of total strangers for two weeks at a time in confined quarters and be responsible for their health and safety for the entire stint. Although a little anxious, I was also excited about the new role and thought how lucky I was to be one of the few people that get to work in the well paid off shore industry.

As I sat there mesmerised by the deep blue ocean staring back at me I started to reflect on the last ten years of my life that had led me to this amazing opportunity.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Beginning

I was born in 1967 and right from the beginning there was something different about me. I was the ninth and last child in our household and my arrival almost balanced up the girl-boy ratio between my five sisters and three brothers.

The striking difference however was in the nature of my arrival. My father was visiting my mother in the pre-labour ward when I suddenly decided to make an early arrival. With little prior warning and much to my dad’s shock and horror, out I popped right in front of him in the ward room.

Mum was a registered nurse so from an early age I held an interest in all things medical and for some reason, in fire engines as well.

As I grew older, the emergency services were definitely something I was interested in and I can clearly recall the first accident I ever came across at the intersection right outside our house. A motorcyclist on his way to work had been knocked over by a car and had broken his leg.

There was quite a little crowd gathered around the victim as the ambulance raced up Queens Drive with its headlights ablaze and red lights flashing. It was a modern vehicle for those times a Bedford ambulance but I don’t remember much else about it. I must have been about eleven or twelve.

The second accident I came across in Invercargill was just one year later and was far more serious. A train track repair machine, which was used to repair the rails and ballast, was steaming along the main trunk line and approached a rail crossing.

Tragically, despite the fact that there was almost a clear line of site from the road, it managed to collide with a school bus full of kids on their way home.

The impact swung the bus sideways careering kids out the side windows. The unfortunate front passenger, a young schoolgirl, was propelled through the front window and ended up under the train where she was instantly killed.

I was biking home from school when I came across it. The girl wedged under the train was the first thing I saw. The enormity of the situation hit me, and feeling it was inappropriate to stare I rode on to my dad’s work and proceeded to describe what I had seen. He was quite sympathetic and reassuring although I couldn’t rationalise my feelings at the time. It was a mixture of fascination and disgust.