When you’ve been saving lives for 41 years, there comes a time when you have to hang up your stethescope. After treating victims in many of the worst disasters Australia has ever seen, Paul Featherstone is now retiring.
“Entering the Ambulance Service was “a bit of fate, however, it’s one of the most rewarding jobs. Even though we see the worst the world has to offer, but we also see the best,” Paul said to the ABC.
Paul clearly recalls when it his paramedical career was set in motion.
“It was the early 1970s at the time, but he still remembered the incident clearly: “I just finished my apprenticeship for tool making. I was running as a chargehand in a factory, when a fellow got caught in a conveyor belt. I saw all the emergency teams come to the aid of this young fellow, and I thought, ‘That might not be a bad sort of job.'”
In the early days, emergency services care consisted on a “a pad bandage, a smidgen of oxygen, and a lot of positive thinking,” he says. These were the days before alcohol breathalysers and car seatbelts. He recalls the carnage of Friday and Saturday nights, with many instances of family carnage … “it was just horrific” said Paul.
“I’m very proud to be part of the progression we’ve made in the Ambulance Service. The treatment that you could only get at a hospital, we now deliver into some of the most remote areas of Australia,” he says.
“We’d just come out of our training, so we had very little practical experience”
Paul was on the scene for many of well publicised major accidents in Australia like the Granville train crash in 1977. In this fatal accident, 83 people died.
“We’d just come out of our training, so we had very little practical experience, and we got hit with that job. We got there by our own means and often stayed there for over 30 hours. It was a phenomenal learning experience. For instance, setting up a drip – you always see people hanging it above their head, but we’re under a train and not quite sure how to infuse these patients.”
Ever since, Paul has attended the Royal National Park Bush Fires in 1986, the Thredbo landslide in 1997, the Bali Bombing in 2002, the Waterfall rail disaster in 2003, and the Beaconsfield mine rescue in 2006, as well as being on-hand to give expert medical treatment and patient care at a host of other emergencies.
In 1997, the Thredbo landslide was a major incident where 18 people lost their lives. Paul spent 11 hours talking to Stuart Diver until he was rescued, from beneath the tonnes of rubble of the two ski lodges that collapsed. Reflecting on those crucial hours, Paul says, “You have to a good listener. With Stuart, he was in terrible suffering, and we got to know each other pretty well. That’s an art form now, which we’ve realised you have to perfect.”
More than fourty years on as a paramedic, Paul feels blessed has been given exclusive insight into the Australian culture.
He says, “The Aussie spirit is unique. You might not know your neighbours in the city, in the country it’s a bit better, but if something big happens in the street, everyone gets out there, does their thing to help, and they all disappear again. I just think it’s our unique way of not being nosey-parkers, but helping when you need it.”
Listen to Paul talk about his paramedical career on an ABC interview.