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Join St John Ambulance

Home > London > Charity | Fun Things To Do | Volunteering
by David Dragonetti (subscribe)
I love politics (I do realize that there aren't many people like me) and a history buff who also likes nothing better than watching a live comedy.
Published August 11th 2012
My weekend, not so long ago.

1/Got up really early.
2/Travelled to a place far on the other side of town.
3/Spend all day medically treating people some of who were really rude.
4/ Got home really tired.
5/ Don't get paid for any of it but I intend to do it again next week or next month.


To a lot of people reading the above, it would all seem very logical until they reached the "Don't get paid for any of it", then they are thinking either I was stupid or one really nice guy, or maybe even both. But the people in St John Ambulance aren't stupid.
If a stranger arrived in England and was here for only 24 hours to sample British life, I'd say find an event and find a St John Ambulance division camped by a road and there you will find a microcosm of British society. Amateurish, chaotic and shambolic at times, where cups of tea and snippets of humour mingle with bandages and plasters, there's indeed something indefinably British even wonderful about St John that you will not find everywhere in the world.

The first seed of St John was sewn in the latter part of the 11th century during one of the many Crusades to recapture Jerusalem. A military organisation known as the Knights of St John soon formed a branch for the treatment of the sick and injured. Over 1000 years later in 2012. it's still going strong and in 2004 I trudged up to a division in St Pancras and decided to join

No one gets very far in St John without a criminal records check. Numerous divisions have a Badgers group (for ages from 5 to 10) and a Cadet group (from 10 to 17) along with the adults. It thus goes without saying that a mere sniff of something untoward will mean you are shown the door. That said. I had been arrested over 50 times for participating in environmental protests in the early 90's and St John trusted me with being a cadet instructor for 4 years. So don't be put off if you were once arrested for stealing an apple. Once you are not seen then seen as a rotten apple, you go onto something called a pathway. This is a short induction course where new members are taught a brief history of St John Ambulance and the various branches and volunteer roles a member could apply to do. Which are as follows;

Brigade Member

After being issued with a free uniform boots and socks, every new "Johnnie" begins their St John career as a basic member with a community first aid certificate. St John once used to teach members a full first aid at work certificate (FAW), however due to the amount of people merely joining to get the certificate, and thus save paying for the course outside, St John soon devised its own course that has little value outside the organisation.

Cadet Instructor

If like me you love kids, then this is for you. However be warned while they come there to learn first aid, they are still just kids. Meeting every Wednesday evening (each division though is different on what evening it meets) I always wasn't sure if I was going to go home feeling elated at their youthful exuberance or wanting to take a bath with a toaster after they had sought to just wind me up. Fortunately it was generally more of the former. With the cadets mostly being girls. St John generally actually seems to attract more females, something perhaps to do simply with the aspect of caring for one's fellow man. Man who often happens to be drunk and not very cooperative.

FIT (Forward Incidence Team)

At any major duty, at events like Notting Hill Carnival, numerous First Aid posts are set up along the route manned by Brigade members. FIT teams of first aiders, who have additional training in manual handling and medical gases, are then deployed to the crowd if need be to bring in casualties. Generally not much happens on a St John Duty, and it does feel sometimes that a lot of members turn up to be part of the social aspect of St John. This is especially true of those who have been in St John since they were cadets (i.e 30 or more years) which in turn can sometimes give the impression of St John being a bit too cheeky. In some divisions it can certainly feel like the members have known each too long and could do with a break from each other. The solution is of course very simple . Put in for a transfer

Cycle Response

This is one of the most glamorous parts of St John. You are trained up to quite a high standard in Emergency medicine. Taught to ride a heavy bike with all the medical kit and best of all, instead of being static at an aid post you can ride around to see the event that you're covering.

Ambulance crews

St John has its own brass band, Motorbike response as well as Cycle response, logistics support and Ambulances who work closely in conjunction with the NHS. Indeed a lot of St John Volunteers in their day job are with the NHS (though it's certainly not a requirement that you have a medical background to join St John). Training to drive or be an ambulance assistant (or indeed both) is certainly a good way of getting a lot of hands on experience.

In the 11th century, the Knights of St John spent their days hacking people to pieces now, and since formerly founded in 1877, the St John Ambulance organisation puts them back together and cares for them. A lot of highly qualified doctors paradoxically will never be good doctors because they simply don't care and if you don't care about people then don't join St John.

Good medical training, seeing some major sporting and cultural events for free, plus the social aspect are just some of the many reasons people join. Personally, I just think that when the order of St John was founded, London was a mere collection of mud huts. It's humbling and fills me with a sort of pride that for 7 enjoyable and sometimes extremely tiring years I was part of it. Just another member one of hundreds of thousands, maybe one of millions - if you include St John divisions across the world.
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Why? To learn a useful skill and maybe one day save a life
Where: Nationwide
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