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How these people could save your life

Many ordinary folk became heroes as they came to the aid of those injured in the Manchester bomb attack last week. Here, Lee Henry talks to a St John Ambulance volunteer in Ballymena, a Ballynahinch mum and a retired teacher from Newcastle who say simple techniques can be key to survival

Trauma aide Barry Rowan (39) lives in Ballymena with his wife Nicola their two daughters, Abigail (6) and 18-month-old Emily. He says:

I work in the Trauma and Orthopaedics Department of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where I prepare patients who have hip or spinal fractures for theatre and I love my job.

Although I work full-time for the health services, I enjoy volunteering with St John Ambulance because, along with my colleagues, I can assist the other emergency services at a range of events across Northern Ireland and be involved with communities throughout the country.

About 30 years ago, on January 25, 1988, to be precise, I started as an ambulance cadet in St John Ambulance, based in the Ballymena Division, which was where I learned skills like caring for the sick, essentials of first aid and basic life support.

I had been encouraged to do so by my grandfather James McFaul, who had been an active member of St John Ambulance throughout his life and, following his retirement, continued to be involved in the St John Fellowship in Larne. 

At the age of 18, I moved into the adult division and started training in first aid at Work and Ambulance Aid training and became what is now known as an emergency transport attendant. That allowed me to crew ambulances for St John Ambulance in the Ballymena area. On duty in Ballymena town centre two years ago, myself and a colleague assisted a man who had collapsed about 30 metres from our ambulance. We rushed over to help and quickly assessed the situation. My colleague began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), while I set up the AED (Automatic External Defibrillator). 

Three shocks were delivered and, with assistance from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, they got his heart started. If defibrillation and CPR can be started in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest there is a high success rate of survival, so we were lucky to be on hand that day.

AEDs, incidentally, are also accessible to the public — available outside shops, airports and in most schools in towns and cities across the country — in high-visibility yellow boxes. Anyone can use an AED — just follow the machine’s instructions through its voice prompts while it analyses the rhythm of the heart. 

St John Ambulance run courses and train volunteers here. Resuscitation CPR is taught as a drill and practice, so when you need to put it into action you can go into autopilot and perform it effectively to help save someone’s life. If a major incident happens, St John Ambulance will assist the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, like their colleagues did in the Manchester bombing last week. 

I cannot imagine the scene they witnessed on Monday night but their training enabled them to give an extremely high level of care to the injured and be professional amid the chaos and devastation around them. This is why everyone ought to learn first aid. Your help in treating someone until the emergency services arrive could make the difference.”

St  John Ambulance, tel: 028 9079  9393 or visit

'His heart stopped but we revived him'

Retired teacher Neil Powell, from Newcastle, Co Down, is a Search and Rescue Dog Handler and Trainer. He says:

I worked for many years as a teacher in St Mark’s High School in Warrenpoint and St Mary’s Girls’ School in Newry and retired about 16 years ago. These days I focus entirely on training dogs and helping during search missions. Training dogs is a passion of mine and has been for 40 years, so it’s hard to walk away from it.

I qualified as a search and rescue dog handler in 1976 and have trained hundreds of dogs to detect all sorts of things since then. I was leader of the Mourne Search and Rescue team for 15 years and introduced SARDA, the Search and Rescue Dogs Association, to Ireland. Since then, I’ve been training wee crazy family dogs every day, and that has paid for me to study for a PhD at Queen’s University’s School of Psychology, Belfast, looking into how we might be able to train dogs to predict and anticipate their owners’ epileptic seizures. That experience has opened my eyes to the power and value of dogs even more.

As a member of SARDA, we all receive first aid training to what’s called Rec 3 level, which is an advanced form of first aid. We follow a system called Rescue Emergency Care, which is advanced first aid to be delivered in remote places. Having that advanced knowledge is a requirement for us, and it plays a big part in what we do.

We’re called out through the police quite regularly and we could be out searching for individuals up to 20 times a month. It just depends on the time of year and what’s going on weather-wise, for example. We work very closely with other teams, like Community Rescue, so we generally go out as part of a wider resource.

We don’t do that much mountain rescue in the Mournes, where I’m from, because mobile phones and modern GPS devices make it easy enough to locate people. What we usually help with is locating people who are despondent, people who might be self-harming, things like that.

We help with straightening limbs, monitoring vital signs, lots of different things.

Electronic devices like defibrillators are fantastic. We were given one through the Department of Justice last year, and within a month of us completing our training we had to use it on a man in Newry who had effectively died.

His breathing had stopped, his heart had stopped, but we were able to revive him, which was amazing. A great feeling.

But for us as remote search and rescue teams, it’s about knowing the simple ABCs of first aid. Being able to make sure that someone’s airways are clear, that’s a fundamental. Another fundamental of first aid is being able to staunch bleeding and make sure that a person’s circulation is operating as it should.

I’ve assisted during earthquakes in Turkey, Algeria and Kashmir, but these days I do the majority of my work here.

When you’re in the middle of a forest somewhere remote, you have to be able to keep a person alive before you’re able to evacuate them. There is more pressure on you as a first aider in that sense, but it’s fantastic to be able to help.”

Search and Rescue Dogs Association (Ireland), visit Facebook: Search and Rescue Dogs Association (Ireland) or

'I recalled Red Cross video as son was choking'

Stay-at-home-mum Lindsay Ritchie (34) lives in Ballynahinch with her IT manager husband Damien (35) and two, children Megan (8) and Logan (5). She says:

It was around this time last year, spring 2016, when I was forced to save my son Logan from choking on a whole frozen grape. He had just returned home from nursery and I remember it clear as day.

I stood for a while chatting with my father-in-law at the door before Logan and I went inside. Logan, who was four-and-a-half at the time, had been given treats from the staff at the nursery and he was excited about it. What I didn’t realise, however, was that there were frozen whole grapes in the bag of treats.

All of a sudden, he started to make this really bizarre noise and his face began to turn purple. I had a minor panic attack for about three seconds before I twigged on that there was something in his throat.

Right at that moment, I remembered a video that I had watched on Facebook, posted by the Red Cross, just a day or two before. It showed a little one choking on something and his parent slapping him hard on the back to dislodge what was in his throat.

There I was, in the house otherwise on my own, with my son choking, and I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do if I hadn’t watched that one particular video. I was just so lucky that I had.

I follow organisations like the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance on Facebook as a means of keeping my mind active, really, and filling up my timeline with useful information — and they are always putting out first aid videos.

I don’t know what made me watch that particular video on that day all the way through, but I clicked play on it and when I had finished watching, I actually shared it for other people to see.

I knew what to do then. My mind was going 90 miles an hour and my heart was going crazy, but I gave Logan a wallop on the back. But it actually wasn’t hard enough, so I increased the pressure the second time and the grape came flying out whole and flew across the living room floor. I remember hearing the thump, thump as it bounced, because it was still frozen.

Once Logan started to breath normally, I was able to think and appreciate what had just happened. Logan has severe allergies, he uses an Epipen, and he’s always been very small. At the time, even though he was four-and-a-half years old, he was still wearing clothes for ages two to three. But I knew that I had to hit him hard if I was to save him.

Afterwards, Logan was panicky and upset for a while, but I have a friend who is a nurse and she came round and checked him and he was grand. Then he lay on my knee and went to sleep.

About 12 years ago, I was given very basic first aid training in a previous job, but nothing since. I suppose I have retained some very small details from that, but without having watched that video, I’m not sure I would have known what to do in that circumstance.

A day or two later, I messaged the Red Cross, explained what had happened and asked them to keep their little training videos coming. They got back to me and I’ve been very happy to allow them to use my story to help promote what they do among parents and others. Anything that helps to raise awareness.

Since then, my husband Damian and I have attended a full first aid course with the Red Cross in Belfast and it was fantastic, really, really useful.

We learned how to treat burns, cuts, broken bones, choking, all sorts of stuff that parents of young children in particular would benefit from knowing.

Obviously you never want to have to put those skills to use, but it’s so much better knowing what to do if something does happen than not knowing. I would encourage everyone to get first aid training. Really, everyone should know these skills.”

Red Cross, tel: 028 9031 5544 or 0844 871 8000. Visit

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