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Donations still needed for new ambulance station

The quest to fund a new Masterton station for Wellington Free Ambulance is closing in on its target total, but donations are still needed to meet the goal. Bella Cleary reports.

Wellington and Wairarapa’s sole emergency ambulance service – and the only one in the country that’s free – has raised about 60 per cent of the required $7 million, following a big boost in the form of a $1 million donation from an anonymous Wairarapa family.

As it’s a priority project, Wellington Free Ambulance [WFA] Trust has committed $3 million of seed funding to the new build but is still relying on a public appeal for the remaining $2.8 million.

WFA general manager of fundraising and communications Claire Carruthers said she has talked with local businesses and community members who have made it clear the new station is needed and wanted.

“People like the reassurance that when they call for help, help is close by,” and the new station will ensure that remains a reality for the whole of Wairarapa, Carruthers noted.

Building work is anticipated to begin in July on the corner of Queen and Russell St in Masterton and – all going well – completion of the “purpose-built, functional station” is anticipated by April next year.

WFA crews currently work from a station in Greytown and a temporary station based in Masterton.

The current temporary premises for Masterton’s station in the converted cosmopolitan club has significant challenges, including access to vehicles for cleaning and restocking purposes, lack of natural light or airflow in sleeping rooms, and limited office space.

Carruthers said the new station will support crew in the “incredibly challenging work they do night and day”.

“As the only provider of emergency ambulance and patient transfer service in Wairarapa, it is essential there is a permanent and purpose-built facility that is future-proofed to cater for the growing and changing nature of the population,” she said.

In addition to benefiting ambulance crews, the new station will have further community reach as an IL4-rated building.

After a civil emergency or natural disaster, the building will be “immediately operational”, which Carruthers noted will be crucial for Wairarapa community resilience.

“The Wairarapa station could become a hub for all emergency response services, including Fenz, Police and civil defence.”

Other features of the new station that will improve the paramedic crews’ working conditions include soundproof, purpose-built sleeping rooms for those working night shifts, a fully equipped kitchen, and internally accessed storage and garaging facilities.

Masterton-based paramedic shift manager Andrew Gladding said functional parking will make a huge difference in crew operations.

“Our vehicles are currently exposed to all weather. When they’re exposed to the elements like that, it has a direct impact on people’s experience,” he said.

“It’s a struggle to keep them cool in summer and in winter we’re having to defrost the windscreen just to be able to safely drive to a 111 call.”

Gladding said another aspect of the new station he is looking forward to is a better-controlled temperature system.

“To already be hot and sweaty in summer, and then get into an ambulance that’s been sitting in the sun for hours – it’s intense.”

While they do what they can to make the current station homely and functional, the team are all looking forward to getting the new build on the way, Gladding said.

“We’ve got a demanding job – it’s physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. A fit-for-purpose station is really important for staff and crew.”

Exactly what is
Wellington Free?

Wellington Free Ambulance is the sole emergency ambulance service for Wairarapa – and the only one in the country that is free of charge.

It serves about 500,000 people across the Wellington region. In Wairarapa, it covers from Cape Palliser to Mt Bruce and out to Riversdale.

There are nine WFA stations across the Wellington region, including a key South Wairarapa base at Five Rivers in Greytown and temporary premises in Masterton. Ambulance crews operate 24/7 every day of the year.

Last year, the emergency service responded to 6836 incidents – about one call-out for every seven
people living in the region.

As well as ambulance services, WFA also provide patient transfer services that transport people to essential medical appointments. Last year it completed 1867 patient transfers across the region.

Rock solid support

Nine-year-old Evelyn Sykes is a dedicated fundraiser for Wellington Free Ambulance, and she’s come up with a creative plan to help the organisation.

Evelyn has spent “many hours” making hand-painted rocks, which she’s been selling outside local supermarkets, at the St Marks car-boot sale, and even outside her house.

Deeply committed to the cause, Evelyn estimates she has painted hundreds of rocks, with a little help from her nana.

“We bought some of the rocks at Mitre Ten and collected some others,” she said.

“I don’t know how many I’ve made. I painted 86 on the first night!”

Evelyn’s efforts had raised over $700 for the new WFA station so far, through online donations on a Give–a-Little page.

Evelyn’s support for the ambulance service was inspired by a rocky childhood experience.

When she was five, she fell out of her family car and caught her head on the frame of the door.

Evelyn’s mother Mary Sykes said it was an extremely scary moment for both of them.

“It was a deep cut, you could see inside her head,” Sykes said.

“The ambulance came, and the paramedics were so nice and calm, which obviously makes such a difference when your child’s hurt and you’re scared.”

For a while Evelyn was scared of ambulances because they reminded her of her accident, but slowly she turned that fear into a strong desire to support the paramedics who had helped her.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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