Monday, July 19, 2010

Wynnum Ambulance Centre

Did you know that Brisbane was the first place in the world to have an ambulance service manned by paid staff? Quite something to be proud of, I think. Brisbane initially relied upon the police to perform emergency accident first aid, but in 1892 the City Ambulance Transport Brigade was formed to provide transport services to get the ill and injured to hospital. Although ponies and sulkies were purchased in 1897, they were used only to convey the ambulance bearers to the patient, who was then transported to hospital on a litter, as seen in the following photo from 1901. (Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #185643)

Their initial headquarters were situated in the Courier building on the corner of Queen and Edward Sts. now the site of the Commonwealth Bank. After a restructure in 1902 when the organisation became the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade (QATB) as a result of acquiring funding from the State government, the QATB moved to dedicated premises in Ann St. Regional ambulance stations were also being constructed, and the foundation stone (pictured below - click to see a larger image) for Wynnum Station was laid on Australia Day in 1926. At the time, the State government provided only half the funds needed - the rest came from the Wynnum community, anxious to have their ambulance service.
(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

By the time of the opening of this building in November 1927 (pictured below), ambulance stations were being constructed to a formula: first-aid facilities and garages for the ambulances on the ground floor, and accommodation for the superintendent on the upper floor.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #76041)

The Wynnum Ambulance Station served its community until 1996, when a newer, more modern facility was opened adjacent to Wynnum Hospital. This older building continues its association with the QATB though - it now houses an ambulance museum on the ground level and an ambulance education unit on the upper level.(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

The only personal contact I have had with an ambulance was the time I broke my ankle playing football in Mount Isa, and it seems like a Keystone Kops movie in hindsight. I felt and heard the thing snap as I was tackled during a rugby match one Saturday night. Play continued for a while before the ref stopped the game, during which time I almost drowned at the bottom of the ruck that had formed over me. Drowned? In Mount Isa? Yes, the club responsible for watering the oval earlier in the day had adjourned to the pub and left the sprinklers on. It may have been my club :-) Anyway, the ref summoned the Zambuck over to look at me (Note: Zambuck is footie slang for an ambulance officer). This Zambuk was only about 150 cm tall, but weighed about 100 kg, so it took him a while to get to me. "What's wrong?" he asked, somewhat breathlessly. "Broke my ankle" replied I. "Let me be the judge of that" he said - after all, he was wearing a uniform. He grabbed my foot and rotated it left and right to the sounds of loud clicking and crunching noises. Luckily, lying in the water for what seemed an eternity had numbed my leg from the knee down. "You've broken your ankle" says the Zambuck, "I'll have to take you to hospital". With that he waddles all the way back to the ambulance and drives it onto the pitch, backing it up to me, still lying on the ground. The Zambuck gets out of the vehicle and opens the back door to produce a stretcher. Players from both teams manhandle me onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. The ref isn't pleased, because the game can't continue without an ambulance present and the hospital is about 15 minutes away. "Don't worry, I'll radio for a replacement" the Zambuck says. With that he takes off towards the hospital, radioing for another ambulance to attend the football ground. I never understood why, but instead of just changing places, the ambulance officers decided to meet half-way and transfer me out of the first ambulance into the second. Unfortunately, the second Zambuck was a 50 kg asthmatic. Between the two of them, they had no chance of moving 100+ kg of me on the stretcher across the two-metre gap between the two ambulances. I had to get out and hop on my good leg from one vehicle to the other so that I could proceed to the hospital. The Three Stooges routine was completed on my arrival at the hospital. Still wearing wet and dirty football gear, boots and all, I was wheeled into the A&E rooms, to be greeted by the apprentice first-year resident doctor. He asked "What's happened to you?". "Broke my ankle, doc" I replied, now confident of the diagnosis. "How did you do that?" he asked, completely ignoring the tell-tale clues of my football attire. Deciding that fate had dealt me a cruel hand by sending a tribe of idiots to look after me, I said "Slipped down the stairs". Just for that, for a broken ankle (X-Rays had confirmed my and the Zambuck's diagnoses), I was placed in a plaster cast from my toes to my hip.

I'm sure present-day ambulance officers (and doctors) do a much better job.

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Next: RS Exton & Co

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