Retiring paramedic’s heroic career

Gerry Egan gets a 'buzz' from his ambulance work. Picture: Jon Savage
Gerry Egan gets a 'buzz' from his ambulance work. Picture: Jon Savage
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IT was a scene of almost unimaginable horror – three young children laid side by side, their bodies blood-stained and lifeless.

Attending the scene where Theresa Riggi stabbed her own children to death is one of many difficult incidents Gerry Egan has experienced in a career spanning 35 years in the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).

As he prepares to retire, Gerry, 57, admits being one of the first in attendance at the Slateford Road flat was no easy task, but says for every horrific case he has attended, there has been an equally uplifting one.

“That was probably one of the most difficult jobs in my career and it was difficult for the ambulance crew and everyone involved,” he says.

“It was an absolute tragedy and a horrible job. Children are always difficult to deal with and I’ve had my fair share, the same as most paramedics, and they affect you in a different way.

“I was the first paramedic on the scene and went in a couple of times to see if we could do anything for the children, which we couldn’t, sadly.

“Some of the things you go to will absolutely stretch your tolerance, but there is a really good support network amongst colleagues and you’ve always got someone to chat to. The good jobs and the humour tend to make up for all the bad jobs.”

Originally a mechanic, Gerry joined the ambulance service in 1979 in Fort William with the intention of staying for six months.

However, he was soon hooked and it was the start of a career which saw him two years ago become the first paramedic in Scotland to be awarded the Queen’s Ambulance medal for distinguished service.

He has enjoyed a history of firsts in his profession, also being one of the first SAS paramedics to be fully trained in winch rescue from RAF search and rescue helicopters, to use defibrillators and latterly to complete the diploma in immediate care at the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons.

Gerry admits the service has changed considerably over the years thanks to leaps in technology and developments in how it is run.

“At the start we got 999 calls direct into the house, there was no ambulance control or anything like that. You got the person on the phone, you took the details, got in the ambulance and went away to the job. So at 3am you got woken up with the phone ringing, jumped up, got dressed and did the job and came back. Then you’d be out at 9am for your day shift, that was how it worked.”

In the late 1990s he moved back home to Edinburgh and worked his way up to consultant paramedic for Scotland and then clinical director for the ambulance service, undertaking research and helping to write service policy.

Yet Gerry maintains the real “buzz” still comes from going out in an ambulance.

Other memorable events include being the first paramedic and incident officer on the scene when a Nimrod ditched into the Moray Firth in 1995, miles from shore, and treating crew who were brought by helicopter to land, covered in aviation fuel.

However, some of the more simple occasions will send him off with some of the best memories, such as an incident in Wester Hailes two days before Christmas.

“I got sent up to a woman having a baby. It’s not often you deliver a baby. This wee one was determined she was appearing in the world. It was absolutely sound thankfully, it was brilliant. Moments like that are special, you don’t expect them but you just have to get on and do it.”

Other perks of the job have included working at some of the biggest concerts to come to the Capital, including the Rolling Stones in 1999.

Gerry maintains it is a career of highs and lows, watching many people’s lives change completely before his eyes, for better or for worse. “If you get a couple that have been married for 60 years and one of them dies, having to tell their partner that you’re really sorry and you can’t do anything is a life-changing event.

“The other side is that often you’ll get someone back. I remember when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a big cuddle. She said ‘you don’t remember me but last year my husband died and you saved him and he’s still doing really well’. It’s really nice when that happens.

“I’ve done a really good shift, but I’m ready to retire and let the others who are coming through take my place. It’s being left in good hands.”

Pauline Howie, chief executive, Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “Gerry will be missed by everyone at the Scottish Ambulance Service and we wish him a long and happy retirement.

“He has made a significant contribution to patient care over his many years of service and his exemplary career is an inspiration to the next generation of ambulance clinicians.”