Meeting Essex and Herts Air Ambulance's HEMS team

The cliché no two days are the same could not be more appropriate for the paramedics and doctors working for the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance.

As critical care paramedic James Samouelle states, the helicopter emergency medical service team never really know what they will be doing when they start their shift.

“It’s awesome, I feel privileged to do this job.” he tells me, having just returned from the first mission of the day.

The HEMS team is typically made up of a pilot, co-pilot, pre-hospital care doctors and critical care paramedics. They work ten-hour shifts during which they are on call to attend any emergency situation.

Mr Samouelle, who has worked with the air ambulance for more than a year, adds: “We can have days that are very quiet. But then there are other times when you’re out from seven in the morning and don’t get back to base until after five.

“You don’t eat properly, you don’t drink properly and are constantly running on adrenaline.

“You get back from days like that and you are emotionally wrecked and completely exhausted.”

While on shift, the team are always on standby to attend serious incidents which can range from cardiac arrests and falls, to road traffic collisions and stabbings.

The doctors and paramedics will typically take just 90 seconds to assess a patient before deciding what action must be taken to ensure they have the best possible chance of surviving.

Mr Samouelle adds: “The training and support we get is phenomenal. But it can be hard to deal with what you see, especially once we come back from a scene.

“From an emotional point of view we have to talk to each other, talk to friends and family to get things off our chests.

“Whenever something doesn’t go as well as we would hope, we debrief and talk about what went well and what we could have done better.

“Everyone looks out for each other here. It’s like we’re a family. We couldn’t do what we do without the support from the pilots and managers.”

During a visit to the air ambulance airbase in Earls Colne, I am told there are a number of general misconceptions made about the work of the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance.

For instance, the HEMS team are sometimes called to incidents outside of both Hertfordshire and Essex and have been called to areas in Kent, Suffolk and even Norfolk. Their remit is not simply the two counties they represent.

Another point both volunteers and crew are keen for me to note is that patients won’t always be flown to hospital.

There are times when the bigger space provided in an ambulance is crucial and it allows them greater flexibility to pull over to administer immediate treatment.

The helicopters themselves can fly up to 150mph when up in the air. To put that into perspective, it takes the team just 14 minutes to get from the airbase in Earls Colne to Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock.

Speed is of course one of the big advantages of the air ambulance and means travel time to hospitals is reduced significantly.

But the air ambulance is not simply there as a faster means of transport. The sophisticated skills and level of knowledge brought to incidents by the team means that in the most extreme situations, procedures can be performed on scene.

Pre-hospital care doctor Dom Rayment said: “I think a lot of people think the air ambulance is about flying people to hospital quickly.

“Really what it is about is bringing a highly skilled paramedic, doctor and a lot of kit otherwise kept in a hospital to the patient.

“If someone has been injured or suffered a cardiac arrest, they need that help there and then, not when they get to the hospital.

“We can do all sorts of things, sedate people, open up chests to relieve pressure or to access the heart.”

Mr Rayment added: “It’s a great job. It can be quite sad at times but you also get quite a few highs where you’ve been able to save a patient.”

The air ambulance is continually looking for volunteers and donations in order to maintain its vital life saving service.

To find out how you can get involved with the charity, visit

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