New Ambulance Base Now Within Reach For East Coast Community
When the nearest hospital is two hours away, it’s essential a St John ambulance and trained volunteers are close at hand when there’s a medical emergency.
That’s why the small township of Waihau Bay on the East Coast is in desperate need of a new ambulance station. The existing one was tacked onto the side of the Fire and Emergency building 20 years ago and is no longer fit for purpose.
“Back in the day they just had a St John station wagon so it was fine,” explains local resident Christine Elmiger. “Now they can hardly fit their ambulance truck in there. They’ve got no sluice area to wash anything down, they’ve got a very tiny little administration area on the side so it’s totally inadequate and not up to earthquake standards.”
While there’s only a few hundred residents, Waihau Bay’s population swells considerably over summer and the long winding roads are used heavily by the forestry, kiwifruit and honey industries. The nearest other St John bases are 50km away.
Five years ago Christine heard one of the St John volunteers complain about the situation and decided something had to be done. She has lived in Waihau Bay for 20 years and has previous fundraising experience so set about raising almost half a million dollars on behalf of St John Te Whanau-A-Apanui area committee.
“I just felt sorry for them. When I saw the volunteers weren’t happy with it, I thought ‘well it can be done’. But it’s been a long and very difficult process.”
Christine has worked tirelessly to get the project moving. She’s liaised with St John to draw up a concept plan and has negotiated a 30 year lease on a bare piece of land next door to the existing Fire and Emergency station.
“It’s a very basic little building but it’s high spec because it’s an emergency building. It has to be extra strong to withstand earthquakes.”
The new building will be 152m² and have room for two ambulance bays as well as sleeping facilities which Christine hopes will help attract more St John volunteers in future, in particular those from out of town and visiting tutors. “We have eight volunteers at the moment but people always come and go. Sometimes our numbers have been well down. This new building will say ‘this is a successful organisation’ and we hope that will attract more people to come and stay for a while.”
One of the ambulance bays will house St John’s new East Coast health shuttle which is due to launch this year. It will collect local residents and drive them to medical or wellness appointments when they don’t have a vehicle themselves, are too sick to drive, or cannot afford the petrol.
Community activities such as market days, jumble sales and hunting competitions have been organised over the past five years – but two major funding grants will help make the new ambulance station a reality in 2020.
BayTrust has granted $240,000 from its Community Amenities Fund and the JN Williams Memorial Trust and HB Williams Turanga Trust from Gisborne have committed $120,000.
Christine says she “celebrated madly” when news of the BayTrust grant came through in November.
“It was absolutely amazing. I just sat here and cried. I put in for that high figure, not necessarily expecting to get it. When I was waiting for the phone call I was thinking ‘don’t hope for too much’. I was pretty sure we were going to get something. But to get the whole lot… I was so thrilled and grateful.”
Plans for the new building will now be finalised and tenders called for in the coming months. Christine hopes construction will begin later this year.
“It’s absolutely essential. It’s desperately needed, especially as the fire department want to expand and use the space we have now. This new ambulance base will make a huge difference in our community.”