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West Berkshire charity aids Wiltshire air ambulance during chemical testing

Rapid response car loaned while aircraft grounded

West Berkshire charity aids Wiltshire air ambulance during chemical testing

A West Berkshire charity helped to provide cover for Wiltshire’s Air Ambulance, which was grounded through testing for the chemical agent Novichoc.

Precautionary testing was carried out at the air ambulance station at Semington on August 1, as well as emergency vehicles and kit worn by responders involved in the initial response to the poisoning of Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess in Amesbury.

Mother-of-three Ms Sturgess, 44, died on July 8 after being exposed to the nerve agent. Mr Rowley was initially in a critical condition but has since been discharged.

Wiltshire Police said that the testing was to ensure that no onward contamination has taken place, with the risk being assessed as low.

With the helicopter unable to fly, the charity's paramedics and doctors provided critical care through the use of Rapid Response Cars. 

West Berkshire Rapid Response Vehicles lent one of its vehicles to cover the grounded aircraft. The vehicles are equipped with the same specialist medical equipment that is on-board the helicopter.

The charity’s chairman Andrew Sharp said he was delighted that West Berkshire could assist. 

“When we got the call from Wiltshire Air Ambulance for help we were in a position of having a car not being used and we were delighted to say yes.

“I didn’t realise the extent of having the air ambulance out of action or in fact the reason for it. It was not apparent at the time and wouldn’t have made a difference in the decision. 

“It shows the gravity of the situation that our emergency services have to work in. They don’t ask ‘how dangerous is this for me?’ It’s very much how can I get there and how fast.

“We are delighted we can help and I’m sure everybody in West Berkshire will share that sentiment.

“The vehicle has all the gear and knowledge of the volunteer. That’s absolutely vital. The car is brimmed full of kit, you couldn’t squeeze a comb in the boot.”

The charity operates four vehicles all driven by volunteer paramedics who responded to more than 5,000 999 calls since it formed. 

“South Central Ambulance Service assure us it’s vital we carry on doing this,” Mr Sharp said. 

“We don’t get a penny from the government or statutory authorities. We do have a car we have to try and replace. Anyone who can help, especially companies who would like to be associated with this activity, we would be happy to hear from you.”

The testing identified no contamination and the base and helicopter resumed operations yesterday (Wednesday). 

Chief executive of Wiltshire Air Ambulance, David Philpott, said: “We are of course delighted with this news and I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues at Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Police, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and DSTL for the swift and professional way they have all worked with us during this challenging period.

“It is too early to say if these events have had a detrimental impact on our fundraising but I know how much the people of Wiltshire value our life-saving service so know we can count on them to keep us flying.”

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