Welcome to the next edition of our MHC Moments series, where we shine a spotlight on the contributions our people make to our community and the experiences that make us who we are.
CRM Executive, Aaron Kavanagh, talks to us about his involvement with the Irish Red Cross.
Tell us about a volunteering project that you have worked on.
During my volunteer time with the Irish Red Cross, I have been involved in several large-scale projects and events, from musical festivals like Electric picnic to National Emergencies such as Storm Emma, however the largest coordinated project was during Covid. The Irish Red Cross were mobilised to provide medical support to the national ambulance service and community support to the public. At the time I was the chair for the Clane branch and an Emergency First Responder, working with the team we provided over 3,000 hours of service including patient transport between hospitals, providing vaccinations at vaccination centres, community support for vulnerable members of the public, and medical treatments. This was one of the largest mobilisations in the organisation's history.
What did you find most rewarding?
The most rewarding thing about working with the Irish Red Cross is always seeing a patient recover and knowing that you helped them. One of my favourite experiences was during a festival on the first day, I treated a person who had been injured in a crush. I spent about an hour helping the person, speaking with their parents on the phone and then transporting them to hospital. On the second day I was on a team that patrols the event, and the person I had treated came hopping up to me on crutches with a big smile on their face, thanking me for everything I did - this is the best feeling in the world.
Did you encounter any challenges?
During Covid we had an operations team and a governance team. My roles allowed me to work across both areas providing medical treatment and managing logistics. The biggest challenges we faced were keeping our volunteers safe, financing operations, and obtaining supplies. We had 10 EMT's administrating vaccinations, over 20 providing community support and another 25 members providing transport and medical support. This required a tremendous effort as all members also work full time and give as many hours as possible. Getting PPE such as masks and gloves at this time was extremely difficult, and so we created a team to source these things, tapping into networks outside of our usual suppliers. I managed to source gloves and masks from a couple of manufacturing companies that had reduced their staff to minimal levels. Another team member managed to secure a 50 litres of hand sanitizer from a chemical company. This outside the box thinking allowed us to continued working. I was working full time from the office during the lockdowns, this meant that all this work took place on lunch breaks, after hours, and weekends, sometimes working into the small hours of the morning, either in the background on administrative work or on the ambulance transporting and treating patients.
There are many challenges you encounter when volunteering for a public facing organisation especially an organisation that provides medical treatment. From balancing your team and managing people to avoid burn-out, to staying professional and empathic, while at the same time ensuring your own safety and mental health. But you develop extremely strong relationships and trust with your team and knowing that you can count on them makes facing these challenges much easier.
How do you balance your work responsibilities with your volunteer commitments?
Volunteering is very different from hobbies or things you do just for fun. Once you get into it you get hooked and develop a passion that drives you to figure out the best way to balance time. Luckily, the Irish Red Cross do not require their volunteers to commit to specific amounts of hours, you give what you can. We train once a week, 48 weeks a year and then we go out on duties at weekends and some weeknights, I personally do at least two weekend duties a month which normally 8-14 hours duties a day and give a few hours a week for administrative duties. I am also an instructor with the Clane branch so the preparation for a course can take almost as long as delivering it. Luckily, we have a great team of instructors in the branch so the work can be spread out if needed.
Are there any specific skills that you have developed through your volunteering experience?
Teamwork, communication and stress management are extremely important skills for this type of volunteering. You cannot do it alone and you must be able to always rely on your team. We train as a team and perform as a team when treating patients. Making swift decisions and staying calm under pressure is also a skill that you must develop - this one will take a bit of time, but when faced with 15 injured patients you must be able to quickly assess, prioritise, and treat under pressure. One skill that not many people think about is the ability to think clinically and be empathic at the same time. While these seem to contradict one another, you must be able to perform treatment that will cause some pain now but will result in the patient feeling better later, such as CPR, or moving someone with a broken leg.
What advice would you give to other staff members who are considering getting involved in similar volunteering?
There are many roles in the Irish Red Cross. If you are not great around blood or sick people you can always help with the community support, such as the legal clinics that Mason Hayes and Curran are currently involved with, or community outreach programs. You can get involved the governance side of things which is just as important as the operations and keeps the members on the ground up-to-date with training, funding, and supplies so they can help people. If you are interested in the medical side of the organisation, remember everybody must start somewhere and coming in with no knowledge of medicine is completely fine. We can teach you the skills if you have the right mind set. The Irish Red Cross is a pre-hospital care organisation and as such we are the first on scene, and the first to see people at their worst moments. We are here to make sure that those moments become a memories of the day they were helped, not just the day they were hurt.
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