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Women to the rescue

Tuesday, 29th October, 2013

The NSW Ambulance Volunteers and Community First Responders Packsaddle team are pictured (from left) Mia Degoumois, team leader Michelle Mannion and Viv Degoumois. The NSW Ambulance Volunteers and Community First Responders Packsaddle team are pictured (from left) Mia Degoumois, team leader Michelle Mannion and Viv Degoumois.

Three Packsaddle women are demonstrating the essence of community spirit, serving as not only the backbone of their local NSW Ambulance Volunteers and Community First Responders team, but the SES and NSW Rural Fire Service.

Located half way between Broken Hill and Tibooburra, Packsaddle does not have a stand-alone ambulance station.

This inspired Michelle Mannion, Mia Degoumois and her mother-in-law Viv Degoumois to undertake training in pre-hospital care through the CFR program.

“We were being called to accidents as SES members and the biggest problem was our inability to administer oxygen before paramedics arrived,” said Mia, who is the Packsaddle SES Unit controller and also owns the Packsaddle Roadhouse.

Michelle, who is team leader of the Packsaddle CFR team, said a plane fatality in 2008 became the catalyst for change.

“We arrived at this horrific crash where there was one fatality and one survivor, but there was nothing we could do for him medically,” she said.

Packsaddle is one of 48 VCFR teams across NSW which provide lifesaving out-of-hospital care in rural and remote communities.

They are trained to the level of Certificate 2 Emergency Medical Service First Responder and maintain their skills through regular training sessions and annual


Volunteers commonly respond to serious motor vehicle accidents, life threatening incidents such as heart attacks, strokes, breathing difficulty and asthma, and children suffering critical medical incidents.

Michelle, Mia and Viv cover a massive area, taking in a population of about 250 people living on properties spread over hundreds of kilometres.

Michelle, a grandmother of two, said most of the callouts involved tourists and motor vehicle accidents.

“The Silver City Highway still has patches of dirt and we have a lot of tourists who are not aware of the conditions,” she said.

“It’s good to be able to be there and help. You get a rush, knowing you’re doing the right thing,” she said.

Added Mia: “The people who live out here are very self-sufficient. They’ll just deal with it rather than call you and that’s fine, but we’re always here, whether it’s to give someone a bit of pain relief or just some reassurance.”

Viv, at age 72, is an inspiration, combining a large family which includes 16 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, with maintaining her high volunteering profile. Mention retirement and she immediately dismisses the idea.

“Retirement? And do what? What do people do when they retire and they’re still very active? I’ve lived in this district my whole life and I’ve got a lot to offer the community after so many years of receiving.

“I get a bit of an adrenalin rush when we’re called out because I’m helping my community. I love it all. I feel quite wonderful about myself whenever I’m called to help.”

Mia, a mother of two, attributed her strong volunteering approach to Packsaddle’s ethos of helping its neighbours.

“People still get in and help each other. If you’re stuck you can call the neighbours, even if they’re 15km away.

“There have been times when Viv and I haven’t had enough people to work at the roadhouse when a call comes in, so we’ve just closed the door and put up a sign.”

Michelle said her training also benefited her family, who operated two sheep and cattle stations spanning 97,124ha.

“We have lots of workers - including our three sons who all ride motorbikes and drive cars. The type of work that we do is fairly risk intensive. Just having that knowledge that if something goes wrong or there’s an accident, I have got those skills, it’s extremely reassuring.”

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