Beating the angels a challenge for paramedic John
FOR veteran paramedic John Strasser it has always been a race with the angels.
When he wins, it can bring indescribable joy; a loss can lead to darkest desolation.
John Strasser's been in the business of saving lives for 35 years.
And one thing he has learnt is that it is a contest - a life and death battle to get to the scene as quickly as possible.
He recalls his first fatality.
"I was being mentored by an ambulance officer named Max Gardner and we had arrived at the home of an elderly gentleman who had suffered a massive heart attack," Mr Strasser said.
"After we failed to revive him, Max called comms and told them, 'we're not needed at this job - the angels have already beat us here'."
That was the moment he became aware of the vital challenge that has defined his job.
Mr Strasser said he became a member of the Queensland Ambulance and Transport Brigade in 1978.
"I began paramedics in Ipswich when I was 27. Before that I was working at a Volvo truck factory as a storeman," he said.
"One of my roles at the factory was an industrial first aid officer, where I helped look after the health and wellbeing of about 250 staff.
"From time to time, ambulance officers from Ipswich station would come down, to re-certify me in how to do first aid and CPR."
It was during one of those sessions that an officer suggested Mr Strasser consider a career in paramedics.
"The switch in jobs meant I had to take a $40 a week pay cut, which was about 25% of my wages back then," he said.
"But at the end of the day, it was a permanent job with career possibilities and something I enjoyed doing."
Starting out as an honorary officer, Mr Strasser spent countless hours being trained in the field of paramedics and doing voluntary ambulance work.
"I didn't have a great education," he said.
"But once you get into a job you like, you will do whatever it takes to be good at it.
"The first call I went on was a bit disappointing. I was so excited but when we arrived it turned out to be just a chap with a nose bleed.
"Since then I have seen some nose bleeds where people have a lost a litre and a half of blood, but this wasn't as serious."
Even after three decades, the Yamanto grandfather said each job was still an adrenaline rush, "because you never knew what you are in for".
"Everyone who calls believes they are in a life-threatening situation, so each patient is treated with the same attention," he said.
"We recently had a woman who called up with a headache which turned out to be massive internal bleeding in her brain."
Mr Strasser said there had only been one emergency situation which had left him "really shaken".
It was during a severe storm 14 years ago which had caused trees and branches to crash down on power lines.
"We got the call for a multiple electrocution," he said.
"A mother who was holding her three-year-old daughter's hand, had tried to move a branch and failed to notice a fallen power line was attached it.
"When she touched the branch, the 11,000 volts of electricity passed through her and into her daughter.
"A neighbour heard the screams and went to help, but got electrocuted also when he touched them."
When his crew appeared on the scene, Mr Strasser said he had to wait helplessly for Energex to arrive before they could safely assist any of the victims.
"When they finally got there, we worked as best as we could, but the time frame beat us and we lost all three," he said.
When tragic events such as that happen, Mr Strasser said counsellors were always available.
"I also get a lot of support from my family," he said.
"There'll always be those days where you feel depressed by what you've seen and talking to my wife helps.
"I would not have been able to continue this job for so long without their support."
Mr Strasser, who now works at the station in Springfield, was this week awarded the 35 Year National Medal for his dedicated service to the QAS.
"If the big guy upstairs is feeling generous, I hope to do it for at least another four years," he said.