After saving 11,000 lives and

42,000 ambulance call outs

... Britain's longest serving paramedic finally lays down his stretcher

John Spindler

Retiring: John Spindler, 64, from Yeovil, Somerset, is the longest serving paramedic in the UK

It has been a life dedicated to the most urgent of services.

But after 42,000 ambulance call outs in which he has helped save 11,000 lives, John Spindler has decided to finally lay down his stretcher.

As Britain's longest serving paramedic, the 64-year-old has heard countless sirens and seen his career change beyond recognition since he qualified 42 years ago - after completing a one week course.

Mr Spindler said: 'When I first started, calling an ambulance was seen as a last resort - it was really only serious things that we were called out for.

'But we get some ridiculous calls now. People rely too much on the services there are and use them all the time, sometimes for things as minor as a broken finger.'

He added: 'We didn't see so many drunks when I first started, and those we did see were always men.

'Nowadays it's the women who have to be taken to hospital. We never used to get called out to drug overdoses when I started either.'

Mr Spindler qualified as a young man in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, by taking a St John Ambulance training course that took just six evening sessions followed by an exam.

It only covered basic first aid - including putting on bandages - and putting people into the recovery position and onto stretchers.

His first ambulance was J-Type Bedford painted in the black and white livery of St John's Ambulance. They had early radio systems and could carry five stretchers.

He said: 'There were no sat navs so we just used maps - if we were going to a village at night we used to tell people to keep their light on so we could find the right house.  That wouldn't work these days.'

In the early days a paramedic's job was mainly to transport injured people to hospital, rather than treating them themselves.

john spindler

Eager: John at Yeovil ambulance station in 1978 aged 34

john spindler

Saviour: John helps a victim of a road accident in 2001

And Mr Spindler he remembers attending some horrific road accidents over the years - particularly in the early days when car crashes were much more severe than are now.

He said: 'In those days, if there was a road accident it would be a lot worse and there would be a lot more injuries. There were no seatbelts and no safety glass.'

But he has many positive memories, including a car accident in 1969 when a baby was thrown from a vehicle and miraculously survived.

'You see the most tragic parts of life in this job but it's not all bad,' he said. 'I've also delivered five babies.'

And he has witnessed medical advances including the breakthrough introduction of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the late 1960s.

He said: 'The first time I used mouth-to-mouth was incredible.

'Before then we had to lie people face down on their front and pull their arms back and forth behind them to open their chest.'

Recalling the first time he tried out the improved technique, he said: 'A woman collapsed had on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare.

john spindler

Award: John receives a certificate in 1994 in recognition of his work

john spindler

On duty: John in 1981 while on duty room at the ambulance station in Yeovil

'We took her into the ambulance and tried mouth-to-mouth for the first time, having been trained on it about a month before. When it worked it felt like magic.'

John decided to stop work a year before the official retirement age of 65 to spend more time with his family.

He has four children, Juliet, 42, Louise, 40, Carolyn, 38, Natalie, 26, and four grandchildren, Timothy, 13, Tabatha, 4, Amy, 17, and Matthew 15.

It was through working for the NHS that John met his wife Jane, now 61, a retired healthcare assistant.

His daughter Natalie, 26, is following in his footsteps and joined the ambulance service around three years ago.

Mr Spindler estimates he has responded to an average of 21 callouts a week during his career - between seven and ten on a typical day shift and six or seven on a night shift.

This equates to 987 emergencies a year and 41,454 callouts during his career.

john spindler

Caring: John (centre, with arm on door) in 1986 with colleagues during a charity fundraising day

An average of 27 per cent of 999 calls are life-threatening, according to his former employer South West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, meaning he has helped save 11,000 lives over his career.

A spokesman for the British Paramedic Association yesterday praised Mr Spindler's achievement, saying: 'He's the longest serving paramedic I've heard of.'

But Working in Yeovil, Somerset, where he also lives, Mr Spindler was finding it hard to keep pace with the changing technology and gruelling daily routine.

He said: 'The pace is the same, whether you are 24 or 64.

'When I started there were about 30 different pieces of equipment and we used to carry a little first aid satchel. Now there are around 500.

'But I'm quite proud of what I have done and think I have been very lucky to be able to carry it on this long.'

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