Paramedic Paul James of Warragul says he was surprised when notified he would receive an Ambulance Service Medal (ASM) in the Australia Day honours list but, referring to his colleagues, said it “is not hard to look good if surrounded by good people”.
Mr James, now based at the Morwell ambulance service headquarters where he is group manager of the Wellington district covering an area extending from Moe to Yarram, was recognised for a career extending more than 25 years during which he has played leading roles in several major emergencies in Gippsland.
His record highlights that the life of a paramedic is much more than “helping people that fall ill or have an accident at home or are involved in car accident”.
The most recent major emergency in which he led from the front was the Hazelwood coal mine fire, an event that he recalls was “totally unexpected and worse than anybody thought” and for which – unlike other emergencies – there were no well-practiced plans in place.
Mr James established the Community Health Assessment Centre at Morwell bringing together a team of 150 paramedics and nurses to give free health checks and arrange referrals and transfers of patients affected by smoke and ash to medical clinics, community health services or hospital emergency departments.
Advice was given on how best to look after themselves while the fire continued.
The centre that was set up at Morwell has become a model facility for Ambulance Victoria to adopt in future emergencies.
Mr James also played pivotal roles during floods that impacted most of Gippsland in 2011 and before that the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.