CASINO station officer Des ‘Oyster’ Kilpatrick has seen a world of changes at the NSW Ambulance Service over his 40 year career.
When Des joined the service in 1970 after a decade as a butcher, paramedics were thin on the ground and ambulance officers usually worked solo.
When patients needed hands-on care in transit, Des would often have to get someone else to drive the vehicle for him.
That could be other emergency workers or, occasionally, civilian bystanders.
The converted Ford Fairlane ambulances of the day were basically panel vans with a first aid kit and a stretcher onboard.
“By 1976 we had switched to the Ford F100s and we began working in pairs,” he said.
“Today all ambos are paramedics and we get a lot of speciality training, plus some pretty fancy equipment.
Des spent his last day on the job yesterday farewelling his team and contemplating civilian life.
“I’m looking to do a little fishing and some travelling,” he said
“First I’m heading out west for a while to give my nephew a hand on his property at Warren,” he said.
Des’s workmates were sad to see their boss go.
Paramedic Glen Stalker said he’d be ‘bloody hard to replace’.
“Des will be sorely missed, his humour, and his practical jokes.
“You’d always have to check your bag after working with him.
“If it wasn’t fluffy toys strapped to your bumper-bar it was KY jelly on the handles.
“But seriously, I think they’ll have to hire two to replace him.”
“That’s not what you told me last night,” Des shot back with a grin.
Des was farewelled by ambulance and Casino Hospital staff at the Cecil Hotel on Tuesday after his last shift where he was presented with a gold watch and a pen.
“I won’t miss being on-call and getting up at 3am but I’ll miss the Christmas caramel tarts and rum balls from Betty Bennett, a casualty nurse at Casino Hospital,” he said.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with the casualty staff there and the police, the SES and the firies.
“They always assist us enormously.”
His last job was a typical Casino dispatch – transferring a patient from Casino to Lismore Base Hospital.
In an era of increasing job mobility, Des represents a dying breed of workers who stay in the one job for decades – particularly a job with so much associated trauma.
“It can get tough to handle sometimes but we have a full-time Chaplin today, Rev Graeme Davis,” he said.
“He’ll come out for a chat whenever there’s a fatality or one of us has problems.”
North Coast ambulance district manager Glen Eady said Des would be remembered for his willingness to assist and his ability to complete any task that was asked of him.
“He has been a colleague, peer and mentor to a large number of staff during his career,” he said.
“On behalf of the service, Des’ colleagues and, more importantly, the community that he has been a part of for so many years, we would like to say thank you and congratulations on a well deserved retirement.”