Wessex 4x4 snow heroes help Bristol's emergency services
While most of us have tried our best to keep off the roads during the recent snow, for one group of unlikely heroes the wintery weather provided the perfect conditions to drive to the rescue.
When the emergency services need help in bad weather they call Wessex 4x4. The charity can call on more than 200 owners of off-road vehicles who have volunteered to go out in all weather conditions.
From picking up stranded ambulance drivers and nurses to carrying out essential blood bank runs, the volunteer drivers in the Avon and Somerset area have been on constant call since last week's snowfall.
36-year-old Steve Hobbs from Bradley Stoke is one of the volunteer drivers.
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In the past week he has been called out to pick up ambulance crews and 999 dispatchers from their homes and taking them to stations for the start of their shifts.
He was also on call for one of the more unusual requests that the charity has had to deal with. Last Sunday the neonatal unit at Taunton hospital found itself running out of breast milk for a premature baby in their care. Unable to get more milk locally they they called Wessex 4x4 for help.
"The transfers are normally made by motorbike" said Steve. "Although the worse was over by Sunday, the roads were still too icy for the bikes and we were called to help out. I picked up the milk from Southmead hospital and drove it to Taunton in a cool bag in the back of the Land Rover."
"It's been a hectic week and a real baptism of fire. I've been with the group for a couple of years now and it's been the first time I've been called on. Coping with a full time job and getting up in the middle of the night to take people for the beginning of their shifts has been challenging – but I've got an understanding boss."
The CEO of 4x4 Wessex Mario Caves is modest when it comes to explaining what they do but, without the help of the volunteer drivers, it's clear many of our emergency services would be stretched to the limits in bad weather: "It's about giving something back, doing something good with what you've got," he said. "If you can drive safely in snow from A to B in your 4x4 then you're needed by somebody and really appreciated."
"What we do is very little compared to the effort it takes, but it makes such a difference. We've spent the week taking ambulance service staff to the dispatch centre in Almondsbury – if they can't get there its got huge consequences on the service."
"We do the background job. It's very simple, but essential for people who can't drive to work, and the consequences of not doing it are so great."
Over the past week Wessex 4x4 have been called out more than 140 times, many of those call outs were to help the ambulance service and John Oliver ,from the Great Western Ambulance Service, said the support of the charity and the volunteer 4x4 drivers was vital.
"Part of our planning for severe weather is to identify availability of specialist 4x4 vehicles – in addition to 4x4 vehicles in our own fleet, crewed by paramedics to reach patients, we also enjoy excellent support from organisations such as Wessex 4x4, whose members kindly offered their services and vehicles to help us get staff into work and move them to different locations. As ever, this support was essential and we are extremely grateful to Wessex 4x4 for helping us to ensure that every person dialling 999 during the recent bad weather continued to receive the medical help they needed."
Even though the snow is now melting the volunteers of Wessex 4x4 are still on standby – for the mud and floods which may follow. "Last summer we sent more than 20 vehicles to the Isle of White festival" said Mario. "They spent the entire weekend pulling cars out of the mud."
After speaking to these 4x4 owners it was probably classed as a top weekend away.