Watco Emergency Medical Services, saving lives one day at a time
Watco Emergency Medical Services is more than an emergency medical service (EMS) that rushes people to the hospital in a time of crisis. Made up of a team of caring medics, Watco Emergency Medical Service is an ambulance service that truly cares. Watco Emergency Medical Services was founded by Hendrik Hattingh and Wiewaldi Korff, after it was found that Volksrust was in dire need of an effective private ambulance service. Operations manager for both Newcastle and Volksrust, Jan-Henk van Vuuren, explains there are four members at each branch. Two qualified basic life support and two qualified intermediate life support medics.
The Watco EMS medics based in Newcastle are Jan-Henk van Vuuren, Myra van der Merwe, Kavitha Samlal and Leonard Ndaba.
What makes this team of medics truly special, is they have formed a partnership with Magenta Security. Situated at the security company’s base in Gemsbok Drive, the two work together in harmony, driven by their pursuit to help the community.
Jan van Rensburg of Magenta Security says the difference in the operations of both organisations was noticed immediately. “We have received a lot of positive feedback regarding the partnership and we are doing our best to make things better in Newcastle by working together,” he says.
As the two institutes work together, the Watco EMS team is made up of professionals who uphold old-school values when it comes to the emergency sector.
With over 20 years’ experience in the emergency sector, Jan-Henk explains how as a child of seven-years-old, he remembers always having the dream of becoming a medic. “When I was seven years old, I was walking to school. A car knocked me over and the ambulance rushed me to hospital. The medic asked me to visit them when I got discharged. One visit became two and two became almost every day until I finished school. During this time, I went out to accidents and fires with the Secunda Fire Brigade. At the age of 16, I was offered to join the Civil Defence Corps as a fire fighter and at the age of 18, I did the Basic Ambulance Assistant Course. I started working full time in the emergency services in 2000 at the Gauteng Provincial Ambulance Services. Over the next few years, I obtained various firefighting and rescue qualifications, and also became an Intermediate Life Support Practitioner in 2007. My fiancé, Myra van der Merwe and I moved to Newcastle in 2012 where we both worked for emergency services till now. I am currently the operations manager for Watco Emergency Medical Services.”
Jan-Henk explains one of the highlights of his career was when he and his team resuscitated a man at an office complex. “After about 45 minutes, we managed to revive the man. The emotions ran high between his co-workers and the whole group started clapping hands and cheering from joy and relief.
As rewarding as his career is, Jan-Henk emphasises being a paramedic is not without its challenges. “One of the hardest days of my career was when one of our ambulances was involved in a collision with a truck. Sadly, I lost three of my friends and colleagues that night.” Trying to resuscitate three of his colleagues and seeing all three die, proved to be an emotional and traumatic experience which has fuelled his desire to help others.
These are not the only challenges Jan-Henk faces in his career. “A huge challenge in the new age of emergency services is that it’s seen as a business to make money. It’s no longer an ambulance service where you enjoy and live out your passion to save lives. This trend of “financial medicine” has compromised the quality of patient care and some patients are being refused treatment due to their inability to afford healthcare. Becoming a medic was a lifelong dream which I had from a very young age and I will continue to do it for the right reasons, to make a difference in someone’s life and to give a family more time with their loved ones.”
Furthermore, Jan-Henk says medic work very long hours. “Sometimes we go without proper sleep for days. But at the end of the day, it’s rewarding to see a patient’s family being able to talk to him or her again. Our joint venture with Magenta Security made many good things possible as we both share the same values and that is to make a difference in the community.”
Jan-Henk says he has also faced some rather frightening situations during his time as a medic. “One of the most frightening events in my career, was when we were called out to an incident on a farm. A swarm of bees attacked a family visiting a grave. Knowing that my partner was terrified of bees and that there was no time to lose, I took it upon myself to retract the five family members from the area one by one. Adrenaline took over, and at the end of the day, it was just rewarding to see everyone get out alive. My saying is, it was a good day when everyone got to go home.”
Myra van der Merwe has been a medic for 11 years and she explains what drives her and her colleagues at WATCO EMS is a passion. A passion for their work, a passion for people and a burning desire to help those in need.
Throughout the years of being a medic, Myra says it isn’t always easy to pinpoint a highlight as a paramedic. “Every day is different and while it’s not easy to say which case really stands out, for me, it’s a great feeling to stabilise a patient and have their family members stop you in town and thank you,” she says.
Furthermore, Myra explains there are days which are so busy that it is almost overwhelming for paramedics. “At the end of your shift, you sit there and think, I did it. I helped save someone’s life.”
Leonard Ndaba explains he joined the Watco EMS team at the beginning of August. As a medic for the past six years, Leonard explains he became a medic for one simple reason. “As I care deeply for people, I want to do my best to save lives,” he explains. One of the highlights of his career, Leonard claims, is joining WATCO EMS. “The team has been very welcoming. I love learning and the team always answers all my questions, allowing me to learn constantly.”
As for the challenges faced by a medic, Leonard says he is always ready to face them head-on. “I chose this as a profession and I am aware of the consequences, but I am ready for any challenge,” he smiles.
Kavitha Samlal has been a medic for a year and a half, a career choice which she does not regret making. “The highlight of my career is to help all the sick and injured patients.” Through the desire to help others, Kavitha says there is nothing more satisfying than after a shift, knowing you made a positive difference in someone’s life. “My greatest wish for the EMS is to see an industry where all patients receive the same treatment, regardless of their status,” she concludes.
As Newcastillians enjoy the start of spring, Jan-Henk closes off with a stern message to the community. “With the summer approaching, we can’t wait to get back into the water. This is a festive time for us all. But we are also faced with our greatest fear, which is finding your little one floating faced down in the swimming pool. I would like to plead to each and every parent to take extreme caution when your children are using the swimming pool. I have lost count of how many children I had to resuscitate and many of them were unsuccessful. One of the hardest things for me is to walk to a parent and break the news that their child had passed away.”