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To the rescue

July 21, 2013

The founder and visualiser of Rescue 1122, Dr Rizwan Naseer is a trauma surgeon. “There were ambulances before us but the patients were not getting proper pre-hospital service. No one would pick up an accident or trauma victim because they were afraid of it becoming a police case. Even if they did try to help someone they didn’t know how to do it. Hence people with back injuries got paralysed because the people helping them weren’t trained in knowing how to move them or deal with serious injuries,” says Dr Naseer.

“After doing a study back in 1991, we found that 95pc of all ambulances here were actually just patient transport vehicles. There was nothing like an emergency service such as UK’s Rescue 999 or Rescue 911 of North America. That’s when I decided to start something on those lines here as well,” he explains.

“We tried to initiate a response mechanism by involving the Lahore police where a trained person could ride with them in their patrolling vehicles. This went on for three months but after that the police pointed out that dealing with accident or other trauma cases was not their responsibility,” he informs.

“From 2000 to 2002, we started another such project with the Civil Defence by taking the Ministry of Interior on board. But it also could not carry on for long. When an organisation is lying dormant for years, you just can’t make it change gears suddenly to get into action again. We wanted to give them the responsibility but they didn’t want to take it. The same was the outcome of working with Non Government Organisations (NGOs). Then on suggestion that I do it myself, I decided to take up the challenge and set an example for others to follow. Initially, we started Rescue 1122 with 14 ambulances or rescue vehicles as a pilot project in October 2004 in Lahore,” he makes a long story short.

“Today there is a Rescue 1122 service in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and another in Gilgit-Balitistan. All it required was to start a system to deal with emergencies. You can’t work without initiating a system for this kind of thing. Otherwise you end up wasting resources like those City Government ambulances gathering rust in Karachi,” Dr Naseer, who is also Director General of Rescue 1122, points out.

Not just an ambulance service although they started that way, Rescue 1122, today, is also a fire service and a disaster response service during earthquakes and floods.

“Our performance speaks for itself. From Lahore we took the project to 12 major districts of Punjab and today we are functioning in 36 districts of the province. We are still expanding and have now taken our work to 12 tehsils. And after training rescue teams in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan, we are looking to spread to Sindh as well and the entire country and abroad, too, eventually,” says Rescue 1122’s spokesman Jam Sajjad Hussain.

“We are seen as the best example of a rescue service in South Asia. Such a model is not even available in India as an Indian delegation here wished that we could train their people in India, too,” he adds.

It is surprising to find only 24 Rescue 1122 ambulances in a big city like Lahore. “Efficiency lies in the way you run things,” the spokesman points out. Twenty-four ambulances are enough for Lahore. They cover the city well,” he say.

“We have a control room in every district in Punjab where each ambulance is tracked through a proper tracking system. We are monitoring each ambulance’s speed, direction, etc. in order to ensure all of them reach their destinations on time otherwise they will get an explanation call. We don’t just stop at that. The control rooms are also monitored through a provincial monitoring cell,” he explains the system.

Rescue 1122 has 8,500 rescuers across Punjab. This includes fire fighters and water rescue teams too. “After giving our ambulance emergency response service thumbs up, the Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif asked us to start a fire service, too, in 2007,” he informs. “We have responded to some 45,000 fire cases and saved around Rs131 billion worth of losses in the process,” he says.

“Our disaster response team came up after the 2005 earthquake and the floods brought in the water rescue teams,” he continues.

“On average, there are 500 traffic accidents happening in Punjab on a daily basis affecting some 700 families. Five hundred people get paralysed every day so there is a huge need for Rescue 1122. We only respond to emergency calls. We don’t transport the sick from here to there, we don’t shift dead bodies,” he pointed out.

“Our rescuers, from the sentry level to district emergency officers, receive full training and continue to take refresher courses throughout their service. There is the training of paramedics, fire fighters and water rescue teams, and everyone from the lowest position to the highest get a basic training that teaches them each others’ work. They all know first aid and what is to be done in any kind of emergency. Then the refresher courses of three week’s duration each are to bring them up to date with new techniques and how to work with new equipment. There is no compromise in training,” Hussain explains.

About their finances, the spokesman said that Rescue 1122 was funded by the Punjab government. “We get Rs1.75 billion to two billion annually and we run the service efficiently within our resources,” he concludes.