The Wellington Free Ambulance is the only one of its kind operating in New Zealand.
This is a service that does not pass its overhead costs on to its users. As its calling card indicates, the service is free.
All you need to do is call 111and the “angels in green” will show up wherever you are in Wellington.
This unique ambulance service has been criss-crossing the streets of Wairarapa and the greater Wellington region for the past 95 years.
Back in 1927, then Wellington Mayor Charles Norwood pulled off his coat on a wintry day to cover a man lying on the pavement as he waited for help to arrive.
That single incident spawned the Wellington Free Ambulance.
Last year, the service answered over 150,000 emergency calls.
Calls are prioritised based on the nature of the emergency.
The more life-threatening the condition, the greater the priority accorded to a call. That means sending the closest ambulance under lights and sirens and accompanied by paramedics.
If it’s something minor, a registered nurse offers advice over the phone.
There are nine ambulance stations located around the Wellington region, with headquarters at Thorndon.
But running a free community service has its challenges. If money makes the world go round, that certainly is the case with the ambulances.
This is where a grateful Wellington community has stepped up to ensure that money (or the lack thereof ) will not stop the wheels from turning.
“The Wellington community feels very lucky and realise we need their support,” says Rachel Wilson, senior communications manager. “So, they show their support and gratitude through the donations that they make every year.”
The ambulance service relies heavily on fundraising to meet its overhead costs.
“As an essential health service, we get about 75 per cent of our funding from the government and then about $7 million comes from the community through fundraising,” Wilson says.
The primary donor is the Lloyd Morrison Foundation which covers the cost of what Wilson calls the “heartbeat programme,” providing free CPR training for anybody in the community who wants to have it.
The Foundation also funds an ambulance every year.
The rest of the funding comes from local businesses who form the “support crew”- donors committed to giving yearly donations over a specific period.
“But quite a huge amount of money comes from donors within the community, people who pay out of their pockets,” Wilson points out.
Wilson is quick to add that the Indian community plays a substantial role in keeping the ambulances running.
“We do get an amazing amount of support from the Indian community. The Punjabi Sports and Culture Association, for example, holds a fundraising dinner for us every year,” she notes.
The Jina’s World of Fresh Produce, a key component of the support crew, is committed to making an annual donation to the service for the next three years.
The Asia Pacific Indian Ladies Association too has contributed its mite to the cause. “We wanted to give back to the local community who welcomed us with open arms when we arrived as immigrants,” says Shashi Jokhan, who heads the association.
But the elderly couple, Amrit and Kamal, will always be remembered with affection. “They are such a wonderful couple. They have given us the ultimate gift, which is a whole ambulance,” Wilson gushes.
Amrit, 80, a heart patient, and his wife Kamal made the $ 250,000 gift after experiencing the ambulance service firsthand.
“Wellington Free Ambulance call takers are so reassuring whilst you are waiting with them on the phone for the paramedics to arrive,” Kamal recalls.
“They helped me know exactly what I needed to do and then the angels in green arrived and they were so fast and they were free.”
The new ambulance is due to arrive mid-year.