When calamity strikes, personnel from the St John’s Ambulance are usually first on the scene and they are tasked with attending to the injured.
It is not a job for the faint hearted and to make their work easier, the organisation has recruited volunteers who run up and down the Nakuru-Eldoret highway on a mission to save lives each time there is a road crash.
Located at the Sachangwan trading centre, these volunteers keep patrolling the blackspots at Ngata Bridge, Salgaa, Migaa, Sachangwan and Total.
While patrolling the busy highway, the team is equipped with first aid kits, stretchers and blankets among other tools used to attend to accident survivors. They also educate locals on road safety while drivers are trained on importance of observing road safety measures.
Godfrey Mosota, a small business operator at Migaa area, is among volunteers that can be seen carrying a first aid kit along the busy highway.
Mosota recalls the numerous number of accidents he has witnessed along the stretch that pushed him to join the team of rescuers.
He says the most memorable accident he ever witnessed was the one that killed more than 100 people at Sachagwan in 2009 after a fuel tanker burst into flames. Locals were burnt after they rushed to siphon petrol from the vehicle.
He says although he was at the scene, he could do nothing but observe from a distance for fear of also being a victim.
“That accident is forever etched in my mind. I cannot forget how it felt watching all those people burn to death or the helplessness of seeing them engulfed in flames and not knowing what to do. It was that accident that made me decide to help save lives,” he says.
Mosota revealed that he would henceforth dash to the scene of an accident and fumble around trying to help those affected. He was, however, held back by a lack of knowledge and equipment, which only frustrated his desire to be of assistance.
In September, last year, St Johns Ambulance Kenya teamed up with Gulf Energy and trained 40 volunteers, equipping them with skills and knowledge on how to handle accident victims. Mosota was glad to be a beneficiary of this training.
The training was initially targeted at boda boda operators along the highway but was later extended to include all well-wishers and volunteers along the stretch.
Today, whenever an accident occurs, locals immediately call Mosota and the other volunteers to come an assist.
With the training, the team is able to contain bleeding, contain further injury and ensure they get to the nearest medical facility.
“To be a rescue volunteer, one must be skilled in offering first aid that does not further harm the victim. We are constantly aware that our mistake can result in irrevocable harm to the victim,” Mosota says. Solomon Bii is another volunteer along the Salgaa-Sachangwan area who says he decided to join the team because there were numerous accidents and he did not know how to help survivors. Some of the survivors would die bleeding profusely after being involved in an accident.
“During my day to day operations, I encounter a lot of accidents, some committed by boda bdoa operators, some involving passengers and vehicles. I hate seeing children orphaned and that’s the reason why I decided to be part of a team that rescues survivors,” he says.
Whereas rescue mission is thought to be a masculine task, the team consists of three women who can be seen carrying first aid kits to tend to rescue survivors.
The work is, however not easy. Anne Kemunto, 25, a salonist says she sometimes locks herself in a room after a rescue mission and cries to relieve herself from the trauma encountered.
She recalls a recent accident where six people died after their vehicle had a head-on collision with a bus at Sachangwan on October 27. The volunteer received a phone call while on her personal errands informing her about the accident.
She immediately rushed to the blood-splattered scene to join police in rescue efforts and it took several hours to free some of the bodies that were stuck in the mangled wreckage.
“The scene was horrific, bodies were strewn all over the place. There is this woman who was traveling in the Nissan matatu, she seemed to be breathing but we later discovered she had died,” she says, tears in her eyes.
Maureen Wambui, 21, who just completed her secondary school education two years ago says instead of sitting at home idle, she decided to volunteer and also educate locals on road safety measures to curb accidents.
Wambui says she is disturbed by images of survivors and accident victims after each rescue.
“Accidents come with all manner of injuries. There are times I see injured bodies of survivors and the memory keeps coming to me whenever I am idle. I, therefore, try to keep myself busy at all times,” she says.
To take care of their emotional health, after conducting a rescue, the team comes together, share experiences and challenges and encourage each other through talks.
Another challenge that faces the team is lack of an ambulance to rush survivors to hospital. They only depend on one located in Nakuru and Molo hospitals that can take hours before arriving at the scene.
Some of the survivors also require blood after excessive bleeding but due to delayed medical attention, they end up dying.
“We are doing our best to help those in need each time there is a road crash but there is only so much we can do. Yes we provide the basic first aid but these survivors need follow-up treatment, that can only be available in hospital, yet they do not receive this fast enough due to logistical challenges,” Wambui says adding that they sometimes depend on volunteers to provide them with their personal vehicles to take patients to hospitals.