Mildura Paramedic Honoured For 40 Years Service

The almost 43-year career of Mildura’s Dale Richards at Ambulance Victoria (AV) has been marked by incredible change in the profession, with significant personal contributions to paramedicine, and always, a love for his job.

Mr Richards started out his career as a 21-year-old, applying for a job as a student ambulance officer in Mildura in 1981 – on the recommendation from his friend who was already employed by ambulance in Mildura.

“I must say I didn’t really have an interest in medicine or first aid at that stage, but I was successful in my application,” Mr Richards said.

“In those days, the major ambulance branches were independently run so they had their own superintendent and looked after their own recruiting.

“After being employed, I was sent to Melbourne for the ambulance officer’s training course – for three years, you’d alternate doing a block of three months of study in Melbourne then come back and work supervised for three months.

“We had minimal skills compared to now and didn’t even have defibrillators, but it was a great job and I really felt that I had landed on my feet.”

Two Ambulance Victoria paramedics stand in front of ambulances

Dale Richards (right) at the Mildura ambulance branch in 1984 after qualification. Alongside Steve Fumberger, who started his ambulance career on the same day as Dale.

A passion for healthcare had developed, which has led Mr Richards to stay with AV for more than four decades.

In that time, he has held several roles – from his start as an on-road ambulance officer, to an assistant station officer, an assistant training role, a Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) paramedic, a team manager, Senior Operations Officer Clinical Support (SOOCS), and finally, a Clinical Support Officer (CSO) which he remains today.

Through it all, he has been able to stay based in or around Mildura.

“When I was training to become a MICA paramedic in the mid-90s, I learnt about the CSO role and thought that is my ultimate job,” he said.

“But we didn’t have CSOs in the country at that time, under Rural Ambulance Victoria.

“In 2008 when Rural Ambulance Victoria was amalgamated into AV, they created regional CSO positions and I was able to win my dream job after all.

“I’ve hung onto it ever since.”

As a CSO, Mr Richards oversees the training and accreditation of paramedics across the Loddon Mallee region – covering from Swan Hill to Mildura.

An average day sees him travelling to different branches, checking in on new graduates and paramedics who are new to the region, training requirements and case reviews as well as providing an ambulance operational resource.

The role is perfect for someone like Mr Richards, with a passion for developing his profession.

“My absolute career highlight came about in 2000, when I was working as the SOOCS for Rural AV,” Mr Richards said.

“One of our major plans was to introduce a whole range of new skills and accreditations for all ambulance paramedics in rural Victoria.

“We worked under Tony Walker who ended up being the AV CEO for some years, and we introduced the Advanced Life Support (ALS) level of practice in Victoria.

“This is the current level of practice for most paramedics in Victoria and it immediately raised the level of our profession.

“Now that we have our professional registration, we’re the same as doctors and nurses as far as being respected as medical professionals.”

Ambulance Victoria CEO and paramedic Dale Richards stand in front of branded background

Dale Richards receives his 40-year service award at a ceremony in 2023, alongside AV CEO Jane Miller.

Mr Richards said the level of respect for paramedics is one of many huge changes he’s witnessed across his career.

“When I started, we didn’t have defibrillators, so the chance of surviving a cardiac arrest was very grim – about 3 per cent,” he said.

“In 1988, we got defibrillators issued to all the ambulances and we started to see an improvement in survival rates.

“Over the years, with the public knowledge on cardiac arrest and bystanders being willing to help with CPR, and increases in paramedics’ skills, the survival rate in Victoria is now one of the best in the world.

“Another big change of course, was that in 1981 when I started, only men could be paramedics.

“But in 1987, the legislation was changed, and we could employ women which was a great step forward – to the point now where if you look at all of Victoria, over 50 per cent of operational staff are women.

“Mildura was one of the branches that hired women very early in the piece – in general, Mildura really embraced change and encouraged research to improve patient care.”

Mr Richards will hit 43 years with AV in February and said he has no plans to finish up.

“I’m not ready to hang up the uniform yet,” he said.

“I still enjoy the job and the staff are great – this makes me still want to come to work.

“AV has always been a great place to work, and it’s just got better and better over the years.

“I’ve always looked back and thought I’m very lucky to have this job.”

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