QAS, Stephen Johns.
QAS, Stephen Johns. Bev Lacey

Extreme medic risks life to save others as tragedy struck

WAITING went against every element of Stephen Johns' natural-borne instinct and desire to help.

But he had no choice.

As a heartbreaking tragedy unfolded in front of his eyes, the paramedic - the only one in town - couldn't save a life without risking his own.

A grain auger being pushed by five people had clipped an overhead power line, sending deadly volts through the steel and to the farm workers at the rural Proston property.

Three men were killed; two others horrifically injured and would survive.

"I was the first responder - Proston is a single-officer station and I arrived on scene first," Mr Johns recalled.

"We had a very unsafe scene. The auger was still attached to the power lines (which) had hit the top (of the lines) as they were pushing it up to a silo.

"The hardest thing was not being able to help. Safety has always been paramount in our training.

"We would have had more fatalities because the electricity authority later advised us the whole ground was electrified so if we had walked in, we would have been electrocuted."

It remains one of Mr Johns' most challenging days on the job he's loved for almost 35 years in a career which, he believes, requires a unique desire to genuinely help.

"Every day is a good day, you just get some challenges along the way," the Darling Downs Local Ambulance Service Network Senior Operations Supervisor said.

And there have been challenges.

Some spill over into personal lives as the impact of the tragedy before them strikes an emotional chord.

For Mr Johns, the memory of a triple fatal car crash outside Ipswich in the late 1980s still lurks in the back of his mind.

Back then, as a young father himself, the deaths of three children who had just unclipped their seatbelts to lay down in the back seat of a car as their father drove them back to NSW in the dead of night, really hit home.

QAS, Stephen Johns. January 2019
QAS, Stephen Johns. Bev Lacey

The car hit a cow - an unavoidable tragedy.

It was a time when child car safety seats were just beginning to be taken seriously.

A few days after attending the crash, Mr Johns bought all new car seats and had them installed for his own children.

But the heavy days are out-shone by the good - the days when lives are saved, a thankful former patient stops them on the street to say thanks, or just making a difference - big or small - in someone's life.

"People often think it's all the lights and sirens, the car accidents and all those terrible jobs but some of the memorable jobs along the way are just being able to sit in the back of the ambulance on the way to hospital and just talk to somebody," Mr Johns said.

"An elderly lady who is in pain, provide her some pain relief and just hold her hand and tell her that everything is going to be ok.

"Just get her off to hospital and just let her know that somebody is there to care for them.

Bizarre road rules: Hundreds of Australians are copping hefty fines.
Bizarre road rules: Hundreds of Australians are copping hefty fines.

"That is actually a really good part of the job, and that's part of making the difference."

The now-famous 2017 photo of Hervey Bay paramedics Danielle Kellam and Graeme Cooper taking a palliative care patient to see the beach one final time happens every day, Mr Johns said.

It's balanced in the staunch belief and trust of expert medical training that becomes instinct over the years, grounded in the desire to help and save lives, and make a real difference.

"I'd never change anything in my career," Mr Johns said.

"I think destiny plays a large part, and some things we just can't change.

"A lot of incidents have already happened before we're involved, so we can't change that.

"But what we can change, and try and change, are outcomes for patients and that's what we're about."