Cork paramedic retires after 30 years of emergency call-outs

As paramedic Kieran Henry retires from the Ambulance Service, he tells CHRIS DUNNE about the highs and lows of his career... and what he has planned next
Cork paramedic retires after 30 years of emergency call-outs

Kieran Henry, Operations Resource Manager, National Ambulance Service, South Region.

HAVING responded to thousands of emergency calls during his career in the Ambulance Service, Kieran Henry is stepping back from the frontline after nearly 30 years.

“The Ambulance Service is like having a second family,” says Kieran, aged 50, from Turner’s Cross. 

“You spend lots of days and nights working closely with colleagues in often difficult situations.”

The family ethos doesn’t end there..

“Everyone supports each other when needed, especially after what may have been a tragic or sad call,” says Kieran.

However, some call-outs are joyous, bringing glad tidings.

“Yes, happy events with happy results are always great,” says Kieran. 

“I remember my first call-out assisting at the birth of a new-born was in Youghal.

“The baby was born in a house on a cold night in the early 1990s. I estimate that I assisted with more than 20 babies being born during my career, either in their home or in the back of the ambulance.”

Kieran, as part and parcel of his job, experienced good days and bad days.

“Caring for people for us happened on the best days of their lives and at end of life.”

ON CALL: Kieran Henry’s career in the National Ambulance Service included thousands of new-born deliveries — the best days — and end of life incidents — the worst days
ON CALL: Kieran Henry’s career in the National Ambulance Service included thousands of new-born deliveries — the best days — and end of life incidents — the worst days

He met and helped people from all walks of life.

“You get to meet people often on what may be one of the worst days of their lives when they may have been involved in a car crash and have sustained a traumatic injury or perhaps a collapse in their home or street,” says Kieran.

“As a paramedic, you can expect to be called to any type of emergency, anywhere, anytime. We have assisted people from the cradle to the grave.”

Sometimes, the ambulance crew, acting spontaneously, answers urgent calls with blood pumping, brains whirring, and an extra jolt of adrenaline, bringing all their collective expertise to transport the patient to definitive care. But they don’t always achieve the positive outcome they want.

“I saw many traumas in my time,” says Kieran.

“And unfortunately I was with many people when they died.”

He was often the reluctant bearer of bad news.

“You do your best to support relatives and you hope your efforts to resuscitate their loved one may bring slight comfort to them, and also the fact that you may have been with the person when they died and therefore they were not alone as they passed away from this life may bring added comfort to families.”

Kieran was highly trained and on high alert to assist at every situation he had to face.

“As an ambulance person, you can expect to see so many extremes, even sometimes within one shift. That could involve a person fighting to die whilst another person is fighting to live.”

Duty called in many guises, from the pauper to the prince.

“One day you could be on duty for a high profile event such as Cork City Marathon or on one of the royal visits over the years. Then you could be on a back street with a person who is down and out and who has very little in this world only their dignity, and it’s been a privilege to try and help these folk. It is very humbling.”

Kieran Henry, who took part in a video featuring frontline stuff, during the Covid pandemic.
Kieran Henry, who took part in a video featuring frontline stuff, during the Covid pandemic.

Kieran has a link to every parish in Cork and beyond.

“When I’m passing an area in Cork I’m often taken back to a particular call and I can recall that incident like it was yesterday. It could have been a challenging call or maybe just some peculiar reason that you remember that place and those people.”

It could be an emotional connection.

“Having a peer support structure from colleagues was really helpful,” says Kieran.

“They came to the fore when you needed them. You could be dealing with calls where a child was badly injured or maybe domestic violence incidents. On one shift you could come across a lot.”

“Building a relationship with people on call-outs was special,” says Kieran.

“Often, they’d welcome a listening ear and the reassurance and care you brought to them. They really appreciated your help.”

Kieran spent a couple of years stationed in West Cork and was a Flight Paramedic on a helicopter operating from Custume Barracks, Athlone.

For five years he was based on Ireland’s first Aeromedical Service working with the Irish Air Corps. 

“I have answered an emergency call in every county in Ireland,” he says.

Kieran travelled near and far in his quest to aid the elderly, the lonely, people who suffered cardiac arrests, strokes, asthma attacks and road accidents, as well as farm accidents.

“I remember witnessing the bravery of an elderly farmer in the West of Ireland protecting his son who had been gored by a bullock,” says Kieran. 

“The elderly dad stepped in front of the animal to protect his son which was very brave of him.”

Kieran stepped in for everyone who needed his help.

“I flew a retired nurse to hospital who was having a heart attack,” says Kieran. 

“She was unselfishly concerned about her husband who was ill at home.”

Kieran spread his own wings during his illustrious career.

“I was part of a teaching partnership which involved several trips to Sudan,” says Kieran.

He honoured his colleagues when he travelled abroad.

“I undertook a 600 mile cycle in the USA honouring paramedics who were killed on duty. 

"I also had the opportunity to present my research on ‘Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest’ in Spain and China.”

He learnt his skills from the best.

“I have always tried to engage and learn from colleagues nationally and internationally in trying to develop emergency care.”

Most of Kieran’s work has been spent from Ambulance Stations in Cork, where he was privileged to end up as Operations Manager in his native Cork city.

“I’ve witnessed a huge transformation in the organisation since I joined originally as an Ambulance Driver, with significant evolvement in education and training. 

"Equipment, technology and the increasing array of medications has contributed hugely to the capabilities of today’s paramedics in dealing with medical and traumatic emergencies; in areas such as pain relief and for example the ability to recognise and deal with heart attacks, seizures and cardiac arrest.” 

Kieran says his career afforded him fantastic experience and opportunity. “The education and training courses were hugely rewarding in helping me to do my job."

How does he feel about handing in his uniform for the last time?

“I have mixed emotions,” Kieran says. 

“I am glad I contributed and that I had such a rewarding career. 

"It has been a great pleasure to work with so many great colleagues in the Ambulance Service, other emergency services and the greater healthcare system. I have enjoyed many experiences and I have learnt so much.”

His partner Noreen must look up to her hero?

“Possibly, sure I’m a bit taller than her alright!” says Kieran, laughing.

What next for the frontline paramedic?

“I love anything to do with the outdoors, wellbeing and arts. Hopefully I can work more on my creativity. That would be great.”

Kieran is destined for more great things.

“Now it’s time to move on and I’m delighted to be taking up a position with UCC who are academic partners with the National Ambulance Service,” says Kieran.

He will always be invaluable to people. 

“I look forward to sharing my experiences and learning with the next generation of paramedics coming through.”

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