Air Operations Officer Steve Garvey

In August,the Cornwall Air Ambulance crew was tasked to 124 emergency incidents across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Air Operations Officer Steve Garvey takes us on board a busy summer day shift, to offer an insight behind the numbers and the types of incidents the lifesaving team are called out to.

The early shift starts at 7am.On Friday, August 6,I was working alongside critical care paramedic Stuart Croft and pilot Richard Dixon. We had barely finished the morning briefing and helicopter checks when the red phone rang at 7.15am.

First call of the day was a motorbike accident on the A38 near Bodmin. We were fortunate to be able to bypass all the morning commuter traffic and land right next to the road within 10 minutes. The motorbike rider suffered an open fracture on his ankle and was visibly in a lot of pain. As a team, we administered ketamine to the patient,which allowed us to manipulate his foot and put his leg in a splint. Due to the nature of his injury, he needed to be transferred to Derriford Hospital for an operation – a flight which took just 18 minutes from the scene.

As we lifted from the hospital to head back to base, South Western Ambulance Service (SWASft) control room radioed in with another job.We flew straight to Wadebridge to help an elderly woman who was found unconscious at home. Depending on where an incident takes place, we can’t always land as close to the patient as we would like. On these occasions we rely on our colleagues from the police, ambulance service or sometimes even passers-by to get us where we need to be. This patient’s vital signs were poor, so we worked to transfer her to Royal Cornwall Hospital as quickly as possible.

Following the handover at Treliske, it was 12.30pm –time for lunch (or so we thought). The next call came through before we lifted, this time a violent incident in Polperro. With reports of two casualties, Devon Air Ambulance was also tasked to the scene. Stuart and I were prepared for the type of injuries we might encounter, such as atraumatic arrest. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still wearing PPE when we treat patients. Often this involves changing into a full protective suit at 1,000ft in the air!In the helicopter, we maintained contact with the ambulance control room for updates and to make sure we knew exactly where the aircraft from Devon was. We landed side by side in a field at the top of the town, just as the call came through to stand down. Sadly, both casualties died from their injuries before we could get there.

The final tasking for the day shift came as soon as we lifted from Polperro: a cardiac arrest in Fowey. Pilot Richard landed in a playing field, about a five-minute run from the site to the patient’s house. The survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests is fewer than 1 in 10; sadly, despite our best efforts, the patient did not survive.

We returned to base for the first time all day at 3pm. Our priority is always to refuel the helicopter and restock the kit bags, as we never know when the phone might ring again. It’s relentless at times,particularly in the summer when it’s busy and you’re on back-to-back jobs – it can be very demanding. Some days you can’t always help everyone, but when you do make a difference in someone’s life,that is what makes it all worthwhile.”

Cornwall Air Ambulance is a charity which relies on the generosity of supporters to fly and save lives across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Find out more at