The Pongaroa/Akitio district has its new purpose-built St John First Responder Unit, specifically suited for getting to medical emergencies in rural areas.
The First Response Unit is based on the Volkswagen Transporter T6 ambulance used widely throughout Europe. It had been modified for NZ conditions and is one of the first to be issued by St John.
They are ideal for narrow roads and difficult terrain but have ample room for treating and stabilising patients while a transporting ambulance or helicopter is on its way.
A large crowd attended a blessing of the new vehicle, attended by Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis, Deputy Mayor Allan Benbow, councillor Carole Issacson, iwi representative Wright Broughton, many St John volunteers and other local residents.
In her speech Collis gave heartfelt thanks to St John, firstly for the wonderful new vehicle which will be an asset to the community of Pongaroa, that services a large rural area, which nowadays also includes many tourists too.
"Pongaroa is a great town with an incredibly supportive and active community. It means so much to receive one of these state-of-the-art ambulances first.
"I recently attended a St John meeting in Pahiatua and heard the capability of the First Response Units and the potential it offers to patients, enhancing the response time which is so important to our small communities," Collis said.
"You are indeed, an essential lifeline for this community and we truly appreciate your ongoing commitment to us here in Pongaroa and to rural New Zealand. This is a significant investment in our community and we are very grateful."
Collis thanked all the administrators and volunteers of St John locally and in particular singled out local resident Heather Monk.
"Heather has cared for this community forever and I know this because if anything is amiss here in Pongaroa – Heather will make contact. She has Pongaroa's best interests in her heart always. She has served the Pongaroa community for 27 years as a St John member and provided a lifeline here.
"Heather has trained to provide us that service, always gone the extra mile and helped many of our community when they needed it most."
She presented Monk with flowers in honour of her commitment to St John and the community.
Monk was overwhelmed by the recognition and found the occasion very humbling.
She said there has been a good response from new volunteers to be trained as a result of the publicity and she is relieved there will be others to help run the service.
Wright Broughton, representing Ngati Kahungunu and Papauma marae, thanked all involved with the Pongaroa/Akitio Community Ambulance and St John. As first secretary of the Pongaroa/Akitio Community Ambulance he traced briefly his memory of the early days.
"As I remember the first on-call drivers were our local garage owners aided by our district nurses and from there other volunteers served with St John, providing a service second to none – absolutely outstanding.
"Your dedicated, caring and wonderful service has been a tribute to you all personally and to the wider community."