This Is What I’d Trained For – My Bourke Street Story

This is what I’d trained for.

The Age

Front Page of The Age on Saturday 21st January, 2017


Arguably, what happened on Friday 20th January 2017 was the worst mass casualty disaster to be mercilessly thrown at The City of Melbourne since the Queen Street massacre in December of 1987. I was 10 years old when that happened and I wasn’t exactly the current affair-aware child. Different street. Different weapon. Different date. Different century. Same FUBAR result.

But this is what I’d trained for.

As I surveyed the scene from Level 8 of a building on the north side of Bourke Street, I was half listening to the words of my colleague who’d returned with his lunch only a few moments before. All of us were pressed against the windows looking east and west down Bourke Street. We collectively turned our eyes to the sky whenever the trips and spikes in sound frequency came, caused by the rotating blades of a police helicopter.

Phrases like ‘Yeah he went straight through the god damn intersection!‘ and ‘the police chopper just did a massive bank around this way‘ penetrated my InstaAlert. But my eyes were fixated on the person lying in front of the OfficeWorks store on the south side of the street directly opposite.  A motorcycle was on its side next to the person’s body. I surveyed and I listened. What I could see from 8 floors up painted a picture that not only had this person almost certainly been hit by the car, but it was very feasible that they’d been taken out by the car and the force was so fierce that, in turn, they’d taken out the bike in a sick human-wrecking domino effect. I’m pretty sure I said this out loud.

D for Danger.

Nah mate he flew up the street to Southern Cross (Station)‘.
Ah yeah, cops are chasing him‘.

These also penetrated my InstaAlert.

The bad guy had gone west. There are members of the Victoria Police Special Operations Group all over the intersection of Queen and Bourke Streets less than 10 meters away. These are the men with big semi automatic guns who know how to use them. Who I have to take the opportunity to say, I’ve seen make quite remarkable and oddly acrobatic moves when the circumstances have called for it.

They’ve got this.

I’m not a paramedic. I have a first aid certificate and a bunch of scope-creep upgrades that make me a First Responder. While I’m certified to offer more than your average first aider, my scope of practice is still narrower than a newly-minted baby paramedic. But also what I have, is 12 years of experience, above average shift numbers and countless stories that I could write books about and never be finished. After 12 years, you can also say I’ve been on my fair share of shifts when things have turned utterly FUBAR.

I know what I can do and I know what I should never do, especially when things are this FUBAR.

Because this is what I’d trained for.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

That’s my internal clock speeding it’s way towards the number of minutes that is your typical ambulance response time for a Cat1 trauma in the Melbourne CBD. All other things being equal, they should have been on scene within minutes. That meant all other things were not equal. A textbook symptom of a potential cataclysm that is the type of cataclysm that leads to ambulances being unable to respond as swiftly as I know they can.

This is what I’ve trained for.

Anyone who has been an emergency responder of any kind – whether it be volunteer, or paid – knows we aren’t all equal in skill. You will never catch me running into a burning building or hear I was close to main front of this summer’s latest wild fire, despite the fact I’m wildfire awareness certified. The fireys are trained to do that. And you couldn’t pay me to try and treat anyone’s injuries while the brawl hasn’t finished for the purely selfish reason, that I’d prefer to keep my face unbroken. The police are trained to intervene in that.

My skill is in patching up people, and keeping them alive until the up-skilled arrive with the adrenaline, spine boards and beacons needed for a fast exit to an Emergency Department. Basic or advanced, our level of skill isn’t divisive at all, it’s complementary. If I help other responders by taking care of my part, then I free them up to do stuff I can’t do. An invisible chain of survival forms when we all work together like this. Each one of us are connecting links along that chain that weaves its way through all the carnage, and slowly wraps itself around everyone there. That chain can be seen if you know how to see it. It’s remarkable to watch. It’s when an uncontrolled chaotic situation, turns it into a controlled one.

This is what we train for.


Photo credit: Australian Associated Press.


I saw an article in The Age on Sunday about the Bourke Street events that made me pull out my phone. There was a name I recognised. One of the many city workers and members of public who helped on the ground as a bystander. The article placed him in the same area I was in, but at another patient.

They’re not trained for this.

He is feeling a bit embarrassed about the attention because “there were plenty of people who were MUCH more useful than me.”

I was doing what I was trained for.

In a mass casualty event, not a single alphabet emergency response service could do everything that was done without the contribution of the others. But there are still limits to having badass superpowers. I can’t maintain an open airway, control major bleeds, monitor vitals, put defibrillator pads on, splint a broken leg, all while helping an off-duty doctor on her honeymoon keep a critical patient’s head still until a C-collar came along. Critical trauma cases require all this, and more. All of it happening concurrently is essential for a person’s chance of survival.

When I asked for a bandage, I was given 4.
When I asked for shears, they were put in my hand.
When I asked for clean water, 3 bottles turn up with the cap already off ready to roll.

I asked for a lot of things from a lot of bystanders surrounding the patients I provided care for on Friday, until there was nobody left who needed first aid. Every time, the response was swift. It put a smile on my face in spite of everything that was FUBAR. I have experienced that consistently for 12 years too.

This is the Melbourne I know.
This is my Melbourne.

They weren’t trained to be a link. They just were.

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2 Responses to “This Is What I’d Trained For – My Bourke Street Story”

  1. On February 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm Alan Eade responded with... #

    Thank you


  1. St John Victoria Blog | This Is What I’d Trained For – My Bourke Street Story | St John Victoria Blog - February 3, 2017

    […] One of our dedicated St John volunteers was at the scene of the Bourke St tragedy, where she fearlessly helped one critically injured casualty and three others. Sharon has kindly allowed us to republish her account of events, abridged here from the full version at her personal blog. […]

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