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Matthew Browning: The city’s lifesaver

Matthew Browning Paramedic

Ambulance Victoria paramedic

“People in the city help make our job easier when we’re by ourselves. Melbourne is a really good city to work in.”

It was a wet morning on 20 January 2017. Matthew Browning was making his way from the city to an Ambulance Victoria base in St. Kilda for a lunch break, and was looking forward to getting off the slick tarmac for a while.

He was still en route when he got word that an ambulance had arrived at Bourke Street Mall. There had been an incident at the city’s popular shopping strip. When the next report mentioned multiple casualties, Matthew turned his motorcycle around.

“Our initial task when we reached the area was to see how far the scene was spread,” he says. “We were counting the casualties and reporting our observations back to the scene commander.”

Then he was reassigned.

“I was pulled aside and told to take care of the perpetrator. He still needed someone to monitor his blood pressure and attend to his injuries until an ambulance was available to transport him. I had already seen all the other victims so having to then look after him…that was definitely an emotional moment. Yea.”

But emotions play second fiddle to professional duty and a pledge to save lives. And so under the eyes of the public and media, and the glare of the cameras, Matthew tended to this particular patient in the same manner that he has tended to thousands of other Melburnians over the past eight years.


How did you move past what must have been very intense emotions?

You’ve got to switch into the objective part of your brain. You can’t let your emotions come into it. You can think about that sort of thing later. At that time, we were also under a lot of pressure.


What are your coping strategies after a particularly difficult job?

I accept what has happened and don’t pass it off like it was a normal situation. I talk to friends and family and focus on the things I enjoy, like going to the gym and listening to heavy metal music, which always does a good job. We also have access to counseling services, psychiatrists and any further treatment if we feel we need it. It’s about knowing yourself and how you react. The longer you do this job, the better you recognise the warning signs.


What’s the perception around seeking professional help? Does it come with a stigma attached?

It’s getting better. There was definitely a stigma before. The mindset that you should deal with all your experiences without having to talk about it. That led to problems, and still does for those who still believe in not talking about things. But in the time I’ve been in this job, that stigma has significantly lessened.


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Ambulance Victoria introduced the Motorcycle Paramedic Unit in 2012, and received over 200 applications for the six spots available. The motorcycle unit has since expanded from one motorcycle and six riders to three motorcycles and eight riders.

Let’s backtrack to when you decided to become a paramedic. What sparked that?

My father is a paramedic so that was part of it but I also had a couple of friends who were interested in the job. At the time, I was actually a carpenter. I was getting bored with building and wanted more of a challenge. It’s about right, doing this.


When did you first put on this uniform?

Just over eight years ago. I started out at South Melbourne then moved to Wheeler’s Hill and worked out of Berwick. When I got onto the motorcycle unit five years ago, I moved back into the city and have been here ever since.


And why the motorcycle unit?

I remember talking about such a unit even before it existed. I had even written a letter to the premier saying I thought it would be a good idea in terms of being able to better access patients and speeding up response time.

There are multiple cases where people are in hard to reach places like the Botanical Gardens or along waterfronts. And traffic can be bad in the city, especially where there are no tram lines, like Punt Road, Alexander Parade and King Street. Ambulances get stuck but we can move through that traffic.

Paramedics are on average on scene in about 10 minutes in an emergency. The motorcycle unit’s response time is under five minutes on average, which is quite significant.

Once we get there, we send a report back to the ambulance crew. A minor nose-to-tail car accident, for example, usually won’t involve severe injuries so we can reduce the number of ambulances on the case. And it works the other way around too. We could turn up and find five injured people instead of one, and request for more ambulances.

A road ambulance is dispatched at the same time as one of the BMW F700GS motorcycles, which are specifically designed for emergency services. Two motorcycles are run a day and from time to time the unit is requested to run at a large public event.

How heavy is the motorcycle?

Around 270kg. To be on the unit, we have to pass a physical examination and be of a certain height where our feet can touch the ground when we're seated on the motorcycle. We don’t ever lay the motorcycle down because it’s too heavy to pick up, but we need to be able to handle it at a certain angle and push it. If you ride downhill through a laneway, the only way to get out is to push 270kg backwards up a slope.


What do you carry with you?

We carry a smaller quantity of everything that’s in an advanced life support ambulance. We have a defibrillator, oxygen, cervical collar, arm splint, all the airway equipment and First Aid - enough to stabilise a patient until an ambulance arrives. Our supplies deplete quite quickly but there are many ambulances in the city to restock from.


What non-medical skills do paramedics need?

You’ve got to have a good streetwise about you and the ability to read people and situations. You must be able to think outside the box in different situations and come up with safe alternatives that can still get you the same results. You’ve also got to be able to take control of a situation, communicate well and be a good listener.


Having to work alone for most part of the day, do you ever find your job isolating?

It can be, so I make a conscious effort to engage with the public and catch up with the other motorcycle paramedic - there are usually two of us in the city every day - and other paramedics.


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The motorcycle paramedic unit responds to more than 3000 emergency calls a year, mainly in the City of Melbourne and City of Port Phillip. 80 per cent of calls are to life threatening or urgent cases.

Describe a good day.

I like days with nice weather because it affects the motorcycle unit. And days when we turn a bad case around, and make what could have been the worst day of someone’s life, a little better.


Describe a bad day.

When it’s pouring with rain and when a case involves violent people. Because we’re on our own, we’re easy targets when we’re sitting in traffic, so we have to be quite vigilant. And of course when someone dies, especially if it’s a suicide. Those are the worst death-related cases.


Are there certain types of cases you regularly get called to?

Traffic accidents, medical conditions like heart attacks, asthma attacks, diabetic emergencies and low blood sugar levels, people who are unconscious or who fall or jump off buildings or end up in the Yarra. Push bikes that get hit by trams or cars that hit pedestrians. We get called to anything, really.


Which parts of the city have you seen that the average Melburnian probably hasn’t?

We see the back areas of many businesses with high security, like banks and Parliament House. I don’t think there’s anywhere we haven’t seen before.


What did you only understand about the city once you started working in it?

How dynamic it is and how many people it takes to keep it clean and functioning. And also how hugely diverse it is. I think it’s the most diverse city in the world, to be honest.



In A Snap:

Favourite Aussie phrase: “You’ll be right, son.”

Favourite city café: This could get me in trouble! I would say at the moment it’s The European.

Favourite city spot for quiet time: Docklands; it’s a great place to escape the city. Or down by Birrarung Marr where I can easily ride. Anywhere near water is where I’d generally go.

Favourite city sound: Live bands

Complete this sentence. You’re only a Melburnian if…you’re accepting of other people’s differences.

4 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    I’d like to send out a huge thank you to people like Matt – this is why we have a wonderful city to live in and know that someone is always out there looking after us when in need! Thanks Matt!

    • insidemelb says:

      Too right, Tim! Thank you for leaving an appreciation note here. We’ll definitely share this with Matt 🙂

  2. Anne says:

    It takes courage as well as skill to do a job like this. Well done Matt! Nice to know you and the rest of the motorcycle unit are there.

    • insidemelb says:

      Agree with you, Anne, it takes a lot of courage to do this job. Thank you for taking the time to pen your appreciation. We’ll be sure to share it with Matt 🙂

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