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The deplorable state of the Memel Road requires no introduction. Riddled with potholes—the essential road allows for travel between parts of Northern KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. Regardless of its importance, due to its poor condition, travelling along this main road becomes not only unsafe for motorists but emergency services responding to callouts.
Speaking with the Newcastillian – Online News, Johan Neethling of ER24 EMS (Pty) Ltd., offers valuable insight into EMS staff’s struggles when using the road. “We have to drive at a speed, to ensure our patients receive immediate medical assistance. It is our jobs to race against time, especially now with COVID-19. However, due to potholes, we have to drive slower.”
This, he stresses, puts people’s lives at risk, particularly Memel residents who require assistance. “Memel is 50km away, and if we have to go out at night, we have to drive much slower in order to miss the potholes. If we have a flat tyre due to the potholes, that will take 20 to 30 minutes to repair. There are also not a lot of service providers in that area we can call on to help the patient,” Neethling points out.
Night-time excursions to or through Memel are also hampered by mist, resulting in lower visibility.
In incidents such as this, Neethling highlights, “If a pothole causes damage to our vehicle and we have to stop, what do we do? Do we drive until there is a clearing? Do we pull over and hope someone sees the hazard lights? Or what happens if we need to stop on a blind spot? This applies to normal motorists as well.”
Moreover, due to potholes, there is an increased possibility of freak accidents. “This happens when a motorist wants to give way for an ambulance but has to suddenly swerve slightly to avoid a pothole, potentially knocking into the ambulance.”
These factors all pose a risk to paramedics’ lives, all of whom could dye while trying to save another’s life.
But these are not the only issues paramedics face on the road. Prior to the lockdown and its subsequent restrictions, Neethling states there were an average of 20 to 30 incidents a month of motorists having accidents on the road, mostly linked to the potholes.
Adding to this, due to the severity of the potholes, EMS cannot always park as close to a collision scene as needed. “A few metres away might not be that bad, but in times of a crisis, when a person needs immediate help, it is far,” states the paramedic.
If a person is trapped in their vehicle following a collision, EMS often require firefighters’ assistance. Yet, Neethling emphasises firefighters are often forced to drive slower than necessary thanks to the potholes. “With an entrapment, it is truly a race against time, as the patient can suffer an embolism or suffer tissue decay.
Then there is the problem of transporting patients with spinal injuries along the road. One small bump, as he explains, increases the risk of harming the patient even more.
Nevertheless, Neethling and his EMS colleagues continue to show an unwavering determination to save lives, irrespective of the road’s obstacles.
Addressing the Memel Road condition, the Newcastillian – Online News speaks to Samukelisiwe Yende, the Newcastle Municipality Speaker, who affirms, “Paramedics are a crucial part of service delivery in terms of medical care. With the challenges they face on the Memel Road, we need to be cautious of the type of work being done on it, especially with the service providers who are contracted to do the repairs. A life span of a road should be at least 15 years.”
With this in mind, while stressing the Memel Road falls under the National Road Works, Yende concludes, “We can try to talk to the relevant Provincial Departments and determine when the necessary repairs will be done.”
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