When disaster strikes, we all assume the emergency services will be there to help. But standards and services offered vary from country to country. Australian paramedic Benjamin Gilmour has spent 15 years travelling the world and working alongside ambulance teams, learning how they cope with dangerous conditions and minimal budgets. From his humble beginnings in the Australian outback to negotiating the staff sauna in Iceland, via one or two drunken incidents, Paramédico is a selection of tales from his travels.

Although there are a few amusing anecdotes, it’s not really a personal memoir but more of a look at ambulance services around the world that Benjamin has spent time with. There are a couple of moments where he treads a fine line between objective and judgemental but I don’t think this is intentional. It’s just that maybe I was expecting more of a compassionate tone. Overall, it’s a fascinating book and incredibly enlightening reading.

We take it for granted that we can phone an emergency number and a paramedic will arrive and look after you, administering pre-hospital care and delivering you safely to doctors. The NHS might have its problems but overall it is an amazing service. Reading Paramédico really highlights how good we’ve got here in Britain. Benjamin didn’t get a chance to work with London’s finest, and instead spends time with a private company whose service was unprofessional.

“We only employ the dedicated ones,” he says, which I take to mean “those willing to do just about anything”. Indeed, few jobs outside the military are quite as competitive in Pakistan as Rescue 1122. An exceptionally rigorous recruitment process – including “phobia evaluation” where applicants are placed in deep underground holes and dangled by the feet from hundred-foot towers – has been designed to ensure only the toughest and most committed are selected.

The large section of the book is devoted to his time in Pakistan where he spent time with both a government funded service and that founded by Abdul Sattar Edhi, considered a hero to the poor. Whilst interesting, I did feel this section was a little overlong and unstructured. Oddly enough, the better stories were in the second half; Iceland, Venice, Hawaii and Mexico. His Icelandic colleagues might not have a lot of action but Benjamin is more concerned by the daily 5 o’clock sauna that he would really rather avoid. In Venice, the ambulances come by water but have to negotiate hide tides, gondoliers and impossible to navigate city streets. And the struggling service in Mexico might just put you off heading there on holiday…

Paramédico is published by The Friday Project and will be available in ebook and paperback formats from 11th October 2012. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. There is also a documentary film following four of the paramedics featured in the book.

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