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Behind the uniform: A decade with ER24

Sidney Venter started his ER24 career a decade ago, by accident, and with no experience in emergency medical services. He is now a successful regional manager who inspires the many teams who work around him. Here’s what he’s learnt in 10 years of offering real help, real fast.

“Recently I was offered a position with a pharmaceutical company, who offered to double my salary. I said no. I don’t think I could work for anyone but ER24. I love this job, I love this company.”

Sidney Venter

Sidney Venter became involved in emergency medical services by accident. Coming from a pharmaceutical background, he applied for a job as a “bean counter” for the Central Region, got it, and began working in his new field on 9 May, 2009.

Today, he is a qualified intermediate life support EMS practitioner who, as manager of his wide-ranging region, oversees 11 standalone branches and sub-branches, spread out across the Free State, Northern Cape and northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“Ten years ago we managed Bloemfontein, Welkom, Bethlehem and Kimberley all as a single branch,” he says. The resources and capabilities of the Central Region have grown enormously under his guidance. “We added branches one by one – Ladysmith, Upington, Welkom, and multiple sub-branches – until today, where we have almost double the manpower and facilities.”

Venter says whereas he and his Bloemfontein staff responded to an average of 200 callouts a month a decade ago, they now oversee over 500 per month. Staff numbers have also grown: from 12 to a complement of 26.

“Our footprint has doubled,” he says. “When I arrived here, no one knew who ER24 was or what we did. We fought for every call alongside many other private EMS companies. Now, it seems everyone has a story of how ER24 has helped them at one time or another. Even at our outlying sub-branches in Ladybrand, Fitzburg and Qwaqwa, we have ILS-competent medics responding to calls.”

Eight years ago, Venter took the initiative of beginning an events department from scratch. Today the teams in his region provide medical assistance to the majority of large sports events venues in and around Bloemfontein. A month ago ER24 signed on as official healthcare partners of the Toyota Cheetahs, together with Mediclinic Bloemfontein, and the company now provides on-field and sideline medical and ambulance services on match days, for both players and spectators.

“On a good weekend, we commit 12 ambulances to sports venues all across the region,” he says. “Peter Bekker, our events coordinator, has been phenomenal in driving this initiative. School rugby, rock concerts, you name it, we are there.”

Venter is proud of the way his region has grown over the past decade. The secret, as he sees it: teamwork. “The teams must work together. If I say, We have 12 ambulances for events, where do you think I get those vehicles from? My managers must recognise the potential, even after hours or over the weekend, and they must work with their medics to make them available.”

Growing ER24’s footprint across the Central Region has had the effect of shrinking the area, yet medics in outlying regions are still often tasked with driving hundreds of kilometres to respond to calls and make the necessary transfers. This is something medics are happy to do, and that teamwork has resulted in ER24 becoming the go-to EMS provider in the area. “Nowadays, you can’t go far without seeing us,” says Venter. “If you go to a school rugby game at Grey College, or if you attend a concert at Bloemfontein Stadium, ER24 is there.”

One common thread that has enabled this growth, and motivated Venter to remain a part of the company, is ER24’s focus on the value of human capital: “There is a culture in this company that is unique. I have lost a wife, my mother and my dad while I’ve been here. The way ER24 has supported me through those tough times, from Ben Johnson and Dr Robyn Holgate all the way down to medics on the road, has been amazing.”