About Us

We are the only emergency ambulance service in greater Wellington and the Wairarapa, and the only ones in the country who are free.

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We are the only emergency ambulance service in greater Wellington and the Wairarapa, and the only ones in the country who are free.

What we do

Our history


Our history

Since 1927 Wellington Free Ambulance has been providing an invaluable service to the people of the Wellington region, thanks to the Mayor of the day, Charles Norwood.

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The man who started it all

Wellington Free Ambulance was founded by the mayor of the day, Sir Charles Norwood in 1927.

Sir Charles Norwood

Whilst out driving in his mayoral car, Sir Charles came across a man injured and cold lying on the footpath in Lambton Quay.

“Has anyone sent for an ambulance?” he calls to the crowd standing around the injured man. The answer comes that none can be found, so Sir Charles takes off his coat, and lays it over the man while waiting for an ambulance from the Harbour Board.

This first act of kindness is what inspired the beginnings of your uniquely free ambulance service.

Sir Charles believed in a place where emergencies needn’t cost lives or money, declaring that his city would have a free ambulance service for everyone.

This vision was a gift that has held for 95 years.

Wellington Free head to help devastated Napier

At 10:47am on 3 February 1931, a 7.9 earthquake struck Napier and its surrounding districts, killing 256 people and injuring many more. It remains New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster.

A photo of the damage from the Napier Earthquake. 

After the earthquake hit, two ambulance cars were sent by Wellington Free Ambulance to help the city in whatever capacity was needed. Once in Hawke’s Bay, Superintendent Roffe was designated controller of the fleet of rescue vehicles, managing the movement of casualties who were evacuated by rail to other parts of the country. Once people reached Wellington the remainder of the Wellington Free fleet provided transport to hospitals and homes.

Joe Gibson was one of our young first aiders who made the journey to the traumatised city, a difficult journey as many of the roads were destroyed. For a week Joe and his colleagues worked round the clock transporting the injured from the ruins of Napier City to the temporary hospital that has been set up under the grandstand at the racecourse. They were called to Napier whilst at work so they didn’t even have a change of clothes or food supplies.

The Navy’s contribution to help with the earthquake was incredible, providing a well-organised force of helpers, equipment and communications to aid the devastated city. A series of field kitchens sprang up, to provide a constant supply of hot tea and hot meals to those who needed it, including Joe and his colleagues.

For a young first aider it was invaluable experience in the management of a wide range of injuries, and at the end of a long week Joe and his colleagues had to be forced to withdraw themselves and their grubby clothes from the field.

Reference: A.W Beasley, Borne Free, 1995

Remembering the good times

When you're born in an ambulance it seems only natural to become an ambulance officer!

 Group photo of Wellington Free's 1964 staff

In the early hours of a cold and wet Wellington morning an ambulance was despatched to the then distant suburb of Waterloo.  The task was to pick up a pregnant woman and get her to St Helens Hospital in Wellington before she had her baby.

From what I was subsequently given to understand the ambulance driver (I believe his name was Paddy Buick) became lost and his arrival in Waterloo was much delayed.  However, he loaded his patient into the ambulance and accompanied by the woman’s husband proceeded towards Wellington.

At some point in the journey Paddy was advised by the husband that the baby was coming.  His response was “well you do what you can there and I will head for the hospital”.

A short time later and still in the moving ambulance the woman gave birth to a boy. The date was Wednesday 25 May 1938, and the baby boy was later named Ian John Henry Ross.

It is of course my contention that in some way or other this event created an interest in ambulance services and perhaps heralded my future career.

In 1959 I was invited to join the full time staff at Wellington Free Ambulance by the then Superintendent Keith Smith. The total staff at that time was 15 Ambulance Officers plus the executive group of three. (K.Smith, E.Smith and  J.Kimmins). There were only two stations – Wellington and Lower Hutt.

Over the next 17 years I held positions of Ambulance Officer, Shift Senior, Administration Officer and Deputy Superintendent.

After leaving Wellington Free I worked for the Wellington Hospital Board for a short period then was fortunate enough to be appointed as the Ambulance Advisory officer to the Ambulance Transport advisory Board, a position I held for 10 years. I then spent several years in an administrative role with St John Auckland.

– Ian Ross


Image: Ian Ross is front row first left, courtesy of A.W Beasley, Borne Free, 1995



Amy's ANZAC hero

Emergency Medical Technician Amy Williams attends the Upper Hutt ANZAC Day service every year thinking about the ANZAC hero in her life.

Raymond Alfred Arthur Burnett 

The Second World War was the greatest conflict ever to engulf the world, taking the lives of 50 million people, including one in every 150 New Zealanders. Our population in 1940 was around 1.6million.

New Zealand was involved for all but three of the 2,179 days of the war — a commitment equal to that of Britain and Australia. It was a war in which New Zealanders gave their greatest national effort — on land, on the sea and in the air — and a war we fought globally, from Egypt, Italy and Greece to Japan and the Pacific.

Amy Williams, Wellington Free Ambulance emergency medical technician, will be attending the Upper Hutt Dawn Service on this year’s ANZAC Day to represent Wellington Free. However, Amy would be there anyway because service is in her genes. “I’ve marched at the Upper Hutt Dawn Service every year since I moved back to New Zealand 15 years ago.”

“I come from a military family. My dad, grandads and great uncle all served in the army. My grandad, Raymond Alfred Arthur Burnett, who falsified his age by 2 years to enlist, became a Prisoner of War during World War II. Whilst out on his patrol in Egypt he was captured by the enemy and became a POW for the remainder of the war.” Amy says.

“He survived his day of capture, a torpedoed boat and a number of years in multiple POW camps, he shouldn’t have survived but he did. He never spoke about his time in the army or what life was like at war until he decided to write his memoirs at the age of 80.”

Amy and her father Bill and sister Tash travel to Germany at the end of May to visit the Prisoner of War camp her grandad was released from exactly 75 years since the day.

Raymond is now 96 years old and Amy’s ultimate hero. “He’s always encouraged me to do what I want in life. Make mistakes, learn from them and move on. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and join the army too but what I do now is similar, helping people in need.”

Visit NZ History for more information.


Bring your kids to work day!

The 1940s didn't have the medical mannequins we have nowadays so what better way to practice first aid than on real people!

1949 equipment 

Back in 1944 Kathryn Arthurs was only four years old when her dad joined as a member of the men’s auxiliary at Wellington Free Ambulance. Kathryn believes there might have been a focused effort on recruiting volunteer drivers during the war to ensure they had enough staff to man all posts.

Harry Alfred Arthurs worked elsewhere during the day and was a volunteer driver in the evenings. His job was to get poorly patients from A to B as quickly and as safely as possible. Drivers were trained in basic first aid but as a single crewed vehicle it was less about treatment at the scene and more about getting them to hospital to receive the appropriate medical care from doctors and nurses.

To ensure Harry and his fellow drivers knew how to transport patients with broken bones, cuts and other such injuries they needed to update their first aid training from time to time. To make things as realistic as possible staff regularly recruited family members to be ‘dummy patients’.

Kathryn remembers going along to the old boat shed on the waterfront, Wellington Free’s original base, with her brother who was a few years older than her. She recalls lines of mattresses down each side of the building, ready for the dummy patients to play sick. “It was a big affair with 20 or so models, both adults and children played as dummy patients with broken bones and cut heads. They practiced on us with bandages and splints and we had to pretend to be poorly,” Kathryn recalls.

“I don’t think there was any formal education for ambulance drivers, just passion for caring and a willingness to learn. We went down to the boat shed two or three times a year and there was always someone official looking with a clipboard coming round and ticking things off, so it must have been their formal assessment of skills to ensure they were competent enough to be out on the road.”

Captivated by this experience Kathryn decided very early on she was going to become a nurse, and that she did. Starting on 1 April 1958 as a registered nurse she retired 38 years later in 1996.

Training for paramedics is very different now! It takes a three year degree and time on the job to become a qualified paramedic. However, the training back in 1944 was more than sufficient when attending the 20,975 cases the service saw that year!

One-of-a-Kind woman always been ahead of her time

Avid knitter, writer, Tai Chi student, and Wellington Free Ambulance supporter Audrey Harper of Upper Hutt lived in the UK in the 1940s, and was one of small group of women in the Women's Royal Naval Service (the Wrens) brought in to design ‘war game’ exercises for the Navy’s servicemen.

A group of women marching. 

“We were never exactly told that our work was a new concept in teaching naval strategy using scenarios and exercise.  In a way we were guinea pigs,” she says.

Audrey’s job was to work on a  Perspex screen, plotting the presence of make-believe enemy ships, torpedo and bomb attacks, submarines and surface craft, all overlaid with fake weather conditions and time of day.

“Like a soap opera, events in an exercise came close upon each other to maintain interest and learning,” Audrey explains.

Technical information was passed over telephones (there were no computers back then) to the men on the course: ranges and bearings, visual sightings, reports from look-outs on the bridge or elsewhere.  Audrey and the team expertly provided the information  for trainees to absorb and strategise, and ultimately find a way out.

Women  in England during WW2 once they reached 19 years of age either volunteered or were called up  for war work. Audrey knows exactly how long she spent in the Women’s Royal Naval Service,  a ‘Wren’ , as the women were called.

“Two years, eight months, and 18 days.  I know that because I used it to help make up the compulsory three years of service I needed to become a grade three teacher in New Zealand”

She also remembers her 21st birthday.

“It was the best 21st I could have had.  My birthday is August 13, and the war was declared over on August 15.”

Once discharged nearly a year later Audrey studied at Bristol University.

Every year on her birthday Audrey gives Wellington Free Ambulance a dollar for every year of her life, and asks her friends to make donations rather than buy presents.

She is also the woman behind the perfectly costumed paramedic teddies which are sometimes auctioned at fundraisers, and sometimes make their way into the homes of new Wellington Free babies.

Giving her life to helping others

Her devotion to helping people started in 1955 when Shirley Martin joined the Ladies Auxiliary and stood on the streets of Wellington rattling a box for the free ambulance

Patron Shirley Martin with Wellington Free staff 

The Ladies Auxiliary was a group of women who worked hard on getting the whole community behind keeping Wellington Free Ambulance free. Six decades later, she’s still very much at the heart of the organisation.

Shirley was 25 years old when her relationship with Wellington Free began. Close friends of founder Sir Charles Norwood and his wife, Shirley was recruited to be on the committee bringing with her bucket loads of passion and big ideas.

“It was about much more than filling the seats with bottoms,” she explains, “it was hard work.” She and the Auxiliary were responsible for raising every penny Wellington Free needed. “Unless we raised the money, we wouldn’t have ambulances or anything, so it was up to us to help the paramedics and get their new gear.”

The fundraising initiatives ranged from knocking on businesses’ doors to holding lavish events which were the talk of Wellington, and had people queuing to get in the door. “People knew who we were and what we were doing, so we had to be brave and go after the big money.”

Among Shirley’s highlights in the 50s was the first defibrillator the Ladies Auxiliary were able to purchase. “And would you know it, the first time it was used, it on one of my friends. It just goes to show you never know who will need the Free Ambulance,” she says.

Looking back, Shirley says she sees the Ladies’ Auxiliary as very small in comparison to today’s operations—but it was the first step, and those volunteers’ efforts ensured Wellington Free remained free to the communities they cared about.

Lady Norwood Rose Gardens

Lady Rose Norwood had a great love of flowers and was particularly interested in the development of the city’s parks and reserves during her terms as Mayoress of Wellington.

Grandchildren of Sir Charles Norwood 

Lady Norwood was married to Sir Charles Norwood, founder of Wellington Free Ambulance, and both had a keen interest in civic affairs in Wellington. She was president of the Wellington Free Ladies Auxiliary for several years.

After the Second World War, money was available for the reconstruction of the City reserves that had been occupied by the military. It was in that context that the plans for a winter rose garden at the Wellington Botanic Garden was accepted.

The garden was completed in 1953 and named after Lady Noorwood to acknowledge her contribution to Wellington.

Source: Sir Charles John Boyd Norwood (1871-1966) reminiscing his life, compiled by Jennifer Eve Brown. August 2014.

Photograph: Lady Rose Norwood’s three grandchildren visiting the rose gardens


In loving memory of Sydney Barlow

The evening of Sunday 14 June 1964 saw the unthinkable happen at Wellington Free Ambulance.

Wellington Free Ambulance Paramedic Sydney Barlow

Tragically ambulance Officer Sydney Barlow lost his life trying to save two boys trapped and overcome by carbon monoxide fumes in a tunnel in Khandallah. Sydney is the only Wellington Free paramedic to ever die in the course of duty.

Denis Smithson volunteered as a member of the Wellington Free Men’s Auxiliary during the 1960s. Honorary staff double crewed with an ambulance officer; they had basic first aid knowledge but were not trained to drive vehicles. They assisted as an extra pair of hands when needed and did lots of jobs at the station such as cleaning vehicles and sorting equipment. Being on the road as an honorary officer was the most valuable experience for any aspiring ambulance officer.

Having just finished his carpentry apprenticeship, Denis decided that being an ambulance officer was really what he wanted to do. He got a job as a chauffeur for the New Zealand Post Office, driving everything from cars to trucks so he could gain experience driving big vehicles ahead of applying to join the ambulance service as a full time member of the team.

Denis had been an honorary officer for about a year when he was dispatched to a call in Khandallah:

“I can remember being dispatched with Syd Barlow, to a call that some children and adults were trapped in a water board tunnel at Khandallah. On the way up Syd appeared to know where the tunnel was and asked me when we got there to come up to the tunnel entrance with him, I was to get the OxyViva and Syd got the first aid kit.

On arrival Syd assessed the scene discovering that possibly some fire officers, police officers and civilians had gone into the tunnel before we arrived.

He asked me to report back via the radio that we required extra assistance. I informed them that Syd had gone into the tunnel with the Oxyviva and I was going to set up a first aid post at the rear of the ambulance.

Control advised me there was another ambulance on its way and I was to stand by the radio and relay what was going on at the scene”.

The official incident report noted that when the Superintendent arrived at the tunnel entrance there was a boy and a Police Officer in a collapsed state. The boy was instantly taken to hospital and the Superintendent called for additional ambulance coverage, additional oxygen, wooden poled stretchers and other equipment, which was immediately forthcoming.

“I think I remember two fire officers coming out of the tunnel who were immediately brought to our first aid post. The second ambulance then arrived with Ambulance Officer Ray Edwards and Honorary N Hardy.

Ray told me that there were no other ambulances available at the moment and that I should load the two fire officers into the ambulance and proceed to Wellington Hospital. Back then auxiliary members didn’t drive the ambulances, we just weren’t trained and therefore not allowed. However, there with no other ambulances available at the time and an unknown number of patients were still in the tunnel, so I proceeded to hospital.

Whilst Denis was transporting patients to hospital, a distinct lack of communication from within the tunnel meant a growing concern for those inside.

“I returned to the incident and remember the fire brigade brought a large blower up to the face of the tunnel, to help clear the air”.  

As the fan worked it was noticeable that a current of air was getting through and some members of the rescue party returned in a semi-collapsed state. Unfortunately Officer Barlow was found collapsed in the tunnel as he was giving oxygen to one of the boys.

The tragedy touched the hearts of Wellingtonians who sent messages of condolence and support to Wellington Free Ambulance. It was quickly decided to launch an appeal that would fund a memorial ambulance in Sydney Barlow’s name. With the generous support of the community and local businesses, £3,407 was quickly raised. The Sydney Barlow memorial ambulance became a reality and Wellington continued to remember Syd and his incredible act of one-of-a-kindness.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honour List one year after the tragedy. Sydney was awarded a posthumous Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Following the incident Denis continued as member of the Men’s Auxiliary for a further two years before joining the permanent staff. He says “it cemented my dreams to be an Ambulance Officer for Wellington Free Ambulance, and later the Ambulance Service of New South Wales. I retired 13 years ago after over 40 years’ service”. Thanks for being one-of-a-kind Denis.


Reference: A.W. Beasley,  Borne Free, 1995

Wahine Disaster

On the morning of 10 April 1968, Wellingtonians woke up to gale force winds and torrential rain. Most people thought it was just another day in windy Wellington but with winter on the horizon.

People on Wahine rescue boat 

As the morning continued the weather got worse; roofs detached from houses, trees blew over and power lines toppled. As Wellington was battered by this ferocious storm, the inter-island ferry T. E. V Wahine was starting to enter the harbor as winds were hitting over 100 miles per hour.

Once it reached Pencarrow Head, the 8,994 tonne vessel hit with a number of problems; it’s radars failed, a huge wave carried it into Barrett Reef where the main body was the vessel was torn by the rocks, the starboard propeller was lost and the port engine failed. Both anchors were dropped but with the waters as rough as they were it took some time before they held steady.

As each huge wave passed under the Wahine it brought the ship crashing down into the reef, inflicting more damage. When the wind eased, the tide dropped very rapidly and the sudden outpouring of pent-up water caused the Wahine to swing and rake on a heavy list.

By the early afternoon Wahine’s 734 passengers and crew were ordered to put on their life jackets and abandon ship, but with the severe list, only four of the eight lifeboats could be used.

A number of passengers jumped into the sea, some were picked up by lifeboats and other vessels, but sadly others drowned, died of exposure, or were swept over to the eastern shore colliding with the rocks. Eastbourne was the scene of greatest tragedy with survivors unable to reach the shore and rescue volunteers unable to reach them. The disaster claimed 51 lives.

The tragedy inspired many acts of heroism and bravery that day. Passengers and crew helped others before themselves; other vessels engaged in valiant rescue efforts and numerous individuals struggled against the surf and harsh weather conditions to save wreck victims.

Aware of the severe weather conditions in the early morning Wellington Free Ambulance had called in nearly all of their off duty staff as they anticipated a day that would bring a number of accident and injury cases. At this point the Wahine was under no serious threat but Wellington Free had already attended 43 cases in the first few hours of the day due to the severe weather conditions. When Police advised of the imminent danger of the Wahine rolling over six ambulances were immediately dispatched to Seatoun Wharf and two ambulances headed to Eastbourne. Along with members of the men’s auxiliary, Red Cross volunteers and other local volunteers a dressing station was established at Eastbourne and a co-ordination point at the Inter-Island Ferry Wharf. 212 cases were logged by Wellington Free relating to the Wahine disaster.

On Wahine Day, Wellingtonians commemorate those who died and remember with gratitude the courage and initiative of those who took part in the rescue operations.


Reference: Wellington Museum

Matamata Intermediate School Reunion

On 5 July 1964 a class of 12 and 13 year olds from Matamata Intermediate School set off on a week-long adventure to the see the sights of the capital city!

The group of 33 students was supervised by their classroom teacher Brian Coomber and two supporting adults. For many of these children it was their first visit away from home, but they all had an excellent time! “The pupils loved the trip and it made a real impact on them” says Brian.

Part of their trip was to visit Wellington Free Ambulance, then based on Cable Street. The visit to Wellington Free Ambulance obviously had an impact. The children were especially impressed that ‘during the 24 hour off the men are allowed to leave the station’ and they especially liked that in-between calls the crew of the time could ‘play darts, billiards, cards and other games. In the dining room they have a TV set.’

The group of students stayed in contact over the years and this year the former classmates gathered in Wellington for a get-together, 52 years later! 18 former pupils, now aged 64 and 65 years old arrived at Wellington Free’s Thorndon Station on a sunny Friday afternoon for a repeat visit and a moment of nostalgia. Class teacher Brian accompanied them on the trip and still managed to let them know who was in charge! The group was given a tour by Richard Emery, one of our longest serving paramedics, Richard has been part of the Wellington Free team since 1970.

The group had an equally interesting visit this time round; although no official post trip report was written we managed to replicate their group photo 52 years later. Nice one Matamata Intermediate School!

Celebrating our volunteers

Wellington Free Ambulance has been relying on the kindness of volunteers for the past 90 years.

Volunteer medics looking after an unwell person 

Volunteering in 1927 was very different to how it is now but the ‘Men’s Auxiliary’ still formed an integral part of the service. With no official first aid training or authority to drive ambulance vehicles, honorary members of the team helped in a number of other ways. They double crewed with staff members to lend a hand at big incidents or multiple casualty cases. When not on the road with ambulance officers they helped on station, cleaning and sorting vehicles and equipment. When time allowed they had ‘first aid tuition’ from their ‘permanent’ colleagues and learnt about cases from the guys who were actually there. Nowadays our volunteers are fully first aid trained and all hold a defensive driving certificate. They are the ones in green you see at local sporting events, community fairs and live concerts.

When Wellington Free started in 1927 the staff consisted of the Superintendent, who also acted as the secretary and organiser, six permanent bearers and fourteen honorary bearers. We now have 150 skilled paramedics and 110 volunteers.

Joining the Men’s Auxiliary and volunteering with the team was invaluable experience if you wanted to join the permanent staff. Denis Smithson joined the men’s auxiliary in 1967, volunteering for three years with the team before joining the permanent staff.  He continued to work as an ambulance officer for over 40 years. You can read more about Denis’ experience as a member of the men’s auxiliary in the story about Sydney Barlow in this section.

Our volunteers have always been a generous and committed team who play a huge part in keeping the ‘free’ in Wellington Free Ambulance.

For information volunteering and find out how you can join the team visit the volunteer page.

70s fashion and flare!

Richard Emery remembers one novelty of the early 70s being the summer uniform – navy shorts and white walk socks.

Uniforms then and now 

A local newspaper at the time reported “while police committees are toying with the idea of introducing shorts as optional summer dress for some areas next summer, the Wellington Free Ambulance made its decision with lightning speed.”

The day the new summer uniform was announced, ambulance officers Messrs. D J McLeod, B R Surtees, and P E Sullivan, posed for a photograph to show off their new shorts, but unfortunately they had to huddle under an umbrella as it was raining! However, all officers were quick to confirm that shorts in the rain are much better than long trousers anyway.

“I’d rather be wearing shorts than long trousers kneeling on wet road treating an injury” said Mr Surtees “Wet trousers for the next couple of hours are no great fun”.”

Richard remembers the summer shorts well and while the decision received great interest and attention at the time, Richard confirms staff always looked smart and professional as the white cap and maroon epaulettes were mandatory regardless of weather conditions.

“We looked very “professional” then, rather than the practical uniforms we now have.” says Richard.

47 years at Wellington Free Ambulance

At the end of June Wellington Free Ambulance said a warm-hearted farewell to Richard Emery, one of our longest ever serving paramedics, as he embarked on his retirement.

Staff with Richard Emery on his last day. 

Starting as an ambulance officer in 1970, Richard has been part of the road staff team for 47 years, which is a remarkable feat!

His motivation to get involved in ambulance work grew from an early interest in First Aid. He started as a volunteer with the Red Cross and later with Wellington Free, since then the ambulance service has been his whole career.

When Richard started the job was basically “a glorified First Aid role” he explains. “We had no invasive interventions – not even any pain relief. The only piece of equipment that elevated us, marginally, above a First Aider was a portable oxygen set that was able to administer oxygen and mechanically ventilate a patient,” says Richard. Back then an ambulance officer’s role was mostly to recognise that a patient needed hospital care – and take them there.

Training in the 1970s certainly wasn’t the same as it is now either. The role was so different “back then we quickly learned all there was to know about ambulance work – because there wasn’t much to know. Later, as we became much better trained and achieved paramedic qualifications we realised how little we actually knew when we first started,” says Richard.

To be a paramedic in 2017 it takes a three year degree and time on the job before you’re fully qualified. However in Richard’s time at Wellington Free, the organisation and its staff came on leaps and bounds. Wellington Free introduced the Cardiac Care scheme which saw care in a pre-hospital setting – basic resuscitation drugs and defibrillators. “We acquired Entonox, Scoop stretchers; and Bedford ambulances – the start of the vehicle design concept we still have today,” says Richard.

Ambulances in the 1970s were pretty different to what you see on the roads now too. “The most noticeable difference between then and now was that the ambulances had limited height, meaning you had to crouch over to move around in the back,” says Richard.

As well as not being able to stand in the back you couldn’t access the patient compartment from the drivers seat either. “If you needed to check your patient on the journey you would have to stop, get out, go around to the back and through the back doors.” remembers Richard.

Volunteers, or ‘auxiliaries’ The service was pretty small with a total of 28 staff members when Richard started. However, ambulance officers were supported by volunteers, named ‘auxiliaries’ back then. They were able to provide support and an extra pair of hands on evening and weekend shifts before Wellington Free introduced double crewing.

Along with his colleagues Tony Nicholas and John Wells, who have completed 46 years and 28 years’ service respectively, they all retired at the end of June. They each have a cheeky story or two to tell from their time at Wellington Free but all say the thing they’ve loved the most about the role is the opportunity, and privilege, to help others.

“I like the idea of knowing what to do in an emergency and being able to help when it mattered,” says Richard. The 1970s were a nostalgic time for Richard and he says he misses them. Wellington Free will certainly miss him.

Thank you for being one-of-a-kind.

A career full of firsts for a passionate paramedic

"I've been employed for my brain, not brawn," says Marie Long (nee Larkin) Wellington Free Ambulance's first female paramedic

About Us Our History 1980s Marie Long 

Marie began her career in the ambulance service when she was 16 in 1969 as a volunteer in her home town of Featherston. She then went on to train at the National Ambulance Officers training school in Auckland.

In 1981, aged 28, Marie joined Wellington Free after being encouraged to become a professional paramedic by her tutors.

“It was never something I thought about because I did not know there were professional female paramedics. I guess they decided it was time a woman got involved.”

When asked about the challenges she faced, Marie said it was public perception more than anything.

“Initially I took people by surprise and it was just a matter of being professional and getting the job done.

“My colleagues were fantastic. As soon as they realised I was there because I really wanted to be an ambulance officer they were generous and supportive. I have very fond memories.”

Marie continued to have firsts during her career. She was the first female to be promoted to a Senior Station Officer as well as being the first female to manage an Ambulance Service. The Wairarapa Ambulance Service was part of the Wairarapa District Health Board before WFA took over the contract. Marie’s career in the Ambulance sector ended in 2005 when she moved into the disability sector.

Aside from saving lives, Marie also found love.

Marie met her future husband, David, at weekend handovers when they were both auxiliary officers. They became the first couple to train together as advanced care paramedics.

Marie’s husband still works for Wellington Free, and their daughters are heavily involved with volunteering for St. John, one in Fielding and the other in Carterton.

Marie says that to become a paramedic, you’ve got to do it for the right reasons.

“It’s not about making a name for yourself, it’s about making a difference .  You need to be prepared to put in the hard work.

“It was a fabulous stage in my life and I know I made a difference. I had a wonderful career.”

One-of-a-Kind Street Appeal

Thanks to you we've been responding to emergencies for 90 years.

Collectors on Onesie Day 

Thanks to you we’ve been responding to emergencies since 1927. The generosity of local people has always been incredible, especially on street appeal days. As volunteers line the streets with buckets in hand, the community has always dug deep and supported their free ambulance service. In 1982 our street appeal raised $25,484, a great achievement at the time.

Nowadays our street appeal has transformed into a bright and colourful event to celebrate our One-of-a-Kindness – Onesie Day! In our 90th year you raised an amazing $170,000! Onesie Day is always held at the beginning of September. Check out our Onesie Day page to find our what’s happening this year.

A Royal Opening

After 65 years at the Cable Street building we moved to a new station.

Prince Charles opening our Thorndon Ambulance Station 

Following a tremendous fundraising campaign and regional street appeal the Wellington community pulled together to help with the costs of the new building. Thousands of supporters joined the Building’s Appeal and ‘bought a brick’ to make a tangible contribution to their local ambulance station. Some of those bricks are still visible in the reception area of Headquarters.

As with any big move it didn’t all happen at once. A Maori ceremony to bless the new Davis Street building was held on 22 December 1993 but the crews, their vehicles and the Control Room (now known as the Communications Centre) didn’t settle into their new home until 26 January 1994. Thanks to meticulous planning the move happened seamlessly, and if anyone called for an ambulance on moving day they would be none the wiser that their call was now being taken in another building in a different part of town.

On 8 February 1994, the Service was honoured by having the Prince of Wales visit the building to have a tour of the various departments and meet the staff. In front of an audience of 800 invited guests, Prince Charles officially opened the new building by unveiling a commemorative stone, which is located in the entrance foyer next to the bronze plaque of our founder, Sir Charles Norwood. The event created the usual media frenzy as with any Royal visit, and was reported in press and television around the world. Wellington made its mark!

Following the Royal opening, the people of the Wellington were invited to look over their proud new Ambulance station, a particularly special occasion for those who had bought a brick towards the building. Wellingtonians once again proved themselves as a generous bunch who  want to support their free ambulance service.


Reference: A.W. Beasley, Borne Free, 1995

Heartbeat Community CPR Training

Proudly sponsored by the Lloyd Morrison Foundation

Heartbeat team members 

Wellington Free Ambulance’s CPR Training initiative was set up in the early 2000s – designed to make Wellington the leading sudden cardiac arrest survival city in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Heartbeat Programme has come a long way since then. It is now proudly sponsored by the Lloyd Morrison Foundation and through training and education Wellington is now statistically the second best city in the world to survive a sudden cardiac arrest.

Each week on average four people suffer a cardiac arrest somewhere in Greater Wellington and Wairarapa.

The chances of someone surviving cardiac arrest go up hugely when bystanders get straight into administering CPR, and keep on doing it until help arrives.

Our Heartbeat programme can teach your work place, community group or students CPR. Maybe that training will save the life of a friend, a colleague, or a stranger on the street. You never know when you’ll need it, so it’s best to be prepared.

To learn more about the programme visit the Heartbeat page on our website.

Patient Transfer Service

With reassurance and care, our Patient Transfer team has been safely and comfortably transporting patients since 2009.

Patient Transfer Service staff in front of one of our ambulances. 

Our Patient Transfer Service began in 2009 with four cars and two vans. In the first year our Patient Transfer Officers transported around 900 patients around the region from home to hospital and medical appointments. Back then the team were dedicated to the needs of transporting non-emergency patients and the team’s focus has remained the same since.

Our team of approximately 55 Patient Transfer Officers now manage around 40,000 trips every year. Just over half of those trips are transferring dialysis patients to and from their treatment. We’ve significantly increased our vehicle numbers since our inception with 18 dedicated Patient Transfer vehicles – eight ambulances, seven cars and two vans.

Volunteering to help after the Christchurch earthquake

22 February 2011 - the earthquake that changes the lives of thousands.

A Wellington Free Paramedic comforting a CHCH resident after the earthquake. 

By 4.30pm, four Wellington Free Ambulance paramedics had arrived at Hagley Park and began attending to the sick and injured.

Hernan Holliday, an intensive care flight paramedic, was one of the staff who volunteered to help begin the relief effort.

“I got a text from the roster administrator to say there was a major earthquake in Christchurch, and to call back if I was available to attend."

“It was such a hard decision, leaving my wife and young kids, but I knew other people needed me. Within an hour, I had packed my bags and left.”

By 3.30pm, Hernan was in a helicopter along with three other Wellington Free paramedics travelling to Christchurch.

Mark Osborne, a rescue squad paramedic, was also part of this crew.

“We were getting updates while we were on the way. We knew that it was big, there were injuries and fatalities, and buildings were on fire.”

On arrival in Christchurch, the team didn’t see much of the damage. Hernan said it was the next day that he saw the destruction.

“It was devastating. When I looked around and thought about all those people who lost everything, especially loved ones – it was just hard to believe.”

“For those first two days we worked pretty much 24/7. When we slept, it was on the floor – everyone was in the same boat.”

Hernan was a clinical leader of the makeshift welfare centre he helped set up at a school.

They treated the sick and injured, and made sure there was enough water and medical supplies to cater for the 800 people they looked after.

Mark was assigned a job relieving local front line ambulance staff, so they could go home to their families. He rotated around different areas, and spent some time at the CTV building.

Freeing the last survivor from that building is a lasting memory for Mark.

“I’ve been a hardened paramedic for a while, and a firefighter before that, so I’ve been involved in lots of emergencies – but this was just incredible."

“There was very little infrastructure, water or power – but we’re trained to work in high pressure situations, so we just had to get stuck in and get the job done.”

The initial crew returned to Wellington after five days, when another group were sent down to take over.

Hernan said Wellington Free Ambulance were outstanding, responding to the disaster almost instantly.

"We’re a small service, and a charity, so it’s amazing that the effort was put in to help out as much as we could down there."

“It was so hard, but such an amazing experience. It’s something I will never, ever forget.”

Mark agreed, he was privileged to be a part of the volunteer effort.

“We were the first paramedics from the North Island to reach Christchurch. We had a great working relationship with St John and other volunteers. It really showed that in a crisis, working together to combine skills and clinical experience was seamless.”



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