Norm Veal: A paramedic legacy

by AnneMarie White

After almost a lifetime career with the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS), Norm Veal looks to the next five years to deliver what he hopes will be a legacy for supporting ongoing best practices and a supportive environment for future ambulance officers.

Norm Veal is a North Queenslander, born and bred, and has spent much of his service with the QAS in the north. Moving to Spring Hill in 2016 he took on the exacting role of Senior Station Officer at the Spring Hill Ambulance Centre – one of the busiest centres in the state.

Although his heart will always have a soft spot for the tropics, Norm, with a shining passion to help others, is committed to serving his final decade as a first responder in “the big smoke”.

Tending to the sick and injured has always been in Norm’s DNA. He began his career as a nurse in Bowen — winning Queensland’s Cancer Fund Charity Nurse of the Year in 1985 – and joined the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade, now the QAS, as an honorary officer in 1987. After a short stint in Brisbane North, Norm went back to the Whitsunday area for 12 years in Proserpine and the next four in Mackay before transferring to Spring Hill.

“Nursing is a great career and I did love it, but I wanted something more challenging and perhaps diverse. I enjoyed emergency medicine and the accident side of nursing where I could make decisions that made a difference. Because ambulance work changes every day, it opened up my whole environment- no job was the same,” he explains with a smile.

Norm admits that clinical work was his forte in nursing but “I found paramedic work much more challenging because here I never knew what I would face arriving at the scene of an accident. Often I was on my own and I had to assess, triage and prioritise. Making those on the spot decisions that saved a life or helped a fellow human who was suffering, I felt I was contributing.”

But the life of a first responder is also touched by overwhelming sadness, guilt and distress and although Norm keeps his upbeat manner, he does admit there are several stories that stay with him.

“I have learned to leave harsh memories behind, but there is one that has stayed with me. Many years ago in the country a teenage boy was shot point blank in the chest with a shotgun during a domestic attack. Attending that scene was extremely traumatic. The boy had overwhelming, life threatening injuries. I worked closely with the hospital team and together we saved this young life.”

“However, it is also my most satisfying case, because that lad, who really didn’t stand a chance, is now living a good life.”

“One of the challenges that often face ambulance officers in the country is remaining professionally detached and stoic when confronted with knowing the people involved; it’s especially tragic when it’s young ones you know,” Norm says sadly.

“I once attended an accident on the day before Schoolies where several teens were killed. These young kids went to school with my children. Living in a small country town, where everyone knows everyone – that’s tough.”

And in the Service, Norm concedes things still get tough.

“I really do struggle today with the suicide rate in our young people. The times I face the harsh reality of mental health despair is distressing personally and for our team.”

And this is but one of the many reasons that Norm now approaches his final decade within the Ambulance Service with a passionate fervor to “look after my staff.”

“Now my role is pretty simple. I want to make the work environment for my team as good as possible; so it is conducive for them to work safely, take care of themselves, be mentored and have the best clinical training as possible.”

“Nothing is more important now than looking after my staff so that they can continue the magnificent work they do efficiently, safely and with compassion.”

After word

As we talk, Shannon Anderson and Matthew Lyne ride up to the Boundary Street Centre to check in with Norm and their close bond is obvious.

“One of the great innovations the QAS now have is the Bike Response Squad with 21 paramedics working in the inner city suburbs and CBD. These guys are exceptional; very experienced and probably the best clinicians around,” Norm adds for both the two cycling paramedics and in general regarding his squad.