Paramedic saves choking colleague's life during chance late shift together

Hayley Bennett pictured with Gareth Jones, whom she saved during an unexpected shift together. Credit: Welsh Ambulance Service

A West Wales paramedic who was unexpectedly paired up with a colleague on a late shift ended up saving his life after he choked on a mouthful of food.

Hayley Bennett, 39, from Pembrokeshire, came to the aid of her colleague Gareth Jones after a fortuitous chain of events led to them working together.

Mr Jones said he would have been found "dead on the floor" had it not been for quick-thinking Hayley, who had never before had to save one of her own colleagues.

On the night of the choking incident, Hayley was working an overnight shift in Pembroke Dock when a colleague called in sick, leaving her on her own.

Meanwhile, Gareth was working a late shift alone around 20 minutes away in Tenby.

After a quick call to the duty manager, it was agreed that the two could team up to form one unit.

Hayley said: “It was around 8pm when I walked in and Gareth was sat eating his dinner. We began talking and he just started choking.

“I knew he was in trouble straight away. His face was bright red and his eyes were bulging. He’d jumped out of his seat and was hammering on his chest.”

Hayley and Gareth pictured with chief executive Jason Killens. Credit: Welsh Ambulance Service

Gareth’s airways were completely blocked, so quick-thinking Hayley leapt into action.

“I was on him in seconds,” she said.

“Back slaps to start with, and really shouting at him to cough as he was trying to breathe in.

“I moved on to the Heimlich Manoeuvre, but it dislodged nothing.

“I returned to back slaps quickly and eventually he vomited, which cleared his airways."

Gareth, 42, who has served 21 years with the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “It frightened the hell out of me. I felt like I was going.

“I’d read about the impending sense of doom in textbooks, and that’s exactly what I had.

“I’m eternally grateful to Hayley. Without her my wife would be a widow and my kids would have no father."

Hayley is given her commendation award by chief executive Jason Killens. Credit: Welsh Ambulance Service

The pair said the couple of minutes it took to save Gareth felt like a lifetime, and afterwards they both stood there in "disbelief".

Hayley admitted: “It was one of the most bizarre things that’s ever happened to me – I’ve never had to work on a colleague before. It was shocking, really - I wasn’t supposed to be there.”

Gareth added: “Someone was looking after me that night. They would have found me dead on the station floor if Hayley hadn’t arrived, as there were no other medically trained people there."

But the two didn't have much time to process what had happened - soon afterwards their radio went off to say they were required at an emergency incident.

“Hayley joked it was for me - but we were on our way to a 'red' call,” said Gareth.

Reeling from the shock, and with Gareth still physically recovering, the pair rushed to their ambulance and set off to a seriously ill patient.

Now fully recovered, Gareth says he owes his life to Hayley, who has since been awarded a special honour in work.

She received her award on Tuesday from chief executive Jason Killens in a ceremony at Tenby ambulance station.

Jason said: “Gareth was really lucky that Hayley arrived and was able to administer that crucial first aid.

“Choking is something that can happen to anybody and it is important the public are aware of correct procedure should an emergency like this occur.

“I congratulate Hayley for stepping in and halting what could have been a disastrous outcome for Gareth, his family and his colleagues.”

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