St John’s new chief sees defibrillators everywhere

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Bianca Russell… “I’d like to see a defibrillator within reach of every public area. I want the ACT to be the safest place to have a cardiac arrest.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

BIANCA Russell is on a mission to make Canberra the safest place in Australia to have a cardiac arrest.

“If someone has a cardiac arrest and a defibrillator isn’t used, the chances of survival drop by 10 per cent every minute,” says Bianca, who was appointed CEO of St John Ambulance ACT earlier this year.

The forty-year-old wants to raise more awareness around the importance of defibrillators.

“At the moment people don’t know what they do and they think because they don’t know how to use them that they can’t,” she says. 

“Anyone can use a defibrillator, they won’t deliver a shock unless it’s needed. 

“I’d like to see a defibrillator within reach of every public area. I want the ACT to be the safest place to have a cardiac arrest, if you’re going to have one, because of access to defibrillators and trained public members.”

If people don’t get the importance of defibrillators, Bianca says that in recent months she has heard three stories of people who were saved by either volunteers of the charity or someone who had finished a first aid course through St John Ambulance ACT. 

One of these three people was a young man who emailed Bianca telling her of how he went into cardiac arrest during an asthma attack. 

By chance, a St John Ambulance ACT volunteer was there and directed a member of the public to run and get a defibrillator from a supermarket nearby while he started CPR. 

“That young guy got to go home to his family because one person did a day of training,” she says.

Bianca is also aiming to get one or two people in every Canberra family trained in first aid.

“Had our volunteer not been there, no one else would have known what to do,” she says. 

“The more people that are trained, the more lives are saved.”

Bianca, who started as an executive assistant at St John Ambulance ACT in 2017, before being promoted to CEO this year, quickly saw how important the charity is to the community and wanted to get more involved, so decided to volunteer on top of her paid work. 

“I heard incredible stories where people were saving other people’s lives and I thought: ‘Wow, this is amazing and I want to be part of it and be more involved’,” she says. 

Which is exactly what she did, completing almost 200 hours of volunteer work with the weekend NightCrew in Civic and at events last year, and still volunteers when she can this year. 

“The NightCrew helps people who might have had too much to drink or feel vulnerable,” says Bianca who describes the crew as being “a sober friend”. 

Having a son in his 20s was another inspiration for Bianca to volunteer and be there for these young people. 

“It puts it into perspective. This could be my child and to know that there’s someone there is reassuring,” she says. 

“It’s a pretty confronting situation at times, but it’s so rewarding to feel that at the end of the night you’ve made a difference. 

“[Also] if I’m going to expect people to volunteer then I should be able to do it, too.”

In 2019, Bianca says NightCrew has assisted 3967 people and of those people, 483 people were provided with first aid and, as of September 30, NightCrew directly reduced and/or negated emergency services attendance 270 times.

While Bianca has many feel-good stories since becoming CEO, it’s not always been easy and she says her style as a passionate, empathic leader has been challenged many times. 

“I had been told along the way that that method wasn’t the best, I was told not to show people who I was, not to show people too much kindness because it can be perceived as a weakness, not to interact with people you have to manage on a personal level because they won’t respect me,” she says. 

But Bianca says she’s proved this style of leadership is exactly what the charity needed and has led St John Ambulance Service ACT into its best financial position in a long time.


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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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