Report by an English volunteer at Tag der Johanniter First Aid Competition in Potsdam

From 5th to 7th May, a team of seven English volunteers and twenty Polish volunteers attended ‘Tag der Johanniter’ and joined the first aid competition of Johanniter Germany as guest teams. The English volunteers were invited by Larissa, the German volunteer who joined St John Ambulance in London for the provision of first aid at the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Our Polish JOIN member has a longstanding friendship and exchange with its German colleagues and regularly participates in the activities of ‘Tag der Johanniter’. After Alice Guillaume reported her experience you can now read from Sue Woods and find out about the differences in practice between Johanniter Germany and St John Ambulance:

“Seven St John Ambulance (SJA) volunteers, who met online and barely knew each other, travelled to Berlin in early May (Coronation weekend) to attend Tag der Johanniter (Johanniter Day).  This is a federal competition of the German Johanniter (equivalent to St John Ambulance), which sees teams that have won state competitions in each of the 16 Landesverbände (county associations) come together to compete for Federal glory.  It’s the first time the competition has run since COVID-19 and the 18th one since the bicentennial event was set up.  It is clearly a special occasion, with 3,700 people attending, including children and adult SJA volunteers, healthcare professionals and a huge team of referees, casualties and support staff.

We flew for 2 hours to Berlin, ‘mastered’ the train system to Potsdam, then walked a short distance to Babelsberg Film Park, a tourist attraction (ex-commercial studio), complete with a volcano, pirate ships, an old village and castle, and a Wild West show.

We met face-to-face with all our team members for the first time and met Larissa (the contact who invited us), and Jonah, who were our translators and ‘babysitters’ for the weekend.  They were lovely, and very good at English.  We had missed the training day by the time we arrived, so after registering, we queued for a lovely BBQ meal, then had a quick exploration before the welcome party.  Jonah took us to our primary school classroom (the contest had booked out five four-story schools for this).  It was funny to see the illustrated alphabet strung around the room, with F for plane (Flugzeug), P for horse (Pferd) and Z for train (Zug)!  We dropped our luggage, then walked back to the Filmpark.

The site was awash with Johanniter vehicles, including a huge lorry (Weihnachts-(Christmas) trucker), quad bikes, minibuses, ambulances, a coach, a disaster control centre and even a hot air balloon (basket and burner).  Also competing were search and rescue dogs (der Rettungshundestaffel), which sadly we never saw working because we were busy competing at the same time.  The party was amazing, with free drinks, lovely BBQ and cheesecake and various entertainments, including a silent disco.  We got to sleep eventually on the camp beds provided at the school.

Saturday started with a welcome ‘service’, we joined in singing German hymns (the words were on the screen) and were introduced to the crowd as ‘The English Team’.  We were 7 little green uniforms in a sea of orange and red ones, so were very easy to spot, almost taking on minor celebrity status!  We were kindly provided with a kit trolley and response bags, and ‘Dino’ the mascot, which, when held aloft by Jonah, guided us faithfully around the contest all day.  Other teams’ trolleys were highly customised, some with lights and sirens!

The first task was the theory test, with 15 questions, in German, with four choices of answer.  We were allowed to use Google translate and given some extra time.  Not everything translated well; burns (Verbrennung) became combustion!  The Hannover team did theirs in full PPE, including helmets and goggles.

We then decided who would take part in each section of the competition.  Emma, the Team Manager, sorted us into two pairs for our first Praxis (practical), where we had 10 minutes to respond to a man who had fallen from the ‘Berlin Wall’ and broken his arm and his girlfriend who was having an asthma attack.  It was lovely to be provided with English-speaking actors (called mimes).

I was paired with Oliver. We had to mime some of the observations (blood sugar), were not allowed to do oxygen sats (their scope of practice differs from ours), didn’t have thermometers, and had to shout out our respirations, heart rate, blood pressure and other observations to the referees, at which point they either declared them correct for the scenario or told us the ‘real’ figures. It was a bit strange not filling in a Patient Report Form (PRF). We had a minute at the end to do the handover.  It was gratifying to get a rowdy round of applause when our time was up.  I hadn’t realised we even had an audience! Referee feedback was positive and constructive, and we learned that their normal practice is to call an ambulance straight away, and then do the vital signs observations and treatment.

The second challenge was the Tragetest, which saw Oliver, Alice, Kathleen and Jonas kitted out with helmets and gloves and given a thorough safety briefing on the art of safe stretcher handling.  They had to negotiate a professionally built aluminium obstacle course, on the flat sandy car park, with a 75kg load (of sandbags) and an open bowl of water suspended in the middle. Top-to-toe movement (as long as it was gentle) would not affect the water too much, but any tilting about the horizontal axis (as though to tip the ‘casualty’ off sideways), would result in loss of water (and points with it!).  They made a confident start, with much enthusiastic cheering and applause from the assembled crowd.  The first two obstacles; zig-zag uprights and climbing through a hole in the wall, went well, but the tilted rope ladder ramp caused a lot of delay.  They were not allowed to stand on the ropes.  After the corner of confined walls, confidently negotiated, their untrained arms were shaking too much, and they stopped for a rest!! The seesaw was awkward, the flight of stairs up and down again a bit easier, then after the last obstacle, a narrow platform, the course was done.  What a relief!  After we had our confirmed time of 11 mins, and very little water lost, we learnt that the time limit was 7 minutes!  There was another roar from the crowd and much taking of celebratory photos.

I wandered off for a well-earned rest and a quick exploration of the Filmpark. I found Marlene waffles (named after the film star) and had a quick boat ride around Panama. There were stalls advertising and selling interesting things, including Johanniter stamped apples, a machine like a vertical drill stand doing compressions on a full-size manikin, and the red Johanniter branded Converse boots for just 25 Euros.

Our second Praxis, this time in 3 pairs in the Wild West town, was, for me and Oliver, a face-down fallen lady who initially appeared to be uninjured. When we turned her over, we found and dressed a large laceration and a bump on her forehead, called our ambulance straight away, and had a lovely chat with her while we did observation and kept her warm. I even got manual blood pressure, despite the explosions going on in the Wild West stunt show next door. We waited for our hot debrief, slightly nervous about what was to come, and the lovely referee said, “It was a pleasure to watch you work”. We felt awesome.

The final task was basic life support, on full-size ‘Ambu Mann’ manikins. We had one minute to familiarise ourselves with it; I worked with Jonas who hadn’t used a bag valve mask (BVM) before, so I had to teach him quickly.  The compressions were good, and they shouted out the defib translations for us, so we did OK with the analysis, charging, and shock. The manikin automatically worked out our score. A lot of people were watching, so we got another round of applause:

The competition finished, we put the borrowed kit away and had a rest. There was a huge BBQ queue and an even longer queue for the stunt show inside the volcano. The show involved crashed helicopters, a man abseiling off the roof, fights and flames on the towers, and much jumping from buildings. At one point a lady was kidnapped apparently at random from the crowd and was thrown off the stairwell! She was part of the act and was quite OK.

Next was the two-hour-long prizegiving ceremony, opened by speeches, a piper, an amazing marching drumming band, and a special award for a volunteer with 46 years of service. The results for every team in each category were announced and the top 3 placed teams paraded on stage. We won our category, so had to go up. Had we been in the National ratings, we would have placed 7th. There were flares of sparks on the stage like at football matches and the crowd did a Mexican Wave just for us!  We had a medal each, a team certificate, a very heavy bear trophy (the bear is Berlin’s mascot, promoting tolerance and cosmopolitanism) and won 300 Euros!! Every time second place was revealed the crowd went wild, especially the group who had worked out that they’d won. The atmosphere was electric. There followed a party until 1am, but some of us had early flights home, so we didn’t stay that long.

We gave our translators, Larissa, Jonah, and Dany (who initially came as a casualty), big group hugs and said Vielen Dank and goodbye. Dany gave us all florescent yellow hoodies, the team uniform of NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen), which we proudly wore on our journeys home. Dany said later “I was told more than once how amazing you all were with the patients. Your kindness, paired with professionalism, didn’t go unnoticed!”

On Sunday morning we restored the classroom to its former glory and left a thank you message on the chalkboard for the children. The lovely Johanniter Buddy Maria gave us the all-clear to leave, let us choose a picnic each and bade us farewell. Jonah, again acting as our lovely bus driver, took us to Potsdam central station, had another group hug, and we trained back to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station).

I spent the day exploring Berlin in steelies (they wouldn’t fit in my luggage!) and had a lovely time. The city is so gorgeous, with many attractions worthy of a return visit. We texted to make sure everyone got home safely and have been randomly texting each other ever since about all sorts of things.

My Tag der Johanniter experience was amazing. I have made new friends, have the confidence that my clinical skills are good overseas too and most of all learnt how important the Teamgeist (team spirit) is to this organisation. Thank you so much for the opportunity, to Die Johanniter, and to the event sponsor, Mercedes.  And, of course, our team members.

Jonah later gave us some great feedback; “(I) talked to a lot of judges that day and they were all amazed by how (self) confident you were. Even though there was a big language barrier while being in a foreign country and understanding nothing besides what the translators said is just mind-boggling. All the judges went “Damn, that is some excellent work right there””

Back row: Alice, Oliver, Jonah, Sue Front row: Dany, Kathleen, Larissa, Emma, Jonas, Orla

Were we sad to miss the Coronation?  Slightly.  But we had the most fantastic alternative weekend!!”