N3 Hero – Phillip Hull – “I love every day of my life. Life is precious.”

Being a game ranger means you get used to constant scratches and bites and so when Philip Hull felt a ‘prick on his arm’ while opening a gate in Tuli block Botswana, he didn’t think anything of it. Then he spotted a Black Mamba slithering down a tree beside him, and thought lucky escape! However, when he started to feel dreadful and noticed the puncture marks on his arm, he gave himself an intravenous injection from his emergency first aid kid and headed his vehicle in the direction of the border control office – crashing into a concrete block attracted the necessary attention before he passed out. In a series of lucky coincidences, the usual helicopter which delivered post to this rural spot had been replaced by a medical one that week and so a doctor was on hand and Philip he was rushed to hospital in Johannesburg. During the 6 months he spent in hospital recovering, he had plenty of time to think about his good fortune and the remarkable team work which had saved his life. He came to the conclusion “I’ve been kept here for something”.

Philip founded Community Medical Services (CMS), 29 years ago, combining his love of cars, medicine and people. This remarkable voluntary group of paramedics, nurses and doctors monitors the Van Reenen’s Pass area of the road during peak traffic times – long weekends and holiday season. Their involvement began during the days when BMW had technical help stationed at the top of the pass, however after four years BMW withdrew. “We were in a quandary” says Philip, “we had seen the necessity of having medical assistance in the area with its difficult conditions and high accident rate. Van Reenen is quite a distance from Ladysmith and Harrismith, so ambulances and help can take hours to arrive, so we decided to keep it going.” At first the operation was financed entirely by Philip and his friends who carried the cost of supplying fuel, food and equipment. “We used to sleep in tents on top of the pass. During winter, knives were standard equipment as often we had to cut ourselves out of the tents to respond to an emergency – the zips were frozen solid!” he laughs. The rewards of team spirit, companionship, the pleasure of helping innocent victims and the thrill of saving a life made it all worthwhile. “I was constantly amazed that highly qualified people were prepared to be woken at 2am in the morning go out in the cold and wet, to an accident never knowing what lay in wait.”

“Today’s world is all about self-enrichment,” says Patrick O’Leary of Fleetwatch, “Philip stands out as an exceptional human who gives freely of his time and money. Man, he is unbelievable – knowledgeable, passionate and a true leader.”

While conditions on the pass can be challenging in the snow and mist with poor visibility, most problems occur when drivers do not compensate for the conditions and continue to drive at high speeds. Philip established the Road Safety Foundation six years ago to raise road safety awareness. There are no quick-fix solutions and it will take focused and sustainable activity to change the road safety situation in our country. “If our efforts save the life of even one person, our work have been worthwhile,” says Philip.

Attending to accidents in dangerous conditions means the team members have their own trauma to deal with too. To unwind and gather his thoughts, Philip likes to head for Kruger National Park. He knows all the out-of-the way loops, quiet picnic spots and hidden bird hides. Engaging in convivial conversation around the campfire discussing the day’s sightings is one of his favourite times. A passionate birder and keen photographer, he aims to count 200 species on each trip. “We have identified 130 species in our own garden, with the Yellow Crimson-breasted Shrike being a recent exciting sighting”, he says.

You don’t often get something for nothing, but on Van Reenen’s, thanks to Philip and his team, you do. This is a unique service in South Africa, offered nowhere else.

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