Peter Fiechtner is searching for the woman who he helped bring into the world on his first job as a full-time paramedic in 1974.

40 years of caring, now this Ambo needs your help

PETER Fiechtner is on a treasure hunt.

There's no bucket of gold at the end of this though. And he's not searching for a needle in a haystack so much as he is searching for one life, one tiny promising newborn child, among a record of 37,770 others.

Peter is a paramedic.

When he started in 1974, he and his fellow ambulance officers were known as driver bearers.

Then aged 19, he was the youngest person ever to be appointed to the role when he arrived in the early hours of January 10 at the two-man Mitchell ambulance station in south-west Queensland.

His new superintendent, Ron Hayes, arrived with him at 1am after a long, late-night bus ride together from Tweed Heads.

They got off the bus, checked in at the station, and within the hour became the first line of emergency care for the 1200 people in Mitchell and its surrounds.

Within the hour, they were needed. A woman was in labour at home and wasn't going to make it to hospital.

Sometime between 1am and 2am on January 10, 1974, that woman's baby girl took her first breath in the back of an ambulance with Peter, on his first job and in his first hour as a driver bearer.

And therein begins his search for a treasure that can't be weighed or measured.

Peter remembers the Mitchell Station address. It was 56 Mary St. He remembers the town's six pubs and the two Fords they used as ambulances for the first few months he served there.

"We pranged one."

He remembers delivering the baby girl on the side of the road, and he remembers that her birth certificate says she was born at the hospital.

The thing he can't remember, the thing that has turned this into a needle and haystack situation, is her name. That detail has been lost after 42 years.

The anonymous newborn and her mum were both taken to Mitchell Hospital that night in 1974, and faded into the background for years after.

"It was just another job," Peter said. "It was just... thank you very much and see you later."

But with Peter now off the road and getting closer to retirement, he's out to reunite with the child that started it all.

He's hoping the Queensland public will help uncover the woman who was there for the beginning of one of the longest and most varied careers in Queensland's ambulance service.

The beginning years:

By the time Peter was an official driver bearer, he'd already spent several years volunteering in the role in his home area of Coolangatta.

When he wasn't at school or at home, he was at the ambulance station trying to log his 1000 hours as an honorary driver bearer in an attempt to get a permanent position.

"It's all I wanted to do," he said. "I just had this passion for doing this."

It was no easy role. Volunteers responded to the same jobs as those permanently employed. Drownings, assaults, car crashes, stabbings, drug overdoses and other incidents of trauma became a regular part of most nights. The only night he took off as a teen was Tuesday.

So when he was stationed in Mitchell as a 19-year-old, he was already used to the blood and black humour of a busy ambulance station.


Peter Fiechtner's official portrait in 1977, three years after he became a full-time paramedic.
Peter Fiechtner's official portrait in 1977, three years after he became a full-time paramedic. Contributed

Mitchell's slower pace, and the more intimate nature of its emergencies, was a culture shock.

"We had one job every three days," he said. "You got to know the community quite well."

In a decade when the yearly death toll from car crashes soared above 500, the scene of death and destruction on the side of a highway became a familiar one for Peter.

He remembers the regular words of his superintendent; the question asked each time they were deciding who would bring the bad news. "Who knows the family Pete?"

Some of the crashes have stuck in his memory too, even now.

There was the nurse named Dixie, killed when she was thrown from the car while out on a date. Peter recalls a country song that shared her name playing as he drove to the job.

There was Dennis, who was just a kid when his skull was broken into so many pieces. There was his mother, strapped into the front seat of their smashed car asking after her dead son. "How's Dennis, Petey?" she said. "How's Dennis?"

There was the dark jokes shared over the top of the ambulance bonnet, the only accepted form of coping with this part of the job.

"I seemed to go to all my friend's accidents," Peter said.

"One of the jobs I did that I do recall early in my career...the superintendent was out of town and I was there by myself and I got a call late one afternoon to a car crash out at Muckadilla.

"Going out there, I pranged a car. The car came across on my left and we collided.

"I patched her (the driver) up, commandeered a car, got her off to hospital, flagged another car down to take me back to the ambulance station, grabbed the other ambulance and headed back out to the original accident."

"The guy had a broken leg, a fractured femur. I got him back to Mitchell Hospital... and they ended up transferring him to Brisbane.

"It was a few months later, there was a knock on the door of the ambulance station and opened the door and it was 'Hi, my name is... I can't remember what his name is, you know, 'my name's Bill... and I'd just like to thank you for saving my life and here's a cheque for $1000'."

"$1000 was an astronomical amount of money in those days. It just blew me away. It was virtually half a year's budget."

After 18 months in Mitchell, Peter moved to the seven-man station at nearby Roma.

As a musical person, he joined the Roma Choral Society and the Roma Repertory Society, sometimes going to dress rehearsal on duty in his Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade tie and hat.

"That's how I dealt with a lot of the stress," he said.

Though the town was bigger, the intimacy of the deaths didn't stop.

"One year out in Roma when beef prices were down, interest rates were up...every month or so a young farmer would take his own life," Peter said.

"I was the poor guy that was on duty virtually every time. It was like...the grim reaper's on duty again.

"I'd go to these properties and I knew them. I'd go and sit with the wife and the little kids and they'd say 'hi Pete, how is he?' and I'd say look, I'm sorry, he's dead, he's not survived.

"We'd be that first contact...That was sometimes a bit hard to do but it was nice in that they accepted it because you knew them. It was like being part of this massive 6000-people extended family."

The changing ambulance service:

After Roma, Peter served a stint in Gatton for close to a decade before moving to Caboolture in 1989 with a post as a training officer.

The QATB was on the brink of enormous change and two years later it would officially become the Queensland Ambulance Service.

Peter took on the challenge of training up young paramedics, some of whom were now being trained at university.

"We were starting to introduce some advanced care skills and drugs back into the service," he said.

When the QATB officially changed its structure and spilled most of its senior roles in 1991, Peter went back into an on-road paramedic position at Chermside.


Peter Fiechtner is searching for the woman who he helped bring into the world on his first job as a full-time paramedic in 1974.
Peter Fiechtner is searching for the woman who he helped bring into the world on his first job as a full-time paramedic in 1974. Hannah Busch

More jobs became stuck in his memory.

There's the brawl at the Albany Creek Tavern in the '90s, one of the few instances in Peter's career where his own safety was threatened.

"One brother had been injured and he was on his hands and knees with blood pouring down his face and his brother standing over him," he said.

"I actually picked him up to see his face and figure out where all this blood was coming from. As I did that, his brother just let go and took this swing (at Peter).

"All I felt was this tiny touch on the sleeve and then about 15 police just jumped on this guy. I can still hear the police man say 'you don't touch the ambo'."

There's the memory of a man waving a .22 calibre gun at Peter and his colleague, urging them to get his sick mate to hospital.

There's the Caboolture woman who went into cardiac arrest at a doctor's surgery in 1991. The defibrillation machine Peter and his partner used to shock her heart back into a rhythm had only just been installed. Her case was the first successful use of the machine anywhere in the world. She died and came back to life in two minutes on the surgery floor.

"That was one where I could say, I have turned a dead person into a live person," Peter said.

There's the Japanese woman who went into labour at home alone and the humour that comes with remembering what they had forgotten to do that day. In clamping the umbilical cord, they had forgotten to strip the blood.

Peter laughs as he recalls what happened when they cut the cord.

"Blood up the curtains, up the wall," he said.

"While my partner was dealing with (the baby)...I'm taking the curtains off the wall and putting them in the washing machine."

There are other good ones too, like the job at Kedron that earned Peter a letter of commendation. He used a combination of ingenuity and pluck to help save an elderly woman who'd fallen over in her home early in the morning.

The injured women was inside, locked behind a heavy old-fashioned door with the paramedics stuck on the other side.

"The house was secured like Fort Knox," Peter said.

Peter's solution sounds simple now, years later. There was a gap between the door and the floor and the key itself was still in the lock. So he flagged down a passing tradesman and borrowed a pair of needle-point pliers. He stuck a piece of newspaper under the door and used the pliers to turn the key and dump it on the floor below. Simple.

In 2008, 35 years after his very first job, came the one that ended his time on the road.

A little girl in Brisbane's northern suburbs couldn't breathe. She was in respiratory arrest. They sped there, lights and sirens going. The street was one Peter knew. He feared she was a child he knew.

"It was just this horrible feeling driving code one to this location. I just felt so sick."

The family turned out to be neighbours of the people Peter knew. Their two-year-old girl, the one Peter and his partner had been called to help, could not be saved.

In the hours after her death, 35 years of trauma made themselves known.

"We went back to the station. They got our priority one people just to come and have a chat and check we were okay.

"35 years of bonnet chatting just... somebody opened the bonnet."

Peter gave up his role on the road and took on a new challenge that he is still doing today. He works behind the scenes in QAS headquarters as a senior operations supervisor in charge of the program that makes sure each paramedic gets paid correctly.



Peter Fiechtner is searching for the woman who he helped bring into the world on his first job as a full-time paramedic in 1974.
Peter Fiechtner is searching for the woman who he helped bring into the world on his first job as a full-time paramedic in 1974. Hannah Busch

He is known in stations across the state now as 'the timesheet guy' and his days are made up of coding and computer programming rather than the practicalities of life and death. It's a role that this year earned him an Australia Day award from the QAS.

Peter hopes to reach 50 years in the service before he retires. He hopes too to meet the woman who was there right at the beginning before his career comes to an end.

The unknown child born on Peter's first hour on the job was one of 37,770 babies registered in Queensland in 1974.

The state welcomes many more children now. A total 63,066 births were registered in Queensland in 2014 and many of those tiny promising newborns came into the world with a new generation of paramedics at their side. Ambulance officers across Queensland responded to 2576 incidents of babies born, women in labour or women about to deliver in 2014.

In total, QAS personnel responded to more than 737,000 calls to 000 and more than 1.1 million sick or injured people in the 2015-16 financial year. It's grown just a bit since January 10, 1974.

Other things have remained the same. Mitchell Station is still a two-person station. Advanced care paramedic Peter Thomson now serves in the role Peter Fiechtner started his career in.

And Peter himself plans to spend the next eight years growing alongside the QAS, hoping to reunite with the first life ever trusted to him as a permanent ambulance officer.

Comment below if you can help Peter find the woman.

Phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 for confidential crisis support.