First class first responder

Dr William Griggs, a graduate of the University of Adelaide, does not think of himself as a miracle worker. But if you asked any one of the victims he has saved in multiple-casualty events (structure collapses, bombings, bus, train and aircraft crashes), they would tell you otherwise. His contribution to medicine, that includes an invention that was used to save the life of Pope John Paul II, could indeed be considered miraculous.

A desire to help those in need

As a young man, Bill (as he prefers to be called) witnessed a car accident, which deeply affected him. Despite studying medicine at the time, he was unable to help due to his lack of practical medical training. This triggered a path to self-empowerment. Bill wanted to ensure that he had the capability to assist in any crisis. So in 1976, while still a student at the University, he began his medical career as a volunteer paramedic. In this role, he gained extensive hands-on experience and attended his 100th fatal road crash prior to even graduating from his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 1981.

Rescues on the front line

Bill went on to gain further qualifications in Anaesthesia, Intensive Care, and Aviation Medicine—skills that would see him complete hundreds of aeromedical retrievals and maritime helicopter winch rescues. He is now a world authority on trauma and disaster medicine and has first-hand experience at the front line of many catastrophic events including the 2002 and 2005 Bali Bombings, the Boxing Day Tsunami, Garuda Airlines crash in 2007, the maritime fire/explosion and the Samoan tsunami, both in 2009.

Highly educated and trained, Bill has acquired the physical skills and mental prowess to assist in crisis situations, but it is his innate strength of character that has enabled him to lead teams and provide care in extraordinary circumstances. Just one example of this occurred in 1994, when Bill volunteered to attend the scene of South Australia’s biggest siege, where a gunman had shot a police officer 14 times. When he arrived, the police were yet to apprehend the gunman and shots were still being fired. With protection from police, Bill and his team rushed to the aid of the officer and treated him for more than 10 minutes in the line of fire. The bravery shown by Bill, along with his team and the policemen, helped save the police officer’s life.

Medical innovator

In addition to his courageous work in trauma, Bill Griggs has added inventor to his list of accomplishments. In 1989, he invented a surgical instrument and procedure to make a breathing passage in the neck. Having unsuccessfully attempted to have it made at the hospital in which he worked, Bill created the instrument with the help of his father, a University of Adelaide mechanical engineering graduate. Now known as the percutaneous tracheotomy or ‘Griggs Technique’ and Griggs Kit forceps, these inventions were used in 2005 to save the life of Pope John Paul II.

Leading roles

Today Bill works at the Royal Adelaide Hospital as Director of the Trauma Service, a post he has held for 18 years. He also holds several other roles including:

  • Clinical Director Retrieval Coordination of MedSTAR Emergency Medical Retrieval
  • State Controller (Health and Medical) for SA Health
  • Director Air Force Health Reserves SA/WA for the Royal Australian Air Force
  • St John Ambulance Australia (Operations Branch), Medical Officer
  • Associate Professor at James Cook University
  • member of several boards.

Bill has also maintained his links with the University of Adelaide as Clinical Associate Professor, and returned to complete a Master of Business Administration in 2009.


In acknowledgement of his outstanding contributions, Bill’s service has been recognised through various honours. These include being named South Australian of the Year in 2009, receiving an Ambulance Service Medal (ASM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009, being named the SA recipient of Australian of the Year in 2006, being given a key to the City of Adelaide in 2006 and being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2003.

The impossible is possible

Bill lives by the motto that no matter how dire the situation appears, if you continue to strive to achieve the impossible, you may just succeed. This motto has certainly proven true of his life. Dr William Griggs has demonstrated that with passion, drive, selflessness, care and education, you can empower yourself to do remarkable things.

Dr William Griggs

Griggs invention was used to save the life of Pope John Paul II

At the front line of many catastrophic events