Rescue crew no longer volunteers
The Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter's two new permanent paid crewmen say they are fortunate to be able to have such rewarding and varied jobs.
Marketing and promotions manager Paula Muddle said generous funding from the Canterbury Community Trust meant the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter service had entered a new era.
After 21 years of relying on volunteers the helicopter now had paid crew rostered on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Paul Bryant has been employed as the helicopter service's chief crewman.
Mr Bryant and his wife Pauline have moved from Auckland to Nelson for his new role. He had previously worked for 15 years for the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, joining from the air force.
Mr Bryant said rescue helicopter crew vacancies were not often advertised and he was excited at the opportunity to move south for a lifestyle change. He had been in Nelson since the start of the month and said it was similar work in a different geographical environment.
"It can be really rewarding. It can be really hard work, hard emotionally and physically. It's a good industry to be in."
Nelson man Hamish Pirie has also been employed as a crewman on the rescue helicopter.
Mr Pirie has worked as a rescue helicopter volunteer for a number of years and said the new role was a good fit and logical progression for his skills.
He has a background in search and rescue work in a number of areas, including land, urban and cave work. He found the work rewarding, especially when lives were saved.
Mrs Muddle said the service would still rely on its "amazing volunteers" who would provide back-up support for the standby Squirrel helicopter.
She said the helicopter had been involved in some dramatic rescues the past week, including the central Nelson rescue of Jennie Ware, who was winched from near the Walter's Bluff track on Monday night after breaking her leg.
Mr Pirie was the winch operator on that rescue.
The Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter attends more than 350 callouts annually, up from the 100 annual callouts in the service's early days.
Mrs Muddle said the increase in callouts the helicopter was attending could be attributed to buying vital equipment such as night-vision goggles, a beacon tracker, defibrillator, and a GPS satellite navigation system made possible by community funding through sponsorship, grants and fundraising.
Mrs Muddle said the addition of the two new paid crewman was amazing for the service.
"This is fantastic for the service going forward as they are not only meeting new ambulance and paramedical standards that require an additional basic life support paramedic onboard, but the level of care the crew are able to provide the patient will increase, as well as the helicopter being winch capable on all missions."
The Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter's new BK117 became operational in January and in that time it has responded to a number of callouts where it has flown back two patients, and airlifted people from motor vehicle accidents, ski fields and remote locations throughout the top of the South Island.
The move to the twin-engine rescue helicopter has seen operational costs increase from about $500,000 to $1.2 million annually.
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