Man who threw a lifeline to the rescue helicopter

TARYN UTIGER
Last updated 05:00 30/12/2013
Bryce Barnett
ANDY JACKSON/ Fairfax NZ

FLYING HIGH: Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust chairman Bryce Barnett is the fourth of five nominees for the 2013 Taranaki Daily News Person of the Year award. Since his appointment in December last year the once failing trust has flown to new heights

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When Bryce Barnett became the chairman of Taranaki's helicopter trust a dwindling bank overdraft was keeping the aircraft flying.

There was enough of that overdraft left to run the rescue helicopter for just four more weeks.

In August last year, four months before the prominent businessman was appointed chairman, the trust announced it needed $400,000 to keep the chopper in use beyond Christmas.

Two pilots had resigned and major funders, the TSB Community Trust and the Taranaki Electricity Trust had refused the most recent applications.

The nightmare scenario left the community worried, knowing all too well the lack of a helicopter on Taranaki's unforgiving terrain and hazardous coastline could mean the difference between life and death.

Now, one year after the 55-year-old took the trust's reins, the vital service is running more efficiently than ever.

"We have money in the bank. It's not a lot of money, but it's ours," Mr Barnett said.

The trained chartered accountant, known as the founder of Kawaroa Consultancy Ltd, said this last year has been a joy and a challenge.

Bringing the trust back from the brink of disaster was something he was determined to do and something he said he could not have achieved without the help of the community, the sponsors, the staff and the volunteers involved.

Turning around a trust in such financial disrepair has come at a cost though.

The helicopter is no longer taken out for sponsor's flights, it never leaves the hangar for public events and hospital transfers are mostly left to the Taranaki Air Ambulance.

The twin-engined Agusta 109 Power is for emergency rescues only and to take it out for anything else costs the community more than it can afford, Mr Barnett said.

At around $3000 for an hour of flight time one can understand why he has tightened the purse strings.

"I haven't been in the helicopter either. I love flying in helicopters but I haven't flown in that one.

"We are focused on rescue services and we have to be available for emergency rescue 365 days a year and 24 hours a day."

The number of emergency rescues the helicopter has attended in the last 12 months has risen 30 per cent.

That increase is in line with what is happening nationally and Mr Barnett believed people were becoming more active and with that came more rescues.

A sustainable business model was the only way to guarantee Taranaki kept the much needed service.

The trust's new business model will make it the best run trust in New Zealand within three to five years, the Taranaki born and bred man said.

"It's all about communication and that's what we have done here this year. We communicate, we engage and we have been transparent in all that we do."

That level of active participation with the community, funders, and potential sponsors is already beginning to have positive spin-offs. While it is now clear the trust can survive, at least for a year, without the help of major local funders, Mr Barnett sees a brighter future.

"We have been working very closely with TET and TSB and we are confident we will regain their support. We hope to have some exciting news in 2014," he said.

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The finances of the once doomed helicopter trust are turning around but Mr Barnett said part of his focus had also been on the staff and volunteers. "It started with me saying, ‘thank you' to them. That really helped. A thank you can mean so much, it's everything really and it helped us to turn that first corner," he said.

The chairman's time is split between his business, his wife, his five children and new grandson, and the countless community boards and trusts he is a part of.

Despite his busy schedule he intends to stay on as the chairman of the helicopter trust for about the next five years.

"Once you have done five or six years leading something you should step down. You lose your mojo and will do the community a disservice. I'll still be connected to the trust after that though, if they'll have me," he beams.

 

Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust chairman Bryce Barnett is the fourth of five nominees for the 2013 Taranaki Daily News Person of the Year award.  

 

Each finalist has been interviewed and their profiles have appeared in the past week. The winner will be announced on New Year's Day.

- Taranaki Daily News

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