Helicopter trainee crew members Al Maetier (left) of Clunes and Sam Little of Lismore in a training session at Lismore Memorial
Helicopter trainee crew members Al Maetier (left) of Clunes and Sam Little of Lismore in a training session at Lismore Memorial

Lives at risk, say chopper crews

By Jamie Brown

LIVES are at risk in helicopter rescues because of restrictive regulations, according to warnings from the Health Services Union.

Far North Coast Union spokesman Ben Fisher said NSW Ambulance rules forbid paramedics being winched from a rescue helicopter over water, potentially placing lives at risk.

Lismore paramedics are at a loss to understand the ruling, particularly when staff at Lismore are more than qualified and more than willing to undertake the operation.

Mr Fisher said the issue of sending paramedics 'down the wire' during maritime rescue had long frustrated ocean-capable ambulance officers working with the Lismore Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

"There are hundreds of small outboard powered boats, yachts, trawlers and even ships that could be affected by the ruling," Mr Fisher warned.

"Many donate to the rescue helicopter under an expectation it will lower paramedics onto their boat if they get into trouble."

If a trawlerman has an arm caught in a winch and the rescue helicopter is called a paramedic will be onboard, but must remain suspended over the scene while a trained water-rescue volunteer is sent down as the 'teabag' to retrieve the patient.

If that patient cannot be stabilised enough to make the lift into the helicopter, there is no choice for the pilot and crew but to leave the scene and let a rescue boat return the patient to land. It's that or wait until the trawler returns to port.

Ambulance area operations manager Virginia McKenna defends her organisation's stance, claiming Sydney was the only region that sent paramedics 'down the wire' during water rescues. However, the capital city rescue helicopter base was also the only one in NSW where paramedics remained on permanent stand-by.

In Lismore, and everywhere else except Sydney, paramedics wait on stand-by at their ambulance station and are called in to attend rescue missions.



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