On call means making sacrifices

By Carly Gibbs


The boys in blue with the rescue helicopter logo over their hearts won't go to Mount Maunganui any more.

If they're on call and paged to the Ian Pain Memorial Hangar in Tauranga, it's a long way from the beach to the Squirrel helicopter.

Being stuck on the road is torture when you could be airborne within five to 10 minutes and cruising at 130 knots.

Pilot Liam Brettkelly has been at the helm of Tauranga's rescue helicopter - the blue and orange Squirrel AS350B2 - since its arrival. This month marks the 12th anniversary of the TrustPower TECT Rescue Helicopter and a staggering 1250 flying missions.

None of them would have been possible without public donations and the dedication of Mr Brettkelly and his team.

On call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for up to six days at a time, Mr Brettkelly is required to live no more than five minutes away from the hangar at Tauranga Hospital.

"I don't go the Mount unless I'm on days off," he said.

"You are constantly aware you have to be available."

The TrustPower TECT Rescue Helicopter is this year's benefactor in the Bay of Plenty Times Big Charity Auction. The promotion will raise thousands of dollars for the rescue helicopter, and readers will win luxury prizes worth $35,000, including including an 18-carat white diamond ring, a Suzuki scooter and a family trip to Rarotonga.

Each prize will be won by the highest bidder of Big Charity Auction dollars, which can be collected daily in the Monday to Friday editions of the Bay of Plenty Times for the June 29 event at Classic Flyers.

Proceeds from extra newspaper sales during the promotion will go to the rescue helicopter.

Mr Brettkelly said it cost $1 million a year for the helicopter to operate in the Bay, and 70 per cent of that funding had to be sourced from the community.

This weekend will see chopper crew members undertake their first training over water with a two-person 205kg rescue winch. The lifesaving equipment was bought with a $300,000 sponsorship deal from Port of Tauranga and the community.

The winch, along with night-vision goggles donated four years ago, has beefed up the service's rescue capability.

Mr Brettkelly used to remember each and every rescue and every patient's name.

Nowadays, with around three jobs a week, there are too many to remember.

Tauranga's burgeoning population had seen an increase in flying missions - particularly hospital transfers.

Paramedic and "crew chief" Bill McNeilly has worked with rescue helicopters for 12 years - nine years in Rotorua and three in Tauranga.

He said time was of the essence in emergency medicine, and being on call required commitment.

When he's on call and called out, he's been known to drive past his parents place and "fire the kids out the door".

"You can't just finish work on a Thursday night and have a beer with a mate. I might have an orange juice."

Fading daylight and tumultuous weather can make any rescue mission difficult, but there's little that fazes him.

"Do I get stressed out about death and trauma? It's just part of your role.

"It's like asking a mechanic if he's stressed about putting a carburettor in. I love my job, I love getting up in the morning and going to work."

Mr Brettkelly agrees. "You certainly get a bit of satisfaction knowing you've helped someone."

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THE AIR UP THERE

Total missions flown between June 2000-June 2012: 1250.

Total missions flown between April 1, 2011-March 31, 2012: 123

Motor vehicle accidents make up 24 per cent of calls.

Recreational accidents make up 17 per cent of calls.

The annual cost to make available an on-site, 24/7 rescue service, as well as training of professional pilots - about $1 million every year.

In the Bay, about half of the funding required has to be sourced from the community. TrustPower, TECT, associate and corporate sponsors, as well as Friends of the Rescue Helicopter, help to provide its life-saving service.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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