Thanks for the ride guys

By Mike Dinsdale

Fred Davis was a key man in helping set up the Northland Electricity rescue helicopter almost 25 years ago and it has been a dream ever since to go for a ride in the life-saving chopper.

On Thursday he finally did, but not as he was expecting - it was a flight in his hospital bed from Auckland to Whangarei Hospital for treatment for the final stages of terminal cancer.

Back in the late 1980s Fred was Northland area manager for BNZ when "somebody came up with the bright idea that we needed a rescue helicopter" and a member of the Whangarei Rotary Club, which took up the job of fundraising for the service. Fred was appointed as chief fundraiser and the Northland Emergency Services Trust (Nest) was able to buy its first small chopper. It now has three.

Nest chairman John Bain said Fred played a crucial role in helping establish the rescue helicopter service.

Mr Bain said Fred and Rotary helped secure funding to pay for the fledging operation's first three months in the air.

"Without the input from Fred and his fellow Rotarians we would never have really got the operation off the ground to the extent it is now," John said.

Fred said he didn't know how many lives the rescue chopper had since saved, but he knew that if it hadn't been set up when it had, the region would be far worse off.

"Some of the bigger companies around the north couldn't see the need at the time and did not want to get involved [in funding], but I remember about that time there was a big prang and they realised that if we had an air ambulance some of those lives that had been lost would have been saved," Fred said.

"So the Rotary Club decided to get right behind it and I was appointed fundraiser. I got involved because I saw it as a way to get a great service for all Northlanders ... and we needed it."

Fred said ever since, he'd always wanted to have a ride in the chopper, but never managed it until Thursday .

The former Maunu resident often watched the rescue helicopter land on the hospital roof and felt a sense of pride that he had helped set it up. He didn't expect that one day he would have to use it as a patient.

Fred is philosophical about his future and said he wanted to go public with his excitement at finally getting a ride in the rescue helicopter, even though it will be his last, so people could see how important it is.

"I really, really liked the flight and everybody's been brilliant in making my wish come true," he said.

Fred said it was amazing that he shared the flight with a 2-week-old baby who had been born prematurely and was coming back north with her mum and felt that was an appropriate way to complete the circle.

The annual Northland Electricity rescue helicopter appeal begins next month and Fred said it was important that people dug deep to keep the service going well into the future.

"Please contribute, you never know when you or one of your family may need it, too," Fred said.

- Northern Advocate

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