Rebecca Malcolm

Rotorua Daily Post health and business reporter

Rescue chopper relies on its friends

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GOOD CAUSE: Barry Vincent is hopeful 1000 more local families will join the ranks as friends. PHOTO/FILE
GOOD CAUSE: Barry Vincent is hopeful 1000 more local families will join the ranks as friends. PHOTO/FILE

When they hear the sound of the rescue chopper heading over their homes at night, pilot Barry Vincent says anyone who is a friend of the helicopter can feel proud they've played a part.

The BayTrust Rescue Helicopter is midway through a three-week appeal to get more local people to sign up as a friend of the service, to help ensure it continues to provide the much-needed service to the community.

"We are at the sharp end of the work but the family and friends who hear the helicopter go over at night should feel proud they are helping to support us and our community."

Mr Vincent said it was hoped the appeal would see 1000 more local families join the ranks as friends. He said one of the benefits of the friends scheme was it gave families the chance to feel a part of the work the helicopter and its crew were doing.

"It's not just the big businesses and the big money we need support from. This gives mums and dads and families a chance to be involved," Mr Vincent said.

In fact, the friends scheme provides about a third of the funding required to operate the service. Each year more than $600,000 needs to be raised through the regional community in the form of sponsorship, clubs and groups support, and the Friends of the Rescue Helicopter membership programme.

"It's the pulling power of a lot of families," he said.

The helicopter has been providing the service in Rotorua for slightly more than two decades. It started as an initiative by the general manager of the NZ Forestry Corporation tasked to attend forestry accidents, air ambulance missions and search and rescue work.

"The reason that we are here still is because of the overall community support that we have."

He said the friends network was a crucial part of that support.

"The beauty of this is that it's for anyone and everyone."

Mr Vincent said while much of the emergency work the helicopter carried out was high-profile such as car crashes and assisting in searches, the hospital transfer work the helicopter carried out was less publicised. The chopper was used to take patients between hospitals when their treatment was time critical or because of the seriousness of their situation.

Mr Vincent said common cases included people who had heart problems, and babies needing transferring between hospitals.

"You typically don't have to go too far into the community to find someone who has been flown by us."

He said whether it was a premature baby transferred to another hospital or someone with cardiac problems, most were now had healthy children or an extended life because the rescue helicopter was able to intervene.

Mr Vincent said although he and fellow pilot Art Kowalski were the public faces of the service, a large network was working behind them in the community.

For information contact the Friends office on 0800111010 or www.rescue.org.nz.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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