Many of us wonder how we would react in a life or death situation. On Saturday, 16 young people gained a good idea when they took part in a series of realistic emergency role plays, complete with helicopters and fake blood-caked victims.

Bream Bay College student Caleb Harty, 15, said he always wanted to be a police officer and the exercise, run by Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group, had solidified his ambition.

"It was great experience - a once-in-a-lifetime," Caleb said.

The day was the culmination of Civil Defence Emergency Management's five-week Youth in Emergency Services (YES) programme, and kicked off with participants being helicoptered over to Matakohe-Limestone Island in Whangarei Harbour, where they took part in a scenario involving search and rescue on land and water and triage of patients, following a mock mid-air collision between a helicopter and light plane.


Caleb said the challenge was drawing on the theoretical knowledge gained through the programme and applying it in the heat of the moment.

"Sometimes we'd get a bit stuck, but there was always someone there to help. It wasn't really scary as such, but it was quite realistic," he said.

Coastguard boats, fire engines, police and ambulances were all involved, operating from Onerahi Boat Ramp. Nearby residents may have noticed smoke from smoke bombs and a controlled fire on the island - all part of making the scenario as realistic as possible for the students.

Northland programme co-ordinator Shona Morgan said the day also required six volunteers, whose responsibilities were to get lost, pretend to drown and cover themselves in fake blood and grazes.

"They were very dramatic," she said.

The day was challenging and nerve-racking for the students.

"They take a while to get into it, I think a few of them were quite nervous ... [Northland Rescue Helicopter] flew them in and most of them hadn't been in a helicopter before. To hear people screaming in the bush, that's quite scary too," she said.

Ms Morgan said the aim was to encourage students to get involved with the emergency services, either in a volunteer or professional capacity.

This was the third year the YES programme had run in Northland, with the 2016 intake including students from Bream Bay College, Tauraroa Area School, Mangakahia Area School and Otamatea High School.