Preserving the local identity of the Northland Emergency Services Trust is a top priority for new chief executive officer Craig Gibbons.
Australian-born Gibbons stepped into the Northland Rescue Helicopter CEO role in December last year, and prior to that he was a general manager at CareFlight, an Australia-wide aeromedical charity.
The first five months of his new role were spent navigating a transtasman move in a travel restricted climate.
But now he has successfully settled into Auckland life, Gibbons is able to pour all his energy into continuing the successful joint venture between NEST and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) started in 2019.
"The reform is very exciting as the two organisations have a combined 80-year history," Gibbons said. "It's not just a case of putting the two together. NEST is a regional service with an incredible local personality and long may it continue."
The joint venture entered into an agreement with National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO) in 2019 for three-and-a-half years and began operating throughout the entire Northern region.
The Northern region contract covers the area north from Counties Manukau, including Northland, Waitematā, Auckland and Counties Manukau District Health Board regions.
Gibbons said the connection between NEST and the Northland community was obvious in the huge support the organisation received from Northpower, Top Energy, Northland Regional Council, Oxford Sports Trust, as well as local businesses - especially during their annual appeal.
"It's that sort of support that helps keep our choppers in the air."
Last year NEST recorded the busiest 12-months in its 32-year history with 1115 callouts.
These included airlifting the police dog shot by an armed offender in Tangowahine, near Dargaville, to Veterinary Specialist Group Clinic for urgent treatment on December 1.
The record number of callouts in 2020 demonstrated the importance of having a dedicated Northland rescue chopper service, Gibbons said.
And 2021 looks to be no different with NEST having completed 121 missions in January alone, compared to 109 last year.
The increasing demand is on the forefront of Gibbons' mind as he strives to prevent staff burnout.
"They work 12-hour shifts at a time and are very willing to give everything to the job," Gibbons said. "It's making sure we don't over ask our frontline staff so we can safely manage any fatigue."
Despite being permanently based in Auckland, Gibbons will travel to Northland every second week to stay for around three days.
The foundation for his new role was laid by his background as an Australian Army officer, helicopter pilot, and as GM of CareFlight.
CareFlight and NEST were both committed to saving lives and served local communities by providing the highest standard of rapid response critical care, Gibbons said.
And even though Australia is home, Gibbons said he had a strong bond with New Zealand thanks to his Kiwi wife and his time as an exchange student at Rotorua Boys' High School back in the day.
Gibbons succeeded Paul Ahlers who stepped into the CEO role temporarily after long time CEO and chief pilot Peter Turnbull retired. Ahlers remains on the NEST board of trustees.