By ALISON BROWN in Rotorua
Disasters such as Asia's devastating tsunami are further proof ACC officials should ditch a proposal to cut rescue helicopter services in the Central North Island, says National MP Tony Ryall.
Doubt was cast over the future of the region's rescue helicopters after an Accident Compensation Corporation discussion document suggested one emergency helicopter should serve the whole Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions, signalling the end of rescue services in Rotorua, Taupo and Tauranga.
Bay of Plenty MP Tony Ryall is supporting a petition to prevent the region's services from being slashed and argues the Government should learn from the tsunami disaster and ensure it has enough services to cope if a similar tragedy strikes closer to home.
Mr Ryall said if the "big one" hit the country, New Zealand would need all the helicopters and all the help it could get.
"Rescue helicopters can be mobilised anywhere in New Zealand in the event of a disaster. In the meantime, they are doing a splendid job saving lives for the community," he said.
Meanwhile organisers of the petition say that while their campaign is gaining momentum, a huge community push is needed.
It's feared the document which proposes cutting services in the region could become binding unless the community rallies to keep them.
National Party candidate Anne Tolley, who is standing in the East Coast electorate, launched a petition to save the rescue services and said the response was a definite sign people wanted to retain the status quo with hundreds of signatures already collected.
"People are genuinely worried that a rescue helicopter in Hamilton will make a mockery of the 'golden hour'," she said. "If you're in a serious accident at Te Kaha, the extra flying time from Hamilton could be fatal."
The proposal disadvantaged anyone who lived outside a major centre and was not an appropriate cost-cutting measure, said Mrs Tolley.
"My concern with a draft document is that it will become binding if we don't jump up and down about it. We've seen it all before with so-called draft ideas released just before Christmas."
Petition forms are available at local supermarkets and volunteers are collecting signatures in Whakatane.
Mrs Tolley will collect signatures until the end of this month and present the petition to local mayors, Parliament and ACC before submissions close on February 25.
Many people who have benefited from the services have flooded The Daily Post with letters pleading for the services to be retained. The region's seven mayors, along with Environment Bay of Plenty chairman John Cronin have sent a joint letter to Finance Minister Michael Cullen, urging ACC and the Government to dismiss the proposal.
Rotorua St John advanced paramedic Tom Francis has also criticised the draft plan.
By ALISON BROWN in Rotorua