Whether we're rescuing someone in the surf, from a mountain ridge or a vessel at sea; landing at an accident scene on a country road at night or transporting a patient from an outlying hospital to a larger hospital - no two missions are ever the same.
Changing locations from highway accidents to rural property incidents to persons lost at sea - even the ever changing weather conditions adds an element of difficulty to a mission profile and outcome.
All of these factors require the flight and medical crews to think on their feet and use their wealth of experience to plan and perform the mission to their utmost professional capability.
Safety is paramount in all missions, and planning and preparation is fundamental ensuring both flight and medical crews operate closely to achieve the desired outcome - to save lives.
Types of Missions
We perform three types of mission profiles:
Primary Response. Tasked to retrieve a patient from an incident or accident scene. Standard crew consists of Pilot, Air Crewmember, 2 x Paramedics and/or Paramedic and Doctor. For any water related mission a Rescue Crewmember will form part of the flight crew.
Secondary Response, and/or Inter Hospital (IHT). The transfer of a patient from a regional hospital to a major and/or specialist hospital e.g. Grafton to Brisbane. For these types of missions the rescue helicopters can be quickly configured to transport one or two intensive care patients.
Search and Rescue.These types of missions vary significantly due in part to the vast area that this service covers in Northern NSW. From the ocean to the east, dense rain forest to the north and mountainous terrain to our west, the types of search and rescue missions requires our helicopters to have the latest in search technology.
The helirescue Service is often called to locate emergency beacons activated by an aircraft or vessel in distress. Our helicopters carry tracking equipment that 'hone-in' on the emergency beacon signal to find the people in trouble. Coupled with our winch, communication and navigation systems, this provides a complete response package to cope with most retrieval situations within our flight range.
Search and rescue operations are normally coordinated by Australian Maritme Safety Authority (AMSA) based in Canberra. AMSA coordinates the overall search area and grid patterns for the search and often call in other helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. To ensure safety for all Search and Rescue (SAR) aircraft, each aircraft is given a precise search sector including latitude, longitude, altitude, exit and entry points.
• The Service operates with one pilot and one aircrew member on duty at all times, 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. The Service operates a rotational four pilot and aircrew roster shift system, a standard shift involves two days and two nights; 8am-6pm and 6pm to 8am. Therefore, Pilots and aircrews work through 2 x 10 hour day shifts, followed by 2 x 14 hour night shifts. This type of roster cycle system is an industry standard, it aims to reduce fatigue in flight crews and increase safety margins. The rescue crewmember is required to be available on a 10-minute response during daylight hours 7 days a week.
•The Service is tasked through two organisations, the Ambulance Service of NSW (ASNSW) and the Medical Retrieval Service in Sydney (MRU).
• In the event the Service is en route to a tasking and another emergency develops, the Service does not get to decide which mission it will complete. It is directed by the MRU as to which mission is deemed the most vital. The Service can at any stage however, make a decision not to attempt a mission if it is felt that the risk outweighs the possible gain.
The ASNSW receives all triple 000 calls; on receiving these urgent calls the ASNSW determines the level of response required. If a helicopter is required to attend the incident the MRU is contacted by the ASNSW to organise appropriate aero medical services, i.e. the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.
Both the ASNSW and the MRU will contact the Lismore Helibase with relevant information of the incident scene. This information is then passed on to the flight and medical crew who will then prepare and plan for the mission. This whole process takes only a few minutes from the time the initial triple 000 call is received.
The Westpac Helicopter Service is also available to be tasked by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) based in Canberra. AMSA works in conjunction with Australian Search and Rescue (AusSAR) who coordinate all search and rescues on land and at sea in and around Australia. The helicopter service conducts numerous search and rescue missions annually coordinated through AMSA.
Other NSW state search and rescue authorities like the Police Service of NSW, Surf Life Saving of Australia (SLSA) and State Emergency Services (SES) that require our services must contact ASNSW and/or the MRU to request the services of the Rescue Helicopter.