Every minute is critical in a rescue

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser

In an emergency situation where every minute makes a difference, the isolation of the Great Southern presents another challenge to the responders tasked with avoiding a tragic outcome.

Within 15 minutes of receiving a call for help, a Department of Fire and Emergency Services RAC Rescue helicopter is in the air.

Based in Jandakot and Bunbury, the two choppers have come to the aid of significant emergencies Statewide, including major traffic crashes in recent years in the Great Southern.

On board, the crew will include not only a pilot and air crew officer, but also a St John Ambulance critical care paramedic.

Josh Lyons, a CCP of three years, said the prompt dispatch was even more critical when it came to responding to trauma incidents close to Albany and the south coast, where the chopper was an hour flight away from the base in Bunbury.

Mr Lyons said patients often then had to be transported to the State Trauma Centre at Royal Perth Hospital, meaning the chopper had to be equipped as a flying intensive care unit.

“Obviously in that region reception can be a nightmare sometimes and sometimes people will see the crash and drive a couple of kilometres down the road and call it in,” he said.

“Every minute is critical and the other thing that is very important is we now carry blood on the aircraft as well.

“Jobs that take longer to travel to and travel back to Royal Perth, having blood is a really precious resource before you get them into surgery.

“In some cases it’s almost the difference between life and death.”

CCPs are also trained for search-and-rescue missions, with Mr Lyons recalling a rescue in which he helped winch a 23-year-old hiker who had injured her ankle on the Bald Head trail in January.

“It’s challenging and sometimes you think ‘why have I got myself into this challenge?’ but it’s also a love-hate relationship and it’s good to be operating at the highest capacity, thinking on the spot and putting all your training into practice,” he said.

“Given the nature of our job, and 90 per cent are trauma-based, there is some horrific injuries we do witness and there isn’t any level of training that can harden you or make you able to tolerate, but we do have an excellent wellbeing and support system provided by St John Ambulance.”

The RAC Rescue chopper attended several serious and fatal crashes last year as the region recorded its worst road toll in more than a decade. Five people have died on roads in the Great Southern so far this year, compared with 19 at the same time last year.

Thirteen people lost their lives in the first three months of 2016 and a horror stretch of eight fatalities in eight weeks concluded the year.

In total, 32 people died on Great Southern roads from 27 fatal crashes.

Of those fatal crashes, 85 per cent occurred in 110km/h zones.

So far, there have been 38 deaths on regional roads this year compared to 57 this time last year.

The district is on track to record its lowest road toll since 2013, when six people died, but the toll has mounted to double figures in the past three years.

Mr Lyons said the impact of road trauma in regional areas was often compounded by the close-knit communities.

“You would have to be inhuman to say there aren’t things you see or do that stay with you but that is the nature of the job,” he said.

“It’s even harder in those isolated rural areas because it’s quite foreseeable the first responders and the volunteers might know that patient, which makes it even more difficult, I think.”

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