Road to recovery
Passionate swimmer George Harley wasn't sure if he would ever get in the pool again before the RAC Rescue helicopter arrived
Ten years ago Andrew Readhead was abseiling down cliff faces for recreation and fitness. Today he gets winched into emergency scenes to save lives.
Readhead has been a critical care paramedic for the RAC Rescue helicopter service for two years.
Here’s his insight into a ‘typical’ day with the RAC Rescue helicopter service.
At the base
“Dayshifts run for 11 hours, 7am-6pm. Nightshifts are 13 hours, 6pm-7am. The roster is typically two shifts on and four days off.
“The paramedic crew moves between the Perth and Bunbury base, so we work between both aircraft.
“We start the morning receiving hand-over from the out-going crew to get an insight into what medical equipment might need looking at, charging, or if we’re down on supplies.
“We do our daily checks ensuring all equipment is accounted for. For critical care paramedics that means all the medical equipment on board, as well as medications and blood supplies.
“We then have a morning briefing with the pilot and air crewman. We check the weather as it may affect fuel and areas that can be accessed, and note sea surface temperatures in the event of any sea rescues.
“We do regular drills for different skills such as stretcher winching and entering and exiting the helicopter while it’s hovering, so we run through any training updates related to the helicopter.
“For example, I might be due to do a wet-winch rescue drill where another paramedic will be in the water, either at Rottnest or Fremantle, and I’ll pull them out.
“After that, its base duties, such as washing the aircraft or self-directed study or training. And we wait for a call.
On a call-out
“The initial emergency call goes to the triple zero call centre in Perth. If it’s deemed a helicopter-suitable job, the job will be dispatched to the appropriate Rescue helicopter base.
“At that point the crew switches in to high gear - you know you’ve got a job on.
"The call centre gives us incident details, location and any information on the nature of the injuries. Generally speaking a lot of country ambulance crews will be sent to the scene too.
“Meanwhile, the pilot and air crewman take the aircraft out of the hangar, turn on the communications systems and get weather information. The pilot implements a flight plan and logs it with air traffic control.
“While I’m getting information about the patients and their injuries, I get my drug bag and blood supplies. We all converge on the aircraft at the same time - most of the time we’d be in the air within 10 minutes of getting the call.
“We try to get details about where we can land and any hazards. One of the big advantages of the helicopter is being able to get close to difficult scenes.
"If landing is too dangerous, I can potentially be winched down, or we can land in another location and transport into the scene.
“As we land, I’ll be on one door and the air crewman on the other to check the aircraft is clear of any obstruction. These are tense moments that rely on effective communication and a lot of trust.
“I’ll head over to the incident scene, often with the pilot and air crewman assisting, get a patient handover if there is a road ambulance on the scene and start patient management.
“Most of the time we land direct on the rooftop helipad of large metro hospitals like Royal Perth and Fiona Stanley where we hand the patient over to medical staff.
“We then make our way back to the helipad and prepare the aircraft again as much as we can before take-off. It’s not uncommon to get back to the aircraft and suddenly have another mission to attend. We then head back to the base to refuel and restock.
“Some crew find it important to follow up patients, so the hospital send us de-identified details of the patients and their condition. It's great to know how they get on."
Funded by the State Government, the RAC Rescue helicopters are managed by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and sponsored by RAC.
Your RAC membership helps us sponsor the RAC Rescue helicopters, which fly life-saving missions every hour of every day.
As a membership organisation we don’t have shareholders, which means we can reinvest our profits for the better of our members and the WA community.