Jennifer Dowd Westpac Helicopter

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The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter is something most of us have seen or heard about, and it is a vital service for our region and beyond. We got Jennifer Dowd, our area’s Community Liaison Officer, to give us a bit more information on how the service runs and what is involved in making sure it continues to operate and provide such an important and life-saving service.

Hi Jennifer. Could you tell us a little about your life here on the Coffs Coast?

My husband and I moved to the Coffs Coast from Sydney 17 years ago to set up Amber Tiles, which my husband still proudly owns and runs. My parents, brother and sister, were all living here, which is why we decided to move to Coffs.  

What is your involvement/role with the Westpac Helicopter?

I started with the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter in June this year as the Community Liaison Officer. As soon as I saw the job advertised, I knew it was exactly the organisation I wanted to work for. I travel between Yamba and Macksville visiting businesses and local community groups, discussing how they can help support this free community life-saving service. I also organise local fundraising events.

The Westpac helicopter is free for those who need it. How does it keep running?

It’s the donation support of the community and sponsors that helps ensure the service remains free of charge to every patient we fly. As a local charity, every donation stays in our region and directly benefits the service that is here for our community. We have an annual fundraising goal of $3.5M. 

How can community members contribute and support the rescue helicopter?

Donations: every donation, big or small is an incredible gift.

Work Place Giving: your workplace is a simple way to give your support by starting a payroll deduction through our $2 challenge program. 

Bequests: remembering your charity of choice via your Will is an incredibly generous way to donate.

Helicopter Op Shops: we have op shops in Ballina, Lismore, Tenterfield, Casino, Yamba, South Grafton and Coffs Harbour operated 100% by volunteers.  

Helicopter Events: we hold annual fundraising events within our community; whether it be golf, bowls or a charity walk or paddle, your entry into one of our events can help save lives. 

Rescue Day: held each year on the second Friday in August, Rescue Day is our annual community appeal day. 

Volunteer: if you have the gift of time and are looking for a way to support our service, why not become a Helicopter Volunteer and lend your support. 

How many rescues a year on average does the Westpac Helicopter perform, and what kind of services does it offer? 

The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter performs on average more than one mission per day across our Northern NSW region. This means we affect the lives of over 365 people each year.

From the moment a call for help comes through, how long does it take the crew to mobilise and get airborne?

The helicopter is tasked by the Medical Retrieval Unit (MRU) in Sydney in response to 000 calls, and it takes the helicopter approximately 36 minutes to get from the Lismore base to the Coffs Coast. 

The helicopter has a maximum speed of 310 km/h, with a cruising speed of 260 km/h. Coffs Harbour is, fortunately, able to be serviced in around the same time from the Tamworth Rescue Helicopter base if required.  

Can you tell us about the crew onboard? Who would typically head out on a rescue?

The crew includes a Pilot, Aircrew Officer, NSW Ambulance Paramedic, NSW Health Doctor, and depending on the needs of each patient; the team may include a specialist nursing professional. The crew are also supported by experienced planners and Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers. 

What might be an example of the kind of situations where the helicopter would be needed?

There are three types of missions the helicopter can be tasked:

Primary – attend accident site, treat and transfer patients to hospital.

Secondary – inter-hospital transfers, transferring patients between hospitals for specialist treatment. 

Search and Rescue – help to locate missing people, rescue and return to safety.

What sort of equipment and fit-out is needed on board to make it most effective in a rescue?

The AW139 helicopter provides advanced medical support allowing for the best possible treatment of patients at the scene prior to transport and continuing in flight on the way to the most appropriate emergency department. The medical fit-out includes; stretchers and trolley, patient lifting device, neonatal unit, blood and blood warmer, advanced diagnostic equipment, haemorrhage control for bleeding, vital signs monitor and defibrillation device, oxygen units, fracture and splinting kits, surgical equipment and ventilator. 

What is the best part about your job?

I get to meet lots of different people and businesses up and down the coast. I love the volunteers and community groups for their generous support, happy smiles and a great sense of humour. I love the fact that I help contribute back to my local community by helping raise funds to support this life-saving service. I also get to sing a lot as I drive up and down the coast!

Thanks, Jennifer.

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