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May 16, 2022

MP forces inquiry into ‘fog bound’ helibase site

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Paramedics and Ballina MP Tamara Smith have opposed moves to relocate the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter's base, saying it is prone to fog and could impact service.
Paramedics and Ballina MP Tamara Smith have opposed moves to relocate the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter’s base, saying it is prone to fog and could impact service.

Greens Member for Ballina, Tamara Smith, knows first-hand of the importance of the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.

When her daughter was just an 18-month-old baby it saved her life, airlifting her to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane.

So when she heard last year that pilots and helicopter staff were concerned that a proposal to move the Helibase to Lismore Airport could jeopardise take-offs in bad weather, she resolved to act.

Ms Smith emerged from meetings with ambulance workers and operational staff last year, ‘very concerned about reports of frequent fog and weather events limiting aircraft take offs. ‘

‘The real impact of the service not being able to take off cannot be over emphasised,’ she said.

As a result of her subsequent lobbying, the NSW health minister will now conduct a full analysis of available weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology on the impact of flood events and weather conditions at the new base, as well as an analysis of Lismore Council data on the frequency, extent and effect on operations of local flooding.

Grounded 4 nights in 10

Data from Bureau of Meteorology reviewed by pilots at the base indicated that between May 1 and September 30 last year about 40 per cent of nights had enough fog to prevent responses to accidents and emergencies.

Ms Smith said, ‘When you think how important the helicopter rescue service is to our community this was information that needed to be presented to the minister and relevant authorities and it wasn’t being heard.’

Ms Smith wrote to health minister Jillian Skinner and Ambulance NSW CEO Dominic Morgan, as well as Health Emergency and Aeromedical Services ED Dr Ron Manning to raise her concerns about the impact of fog and flooding events on missions at the current site and evidence of an even greater impact of fog and flooding at the proposed new site at Lismore Airport.

She said it was ‘commendable that at this time it appears the minister is putting the needs of the community first, rather than seeking for the base to remain in a coalition electorate. Helicopter retrieval services serve the entire NSW community, not a specific electorate and should be available as often as possible.’

‘Given the expenditure of taxpayer dollars involved in the contracts for the new site, surely a comprehensive data comparison of the proposed site against other nearby aerodromes should be conducted,’ she added.

‘I will be monitoring that process very carefully and communicating our right as a community to have critical care medical teams and helicopter retrieval service available to respond as often as possible. Additionally, I will be advocating for the safety standards stipulated in the new NSW Health Aeromedical contract for the protection of our helicopter pilots, crewman, doctors and paramedics,’ Ms Smith said.

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