Helipad ‘could save lives’

Landing ahoy . . . Project leaders and emergency service personnel welcome the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter to Lawrence’s new helipad during a special opening ceremony at Simpson Park on Saturday afternoon. PHOTO: TIM DICKEY/SUPPLIED

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A new, community›built helipad may help save lives, project leaders believe.

Lawrence residents, emergency service personnel and project volunteers were joined by the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust to celebrate the opening of the emergency helipad on Saturday, signalling the end of a two› year undertaking.

Project leader and professional firefighter Tim Dickey said he had been inspired to get the pad installed, with the backing of Lawrence Lions, following a muddy incident in 2019.

‘‘Formerly, rescue helicopters landed on the adjoining rugby pitch, leaving paramedics and other personnel ankle deep in mud during emergency incidents.

‘‘During wet weather the situation raised serious health and safety concerns, as patient gurneys required additional personnel, time and care to transport to and from the helicopter, causing delays and unnecessary distraction.

‘‘The extra minutes now saved could help save lives.’’

The pad cost about $70,000 to install, without taking donated labour and materials into account, Mr Dickey said.

‘‘This has been something where the whole town’s come together, from contractors to donors to volunteers with a shovel. It’s a tribute to the community spirit of Lawrence.’’

As well as helping raise significant funds, Lawrence Lions and other volunteers contributed more than 900 hours of labour.

The club made an additional donation of $27,000 to the helicopter trust, arising from its past two winter crop auctions.

Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Graeme Gale paid tribute to the town’s ‘‘fantastic’’ community spirit, describing the project as a ‘‘massive effort’’.

‘‘When you think about flying in on a dirty, dark night with a fragile patient to pick up, a well›lit concrete pad makes a huge difference for everyone involved.’’

Landing on a sometimes› muddy rugby pitch in the past had been a challenge, he said.

‘‘I’ve been coming here for 30 years, and it just increased the complexity for everyone. Lawrence has thought outside the square and worked with us to provide a first›class facility that will make a real difference to patients’ lives.’’