The Irish Community Air Ambulance can bring an advanced paramedic to the side of a patient anywhere in Munster within 30 minutes. The charity has just celebrated its first year in the air, against the backdrop of ongoing fundraising challenges, and is appealing for public support
A SIMPLE and socially distanced barbeque was the modest method by which those behind a lifesaving charity celebrated its first anniversary.
Staff, crew members, volunteers, and a small number of people whose lives were saved by the Irish Community Air Ambulance, gathered in an unofficial capacity recently at Rathcool Aerodrome to mark their first anniversary.
Their official start date was July 30th 2019 and in the 52 weeks between then and now, the Irish Community Air Ambulance responded to 520 medical emergencies in rural and urban locations across Munster, Leinster and Connaught.
Donna O’Regan, the charity’s project manager, spoke to The Southern Star about the ups and downs of the service and how it has been taken to the hearts of the people of West Cork.
She explained how the service is tasked by the National Ambulance Service, to deal with the most serious of emergencies – situations where time can make the difference between life and death.
She said the most common call outs include cardiac arrest, road traffic collisions, fall from height, equestrian incidents, farming related injuries and strokes.
Flying at speeds of up to 260kmhr, the air ambulance can bring an advanced paramedic to the side of a patient anywhere in Munster within 30 minutes.
How better to explain the effectiveness of the service than to speak to Siobhan Kelleher, wife of Liam Kelleher, a man who suffered a serious injury in a fall and became the air ambulance’s very first patient.
Siobhan said the helicopter landed 50ft from their house within 10 minutes of her dialling to 999. ‘It was such a relief to see it land,’ she said. ‘You can imagine, in that time of panic and pain, a quick response was crucial.
‘Liam was stabilised, his pain was managed, and he was seen in the emergency department well within an hour of his fall. Normally, the journey time by road to the hospital would take more than an hour.
‘The air ambulance crew made a terrible situation so much better. I could not praise or thank them enough,’ said Siobhan, who echoed most peoples’ belief that this is ‘a badly needed service, and we are so lucky to have it here, when it is needed.’
Based out of Rathcool in North Cork, the Irish Community Air Ambulance charity works in partnership with the National Ambulance Service.
The medical personnel on the helicopter, advanced paramedics and emergency medical technicians, are staff of the National Ambulance Service.
The charity then covers the cost of the helicopter, fuel, maintenance, and all associated running costs.
John Finnegan, chairman of charity’s board of directors, said, ‘We would like to sincerely thank all our friends and supporters who have worked hard to help us launch our air ambulance one year ago.
‘Over the past 12 months, the community has really got behind us. People know that they could need it at any time. And it is our stated mission to be there for them in times of need.’
The chairman acknowledged that the partnership with the National Ambulance Service (NAS) is a key component in the operation of the air ambulance saying, ‘We are proud of our strong relationship with NAS because it has ensured that the highest levels of advanced paramedic care is in our helicopter, leading our team.’
To ensure the continuation of the service the project manager, Donna O’Regan, said, ‘Fundraising remains vital.
‘We experienced a huge drop in funds at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, to the point where we had to drop back to a five-day per-week service.
‘Thankfully, the community has been amazing. There has been unbelievable support from people doing online and virtual events to raise money and we are now back to a seven-day service.’
However, the cost of keeping a helicopter running is huge – each task costs an average of €3,500, so Donna appealed to people to ‘please keep supporting the air ambulance because it is there for you.’
Having the service on call means that it frees up local ambulance crews who, for example, could be on the road for six hours, or more, after travelling to, treating, and then transporting a patient from the further reaches of West Cork to a hospital in the city.
‘Having the air ambulance working in sync with the land-based ambulance service is the best-case scenario for our island, especially rural communities,’ said Donna.
To donate to the air ambulance service, or to share your story, you can contact the project manager at [email protected], or by phoning 021 4190999.