Kay Becker at the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service hangar.
Kay Becker at the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service hangar. Chris Ison

Service always flying

THEY are always on call, ready to take to the skies to save lives across Central Queensland.

And countless people, living in places as diverse as Rockhampton, Alpha, Springsure and Clermont, have them to thank for coming to their rescue.

Since 1996, the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service has served the area, backed by donations from the public, the state government, mining and media companies among others.

Rescue service chief executive Kay Becker said the team attended an average of 1.5 jobs a day, from moving patients between hospitals in the region (inter-hospital transfers), to car crashes and mining and agricultural accidents.

The small team of paramedics and chopper pilots attend the worst situations over an area that stretches from Great Keppel Island in the east, as far west as Barcaldine, north to Tieri and St Lawrence and south to Monto and Rolleston.

Ms Becker said in running costs alone, the service cost between $250,000 and $280,000 every month - entirely supported by donations.

"We've calculated that probably 40% of our work is to motor vehicle crashes, mining camps and agricultural properties, while another 40% is for inter-hospital transfers and the final 20% is for search and rescue operations," she said.

"For a charity with a team of three administration staff and nine operational staff including an aeronautical engineer, we attend a lot of jobs."

"Every year we have a contract with the state government for a $2 million donation, plus we plan to reach another $2 million in donations from the public and from mining companies and other sponsors this year.

"About $650,000 comes directly from the public, and for a region with about 250,000 people, we think that's something we can really be proud of."

Ms Becker said the huge costs of the service were in their figures, with an average trip costing a staggering $7000 - well worth it to save a life.

But with the growing pains already felt in Central Queensland, with health services nearing or past the limit and the increased traffic that comes with rocketing population growth, the service was also under pressure.

"With all the new mines opening up, especially around Alpha, we're looking at an increase in population of 4000 people or more.

"That will be staggered as some mines will be constructing as others settle down to daily operations, but that is still a huge burden on services in Central Queensland.

"Even if all of these workers were fly-in fly-out or drive-in drive-out, they are still here for seven days in a row, or more. And while they are here, if something happens to them, they need emergency help now, not when they get back home."

Ms Becker said while most jobs the rescue service attended in mining areas were at camps, there was always a demand for more health services.

"You've got areas that, if they have a doctor at all, they are understaffed and already have too many patients to deal with.

"Last year, we attended 5000 jobs, mainly emergency rescues and inter-hospital transfers.

"As the population grows, there's only going to be more call for a larger service, maybe another helicopter, which is something we've been looking at for a long time.

"You can't deny the numbers, and if someone has a heart attack out on a mine site, for us, that's a constant demand whether they live here or not."

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