THE Irish Coast Guard and CHC marked the arrival of a new search and rescue helicopter at Shannon this week.
CHC operate services for the Irish Coast Guard and managing director Mark Kelly said the new helicopter will make a huge difference.
“It’s replacing the S61, which is in service in Shannon since 1991. It’ll go into service on July 1 and it’s adding quite a bit to our capabilities. This machine is capable of going out and doing a rescue in the region of 300 miles off the coast, whereas our current machine is capable of doing only 180 miles off the coast. It’s capable of flying in conditions that the older one wasn’t. We’ve a full paramedic set-up in the back, which is the same as what you’d get in a road ambulance. There is defibrillation and those types of medical services. It’ll be here for probably the next three decades.”
Director of the Irish Coast Guard Chris Reynolds agreed the new helicopter is much better than the one it replaces.
“The new helicopter is the S92 Alpha built by Sikorsky and it’s replacing the current helicopter here in Shannon, the S61. It can fly faster, go further, find people quicker and the winching system is such that we can get them to safety quicker and the medical assistance on board is such that we can look after them better. We’re going from the model T Ford to a modern car.”
He said there has been a large investment and there will be a few more S92s coming to Ireland. “It takes 30,000 hours to build one of these. A normal helicopter that’s not search and rescue takes about 10,000 hours. These are quite expensive, you’re looking at about €35 million.
“We’re going to have five 92s, one brand new and four will come in from the UK, they’re about three or four years old. They’re currently being used by the UK coast guard.”
The brand new helicopter will be staying in Shannon because of the type of work done from the base. “It’s because of the profile of Shannon,” he explained. “Shannon does the longest range missions deep into the Atlantic, so when it comes to risk and what this helicopter is suited for, Shannon is the natural base for it.”
Mr Reynolds predicted many lives would be saved in the coming years because of the arrival of the new helicopter.
At the launch, Mayor of Shannon Mary Brennan said she is very pleased with the new aircraft and that enough foresight has been shown to invest in it.
Deputy Pat Breen said the presence of the helicopter could make an air ambulance service a runner.
“Now that the S92 is available I believe that it is an opportune time to set up an air ambulance service, given that the S92 will have the correct profile to support the HSE in this role. The problem with the S61 helicopter was that it was not approved for air ambulance operations, due to its limitations.
“I discussed this possibility with the crews and they are very excited about this prospect. They are all trained paramedics and they told me that they could lift off from Shannon Airport and travel to assist a seriously ill patient in Kilbaha in West Clare, for example, within 20 minutes. This would provide tremendous back-up for the paramedics who are already working in the emergency services in West Clare.”
Also, last week the Clare County Fire and Rescue Service took delivery of a €273,000 vehicle, which is described as a command and control office on wheels and will be based in Shannon, providing services in Clare, North Tipperary and Limerick. It is one of just two such units in Munster.
Mayor of Clare Pat Hayes said the unit would enhance the ability of fire services to deal with emergency incidents. “I am delighted to see that investment in our local fire service is continuing, despite the current fiscal constraints and that emergency personnel are being delivered the necessary resources to allow them to respond to emergency incidents with maximum efficiency.”
Adrian Kelly, Clare county chief fire officer, said the incident command unit will provide the most up-to-date equipment and technology and will assist emergency services in implementing the National Incident Command System to the highest standards.
“The National Incident Command System provides for the safe, effective and efficient management and deployment of resources, both human and material, at types of emergency incidents.”
He said Clare is lucky to have the new unit. “Clare County Council was initially engaged to procure a number of these vehicles for different areas in the country. However, due to a reduction in finances, two units were designed and procured before being issued to Clare and Cork. While a number of counties have vehicles for similar purposes, these are the most advanced in the fire service in Ireland,” he concluded.