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‘Unfortunately not all lives can be saved,’ says winchman

PAUL Truss has just marked 20 years of service with the Shannon-based Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 115.
A winch operator, he is from England originally, and explaining how he ended up working over here, he says, “I was in the Royal Navy, did 15 years flying in the Royal Navy, mostly anti submarine warfare, but I spent the last ten years in Prestwick which was anti-submarine warfare and search and rescue. When I left the Navy there was a job vacancy here in Ireland, so I put in for it, came over for the interview and started in April 2001.”
Working with the Coast Guard means coming face to face with life and death situations on a fairly regular basis and Paul says the goal is to save as many people as is possible. “There have been numerous jobs where lives have been saved. Unfortunately not all lives can be saved, but that’s what we strive for,” said Paul.
While playing a major part in rescues clearly means pressure, he says it is something one gets used to.
“There’s a lot of responsibility, but I’ve been doing it a long time now and a lot of things are second nature. Every day is still a learning day in this job, that’s for sure.”
Later this year he is set to complete his 1,000th job since starting in Shannon. Typically he does around ten shifts per month, but the shifts are a full day in length.
“We do a 24-hour shift, one o’clock lunchtime until one o’clock lunchtime the following day. During the day from 1pm to 9pm we’re at 15 minutes’ notice to be airborne, then from 9pm to 7.30am we’re at 45 minutes to be airborne and then from 7.30am to 1pm it’s back to 15 minutes notice.”
Speaking about the preparations for the various call outs, he says, “If it’s a long range job we have to do fuel planning and stuff like that. Weather is a big factor for aviation, aviation is all give and take, if there is no wind we’ve got better range but worse performance in the hover.
“The stronger the wind, the shorter the range but the better performance in the hover. There’s always give and take when it comes to aviation. We plan how much fuel we require, how much fuel we need on the scene, the conditions, if it’s really rough weather we’ll probably give another ten minutes on the scene, if it’s night time we’ll add another ten minutes on the scene. It’s all about what the conditions are.”
Explaining who is on board the helicopter and what they do, Paul added, “We have two pilots up front, they’re our taxi drivers, get us there, hover us in position and then get us back home.
“The technical crew then, we have a winch operator, basically the back-up navigator and communications. The winchman then sits at the workstation and operates the AIS. All ships now have transponders and our little laptop can pick up which ship it is, the name, course and speed, position, that sort of thing. He also has the infrared camera as well and he treats the patient when they get on board the aircraft.”
The hardware available has improved over the years. When I first got here we had the Sikorsky 61 aircraft, the older aircraft and in July 2012 we moved on to the Sikorsky 92, which is a lot more powerful, a lot faster, but drinks a bit more fuel. It’s been a major step up going from the 61 to the 92.”
Asked what is his favourite thing about the job, he says, “Job satisfaction, I think.
“Not many people do it, and I think we do a very good job here in Ireland. All the four bases do a very good job.”
He clearly takes a lot of pride in the job, and enjoys the work at Shannon, where he says his culinary skills are one of his best attributes as a co-worker.
“I tell terrible jokes but I’m brilliant at curry making. So like aviation there’s always give and take!” he laughs.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.
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