Saturday 21 September 2019

New Community Air Ambulance set to be based in north Cork

Confirmation that 24-hour service will operate from Rathcoole Aerodrome base

ICRR CEO John Kearney (front, right); John Parnell, sales and marketing director with Sloane Helicopters; and pilot Dave Usher (back) following the signing of a contract for the AW-109 Community Air Ambulance
ICRR CEO John Kearney (front, right); John Parnell, sales and marketing director with Sloane Helicopters; and pilot Dave Usher (back) following the signing of a contract for the AW-109 Community Air Ambulance

Bill Browne

It has been announced that the Irish Community Air Ambulance Service for the south of Ireland will commence operations this October from a base in north Cork.

The volunteer CEO and founder of Irish Community and Rapid Response (ICRR), John Kearney, this week confirmed to  Mr Kearney said the voluntary group had signed a five-year contract with UK-based company Sloane Helicopters for the provision of an AW-109 aircraft, pilot and maintenance crew. 

He said the service, the first of its kind in Ireland, would be staffed by experienced members drawn from the National Ambulance Service (NAS) and would cost just under €2million per year to run. 

This is the latest element of the ICRR's ambitious long-term plan to provide emergency cover across Ireland, with the charity already running a GP's scheme in conjunction with UCD, as well as operating 14 rapid response cars manned by volunteer staff.

ICRR has also developed a volunteer network of more than 200 GPs and medical specialists to be called on to respond to emergencies. 

"Our volunteers have been doing amazing work over the past decade. The introduction of the new air ambulance service from its base at Rathcoole will allow us to achieve significantly quicker response times to emergencies. It will mirror successful European models across the UK and Ireland, where difficult terrain warrants an air response," said Mr Kearney.  

He said the helicopter will be able to reach Dingle within 24 minutes of lift off and Rosslare within 33 minutes. It will also be equipped with long-range fuel tanks which will allow it to travel up as far as Donegal if required to respond to an emergency. Mr Kearney said the ICRR had selected Rathcoole as its southern base of operations for a number of reasons.

"We had initially looked at Cork Airport but felt that north Cork would be a better location as it would give us more land coverage. The weather also tends to be a lot better in north Cork than at the airport  as it is farther away from the sea, a consideration we felt was vitally important in maintaining a 24/7, around-the-clock service. There was also the issue of securing suitable hangar space at Cork Airport," said Mr Kearney.

"For many different considerations, Rathcoole is the perfect location for the service, which we hope to have operational within the next six weeks This will be a real asset for the north Cork region," he added. 

Mr Carney said the next challenge for ICRR would be to secure the funding needed to keep the air ambulance service running. 

"As part of this drive we will be touring the helicopter to venues around the Munster and south Leinster regions over the coming weeks to raise awareness of the service and help raise funds for its upkeep. 

"We will also be holding a number of other fundraising initiatives over the coming months," he said. 

"Securing the funding to keep the service will be a big task, but I am confident that people will realise its value and lend us their financial support." 

News that the service will be based in Rathcoole has been warmly welcomed by Cork East Fianna Fáil TD Kevin O'Keeffe. 

"This is excellent news," said Deputy O'Keeffe. 

"This service will be available for medical emergencies and will be staffed by ambulance service personnel who will be deployed to administer life-saving treatment to injured people at serious accident sites. It will also be able to transfer patients between hospitals quickly."