Flying for our Future

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You pray you never need the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, but if you ever do this is the kind of team you want on the job. 

This month we sat down with Richard Jones. Richard is a kind hearted, down to earth character with a passion for supporting and helping his community. He is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

Saving lives since 1975, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service has become a highly valued and respected organisation to the Hunter Valley and wider community. 

Richard Jones came on board as CEO in November 1995 with the goal of bringing people back on board to support the organisation, which had gone through a rocky period in previous years. 

“When I started the budget was about $4 million bucks and we had 20 full time staff, and as we sit here now we have 130 full time staff and our budget is $42 million a year, very much driven by a new 10-year contract with NSW Ambulance and Heath,” Richard said.

Organisation growth and funding all come down to one thing for the Westpac rescue team and that’s saving lives. Richard said, “We are here to be available when the phone rings, that’s the bottom line.”

Just 2 years into the 10-year contract, the organisation is already starting to plan what the future may look like. Richard emphasised the importance of running operations today, but also planning for the future to ensure the service continues to support the community as long as possible. 

“We have a very clear mind to today, but an even clearer view on what we need to do in 8 years’ time and it’s exciting to have our eyes on the future, but the nitty gritty is here today to do what we do every day,” Richard added. 

“It’s been a ride I can tell you, there’s been nothing but growth. The community involvement in what we do and the thousands of volunteers we have has made us very well placed to keep on pushing towards the organisations future.”

Richard has maintained relationships throughout the community and has grown the Westpac rescue organisation into something to be extremely proud of. 

The entire team, from the engineers, planners, marketers and accounts team to the helicopter pilots and ground staff, are all equally valued and highly regarded. 

A lot of the media focuses on the pilots out in the rough conditions and in the public eye and they truly are heroic professionals, but every single member of the organisation plays such an integral part of providing the services that we rely on every day. 

“We are very keen to acknowledge everyone and we have a great internal system where you can acknowledge a colleague, because when any member of the organisation does well they should be celebrated,” Jones said. 

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It’s been a rocky road at times for the Westpac rescue team, especially with the huge operations of 24 call outs in 4 days over Easter, but the outcome is what drives them every day. 

“The operations guys are coiled, springed and ready to leap into action at any particular moment because you just don’t know when the phone’s going to ring. And that’s the mystery and beauty of what we do, be aware and be ready and we all chip in and help each other,” Richard said.

“The things that really keep you ticking is when a family comes in just to say thank you.”

Hundreds of people are rescued each year throughout the Hunter Valley and wider community through the service. The organisation has now extended their support even further by hosting a rescue club for anyone that has been transported or that wants to be involved and tell their story.

Quad bikers, horse riders, car accident victims and everyone rescued in between and their families has a different story. By facilitating these community members coming together, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service provides a support network that otherwise wouldn’t be available. 

Richard also mentioned the reward of making some new friends along the way adding, “The real human face and side to it is what we live and breathe on and I know the staff get very emotionally involved in some of the friends that we’ve got and built up over the years.”

The outcomes of what the Service does every day are often the result of a diverse and flexible workforce. “There’s no such thing as a typical day here I can assure you that,” chuckled Richard.

“You can come in that morning and have a pretty clear calendar for the week and by 10am its full, and that’s the beauty of what we do, every day is different and every day is dynamic.” 

These aspects and outcomes of the organisation is what attracts so many people to want to work there. If you’re looking for a fulfilling role, Richard expressed the rewards and outcomes that come with working in the non-for-profit sector.

The Westpac Rescue employs those in the top of their craft and trade, to ensure the highest quality of care as they fly the sickest people in the State around. “These top people deserve the platform to go and do their remarkable work,” Richard added.

The CEO had some great advice to kids and upcoming professionals with aspirations of joining the service or any non-for-profit role. 

“Don’t ever think that the non-for-profit sector in total is not a rewarding experience because you get to apply your trade in a professional manner but you’re also doing good, and you can go home and sleep pretty good at night knowing you got to apply your trade and have some really cool outcomes.”

The service relies heavily on fundraising, donations and funding to continue the remarkable work they do. The community can get involved in a number of ways by participating in fundraising events or simply donating on the rescue website. 

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Jones expressed his absolute appreciation for the community members, organisations and companies that have supported the service over the years. 

“This is where mining has been so good and so supportive, particularly through the CFMEU with the payroll deduction, and that’s where guys and girls can donate a little bit out of their pay each week,” said Jones. 

“Payroll is our single biggest fundraiser and we have hundreds and hundreds of companies from Mum and Dad organisation up to a Coal Mine with 1500 people and, bless them, a lot of mining companies now are matching their workers dollar for dollar which is just extraordinary.”

The mining industry started the payroll deduction donation program and it has now gone out into the broader community. Being a donation to a non-for-profit organisation, the deduction is of course tax deductible. 

“Mining did start that and they drove that way back 35 years ago and are still diligently doing it today, so it’s a huge thank you,” Richard added. 

“We thank the mining industry every day.”

Richard chuckled as he mentioned the time a coal miner came to him one day and said, “I’m happy to give you 10 bucks a week but I never bloody want to see you at my workplace unless you’re here to say thank you.”

The Hunter Valley and wider community are fortunate and privileged to have a service like The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service and the inspirational team behind it. 

Visit the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Website today and show your support by donating or getting on board one of their upcoming events!

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