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No Off Switch: Surf Lifeguard Training Session Interrupted By Real Life Emergency

A routine Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) IRB training programme took a surprise turn at the weekend when participants were called to the scene of a quad bike crash further up the beach.

SLSNZ Health, Safety, Wellbeing & Risk Manager, Ross Merrett, was on-site at Riversdale Beach in the Wairarapa on Saturday with two other SLSNZ staff members and 41 volunteers. The team were attending the injury of one of their own – an IRB crewperson taking part in the scheduled training session – when a member of the public approached the trainees shouting, “Help!”

Merrett and Rebecca Scott, a volunteer Surf Lifeguard and recently qualified doctor, were first on the scene of the accident. They arrived to find a 1x1m trailer disconnected from the quad bike that had been towing it.

“There were people on the ground in various twisted states, with others wandering around in shock,” says Merrett. “It looked like they’d been travelling at speed and had hit the bank of a stream that runs down the beach. Two of the victims had been thrown upwards of 20m.”

Merrett and Scott quickly realised that one of the teens on the ground had a spinal injury, while another had suffered a broken femur. A third had a severe laceration on his knee, a concussion and a suspected fractured wrist.

Westpac helicopters were called in from Palmerston North and Wellington, but rising tides meant the closest landing point was 650m down the beach from where the accident took place.

SLSNZ volunteer Surf Lifeguards quickly prepared a landing site and stabilised the victims so that they could be transported on a stretcher to the waiting helicopters.

“We had to put the broken femur in a splint with no pain relief – you can imagine what that was like for the victim.”

Despite the unfortunate incident, Merrett says the teens were incredibly lucky that the IRB (inflatable rescue boat) training programme was taking place that day. Otherwise, he says, it could have taken much longer for help to arrive.

“Riversdale SLSC have an excellent response team but they would have been extremely stretched in terms of people-power in this instance,” says Merrett. “It takes about six people to do a log role, which is how you move people with back injuries onto a stretcher. Riversdale might have three people on call at a given time.”

In total, 16 Surf Lifeguards were actively involved in the incident for an hour-and-a-half.

SLSNZ Chief Executive, Paul Dalton, says he’s proud of the way SLSNZ staff and volunteers responded with efficiency and skill on the day.

“Our Surf Lifeguards don’t have an ‘off switch’. This is a perfect example of our volunteers jumping in and doing what needs to be done in order to keep Kiwis safe on our beaches – in and out of the water.”

© Scoop Media

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