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bp Rescue of the Month – 2023/2024 December Winners – SLSNZ

Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) would like to congratulate the winners of the 2023/2024 December bp Rescue of the Month.

The monthly award celebrates the commitment and expertise displayed by surf lifeguards, showcasing their skills and training in searches, rescues, and first-aids.

Throughout December, surf lifeguards around the country responded to a range of incidents, however there were three that stood out. These incidents show the incredible range of skills possessed by surf lifeguards and their critical role in ensuring people’s safety.

Steve Fisher, SLSNZ CEO, said, “Well done to all the surf lifeguards involved, along with the other emergency services who they worked alongside. December is a busy time of the year as temperatures start rising, and people start heading off on their summer holidays – many of them heading to beaches around the country. All three of the winners this month show how critical surf lifeguards are in keeping beachgoers safe, even outside of patrol hours. As surf lifeguards say, there’s no off-switch.”

The winner of each region will be awarded a $250 bp gift card. These monthly winners will also be finalists for the prestigious Rescue of the Year, which is announced at the annual SLSNZ Awards of Excellence.

Matt Elliott, bp Head of Country, said, “Congratulations to the December winners of the bp Rescue of the Month. Their courage and skill, both on the water and on the beach, ultimately saved lives. At bp, we value the dedication and effort required in doing this.”

Please note that there is no Eastern Region 2023/2024 December Winner as no nominations were received.

Northern Region bp Rescue of the Month

Winner: Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service

Michael Waldegrave, Arun Dunn, and others on patrol along with another club member

It was 11:30am on 23 December 2023, and the Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service (LS) had already experienced a busy morning. They’d been tasked to the Waikato River Bar to assist with a fishing boat that had rolled. As they were setting up the red and yellow flags another incident was reported – A man in his 30s was in a serious condition after a near-fatal drowning incident. He had been free diving along the coast south of Sunset Beach with two friends when they were caught out by a large set of waves, sweeping two of them off rocks.

One of the men had become tangled with his catch bag and was struggling to swim. His friends tried to assist him to a boat offshore, but they were pummelled by more waves. After finally reaching the boat, the men radioed Coastguard and Hato Hone St John for assistance. Initially planning to head to the Waikato River Bar to meet an ambulance, the man’s condition rapidly deteriorated. Consequently, the decision was made to head to Sunset Beach where Michael Waldegrave and Arun Dunn launched an inflatable rescue boat (IRB). As the patient was not responding to voice and had shallow breathing, Arun kept the patient’s airway open as they made their way to the beach.

Once back on shore, the man and Arun remained in the IRB while an experienced first responder from Port Waikato Fire Brigade and a Sunset Beach club member who is a doctor administered oxygen and continued monitoring the man, who was in a very serious condition.

Meanwhile, other surf lifeguards and FENZ volunteers monitored traffic until an ambulance arrived. Once on scene, the patient was transferred to an ambulance, while the Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived. The helicopter dropped the paramedics onto the beach before landing at a local reserve one kilometre away. Hato Hone St John then transported the patient and the paramedics to the helicopter, which airlifted them to hospital.

The skills displayed by the IRB crew were exceptional. The crewperson, in his first rescue, was able to keep the patient’s airway stable whilst returning to the beach. The other surf lifeguards worked together to keep the crewperson, patient, doctor, and FENZ first responder safe in the IRB once on land to avoid moving him unnecessarily and potentially interrupting the delivery of oxygen.

This incident also highlighted the effective collaboration between surf lifeguards, FENZ, Hato Hone St John, and Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

Joanne Hobson, Sunset Beach LS surf lifeguard, said, “The outcome was that a man was returned to his family, friends, and community. If the IRB crew and first aid skills were not available in a timely basis and geographically closer than the original route through the Waikato River Bar, the outcome could have been catastrophic for the patient, his family, friends, and colleagues.”

Central Region bp Rescue of the Month

Winner: Ōtaki Surf Life Saving Club

Ella Gilpin, Fraser Martin, Graeme Lundie, Harrison Bigwood, Sam Gilpin

On 23 December 2023, Ōtaki Beach was busy with beachgoers, many of them swimming between the red and yellow flags. It was a calm day, but conditions had been poor earlier in the week with strong currents. Surf lifeguards made note of this as they scanned for hazards before noticing a hard to spot rip 200 metres south of the club in front of a large carpark and beach access point.

At 3:40pm, surf lifeguards identified three swimmers struggling in the rip. They were flailing their arms and were in obvious distress. An inflatable rescue boat (IRB), which would be able to carry all three swimmers, was requested and entered the water immediately. Surf lifeguards also worked alongside a member of the public who was paddleboarding, to assist.

One person managed to swim back to shore unaided, while the other two were taken in the IRB. Following a thorough assessment by surf lifeguards, all three people left the beach in a stable condition. The surf lifeguards completed a debrief and continued to patrol the rip to prevent any further incidents at this location.

Laura Bertelsen, Ōtaki SLSC surf lifeguard, said, “If surf lifeguards were not present that day, it’s unclear how two of the swimmers would have been able to get out of the rip. The paddleboarder may have been able to assist one to shore but there was not enough room for both.”

This incident highlights the importance of choosing a lifeguarded beach and swimming between the red and yellow flags. The rip was extremely difficult to spot but thanks to the expertise of surf lifeguards and their quick thinking in scanning for hazards and responding to people in distress this incident had a successful outcome.

Southern Region bp Rescue of the Month

Winner: Nelson Surf Life Saving Club

Brittany Spencer, Jayd Cosmatos, Aaron Lyttle, Marcus Gardner, Noah Hosie, Malcom York, Nathan Snell

On 29 December 2023, the Nelson Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) Search and Rescue (SAR) Squad was dispatched by Police to locate a young man who fell out of his kayak off Haulashore Island. With strong under currents and an outgoing tide, he was quickly drifting out into Tasman Bay.

Jayd Cosmatos, Nelson SLSC SAR Coordinator, said, “The weather that day was in the top three worst conditions I’ve ever driven in.” However, the Nelson SLSC team was very well-qualified and well-trained, and a risk assessment was completed before going out in the tough conditions.

The RIB crew were getting location pings/GPS coordinates from the man’s Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which had been given to them by Police. They had to use skills of reading latitude and longitude coordinates as well as different search patterns that they’d learnt in training. In this rescue, they adopted the expanding box search pattern.

As they travelled out in the RIB, Brittany Spencer had eyes on the water, Jayd focused on driving and plotting coordinates, as well as keeping Police up to date who was overseeing everything at the base.

Brittany soon spotted the teenager who had drifted three kilometres from his last known location. He was quickly pulled from the water, mildly hypothermic and suffering from mild symptoms of shock, but overall, he was in good spirits. The team applied an emergency blanket and gave constant reassurance to the teenager while monitoring him as they made their way back to shore, where he was reunited with his family.

Ellie Taylor, Nelson SLSC surf lifeguard, said, “Had the boy not had a PLB or life jacket on, it is likely that the rescue would have gone long into the night, and it could have turned into a body retrieval. Luckily, our SAR team are well trained and responded quickly to help this young man home.

“Our SAR squad work tirelessly and give up a lot of their time to train and ensure the Nelson/Tasman community stays safe 24/7. Their efforts in this rescue were outstanding, and the result goes to show as they were able to reunite the teenager with his father within 27 minutes, even though the rescue occurred outside of patrol hours.”

This incident also shows how important it is for emergency services to work together. The Nelson SLSC SAR Squad were in constant communication with Police, Coastguard, and Rescue Helicopter.

 

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