There has been a changing of the guard at the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter service as base manager Kelley Waite steps aside and Critical Care Flight Paramedic, Richard Curtis, takes on the role.
Kelley remains with the Gisborne team as crewman, but difficulty reaching her Hawke’s Bay family post-Cyclone Gabrielle means she needs to be more flexible.
And she believes Richard will do a great job.
“The job is quite fiddly and calls for a lot of leadership skills and critical thinking across all the rostering, personnel management and aircraft husbandry that is required,” she says.
“We’re all really pleased that, after more than three years with the Tairāwhiti service, Richard is motivated and up for the challenge in addition to his existing commitments as a paramedic.”
For his part, Richard reckons he’s stepping into some pretty big shoes.
“Kelley is hugely passionate about our base and has put a lot of time and effort into improving and developing it,” he says.
“She is a fantastic people-person, is super-organised and has great time and people management skills, so it’s going to be tough to match that.”
By the time he took over as base manager at the end of March 2023, Richard Curtis (35) had a vast amount of experience under his belt, and it was one early event that got him into the industry.
“When I was a teenager I got hit in the head with a hockey ball and was in a pretty bad way,” he says.
“It was rotten weather so no helicopters were flying. But I was taken by ambulance from Waikato (where the accident happened) to Auckland Hospital, and that was my first exposure to paramedics and the kind of work they do. It all looked pretty exciting.”
From his hometown of Tauranga, Richard later moved to Auckland to do a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Paramedicine) which, over the years, has been added to with post-grad studies in everything from emergency management, aeromedical retrieval, advanced resuscitation, and community and remote area medicine, to the Masters degree in Health Practice (Paramedicine) he completed, with distinction, in 2017.
In between times he worked in both New Zealand and Australia in roles including paramedicine tutor, rescue paramedic, intensive care flight paramedic and intensive care paramedic.
“When my wife and I lived in Brisbane I did a lot of fly-in-fly-out work on some big helicopters, but after our first child was born I wanted to spend more time at home, so joined the Queensland
Ambulance Service,” says the now father-of-two.
“Then as our family grew we really wanted to be closer to family so it was great to join the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter service in 2019.”
Looking back at the more than three years he has spent with the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust-supported service, Richard says it’s the disasters that most stick in his mind.
“Transferring patients critically injured in the Whakaari/White Island eruption (2019) was certainly a day I’ll always remember,” he says.
“And back here in Tairāwhiti we’ve also copped a number of disasters in the last few years, and it’s been really rewarding to have helped make a difference to people’s lives.”