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By Duncan Horscroft on March 7, 2017 in News

Picture: Marie Fredriksson

Picture: Marie Fredriksson

The surf lifesaving movement is unique to Australia and its services are second to none as far as diligence, training and community relationships are concerned.

Over the long hot summer we have been inundated with pleas for donations to Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA), both in the mainstream media and on the social networks.

There is even a ‘payWave’ setup on a bus shelter at Bondi Beach for ‘$1.99’ donations, and volunteers regularly man booths around shopping centres.

Over the past couple of months there has been a series of incidents around the Eastern Beaches, with two bodies being retrieved, as well as a cliff fall and a false alarm.

These incidents brought all the available rescue resources into operation, including the Toll Ambulance and Westpac SLSA helicopters, but at what cost?

The Westpac helicopter is vital for both rescues and surveillance, and the Toll chopper is an airborne ambulance also vital for rescues and saving lives.

It is estimated the annual budget for the Westpac service is around $8 million, and Toll would be even higher as it is a bigger aircraft.

Adding to the rescue operations are fuel costs for police boats, rubber duckies, jet-skis and the offshore rescue boat, as well as the Ambulance and Police Rescue service and the actual police presence.

Admittedly the two unfortunate deaths did require a lot of manpower, as they were major incidents, but when all services are alerted to an alleged missing person at Tamarama, it seems a bit like overkill, particularly as there was no confirmation that a person was actually missing.

A volunteer lifesaver report set the full rescue wheel turning. The man was later found walking up Campbell Parade, but not before two helicopters were deployed, as well as two police boats and other water craft, which covered the coastline from North Bondi to Clovelly.

A week later two girls were stranded on the rock shelf near Waverley Cemetery in benign conditions. It would have been a simple rescue with a jet-ski or rubber ducky, but neither the local Bronte lifesavers nor lifeguards were informed of the situation until after the Westpac helicopter was called in to winch the girls to safety, even though the offshore rescue boat was close to the action.

It was a terrible waste of resources and totally unnecessary given the circumstances.

If SLSA is serious about getting more support they should look at cutting costs where they’re not needed. There are other options available, with most volunteers and lifeguards more than capable of dealing with less intense situations. Of course you can’t put a price on a human life, but the big guns only need to be brought in when needed.

The presence of the Westpac helicopter and other major SLSA resources are a spectacle when in action, but they should be more diligent when assessing a situation, which would go a long way towards cutting costs.