Family praise Air Ambulance's rapid response when son fell 25ft

Just a few months into service, Ruth Bruton tells the story of one of Ireland’s newest charities, the Cork-based community Air Ambulance, and reveals why it needs public support
Family praise Air Ambulance's rapid response when son fell 25ft
The Charity Air Ambulance with crew on demonstration at Rathcoole Aerodrome in North County Cork.

IRELAND’S new charity Air Ambulance service, which is based in County Cork, is ahead of target to responding to more than 200 serious medical emergencies in its first four months of service.

This is ahead of its goal of 500 tasks over a year, and has marked a successful start for the service which is based at Rathcool, just outside Millstreet.

The partnership approach being taken is similar to that of other successful Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) in the UK whereby the operational costs are fundraised from the public and service delivery is integrated with national emergency services.

In this case the Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) service is delivered in partnership with the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) and the Department of Health.

NAS tasks the Rathcool service through 112 / 999 calls to its National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) and also provides the two medics onboard each mission.

However, otherwise the service costs are to be fundraised for and are largely community funded.

The ICRR Air Ambulance will require €1.6m annually in funds raised — with ICRR to resource the cost of the helicopter, pilots, air-base, fuel and equipment.

This new service is therefore finding significant demand — also needs major support to embed for the long-term. This support is to comprise private donations, community initiatives, corporate partners and philanthropic programmes.

The ICRR Air Ambulance can arrive in locations across Munster and South Leinster within 20 minutes from its base in North Cork. The NAS medics on board can treat patients on site.

As required the helicopter can also airlift patients to the hospitals which are best equipped to deliver the urgent medical care required by the patient. It can transfer to Limerick or Cork University Hospitals within 15-20 minutes from across the South of the country.

Ruth Bruton, Operations Manager ICRR
Ruth Bruton, Operations Manager ICRR

This speed of response can be the difference between life and death, or between injury and life changing injury for a patient.

As the parent of one user of the service commented: “On our family holiday, our son had a 25ft fall from a waterfall, and was in need of rapid medical help. Thankfully he made a full recovery after being airlifted to Hospital. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of the Air service in rural areas.”

The wife of another user highlighted the critical difference the speed of service makes: “My husband was working on the house outside at the top of a ladder. Suddenly he fell over 11ft onto concrete and he knew that he was seriously injured.

“We called 999 for medical help, and as we live in rural North Cork, we thought we’d have a wait on our hands. The Air Ambulance quickly responded, and brought him to the hospital in just minutes. What was an awful situation, was quickly dealt with and soon we had him home again.”

The charity has now launched a major public fundraising campaign called MISSION POSSIBLE, asking the public to commit to donating €10 per month, or just €2.50 per week.

ICRR’s origins go back to 2006, following the tragic death of a child in West Cork. It became apparent that the time between reaching an emergency to the care of the hospital was crucial — and a land-based rapid response vehicle (RRV) service was established locally. The success of this local service then grew.

Roll forward to 2019/2020 — and this expanded into a network of 235 land-based volunteer doctors and 12 Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) across the country, which deliver land-based critical medical interventions which prevent serious injury or death.

These projects are delivered under the medical oversight of the UCD School of Medicine.

ICRR having started in West Cork, now sees the West Cork and East Cork RRV services ran by volunteer groups in each locality. There are soon to be three land based RRV programmes adding the North of the county, with the North Cork Services being ran by ICRR.

Nationally this network of RRVs is tasked in excess of 60 times per month and approximately 800 emergency responses per annum. ICRR plans to further expand the number of RRV services and volunteer Doctors in 2020.

Then last summer the Air Ambulance service was added – from a dedicated base built outside Millstreet. The HEMS was officially launched by the Tánaiste Simon Coveney in September 2019.

Last month ICRR was pleased to be able to provide assistance to the people of the north half of Ireland and to the Defence Forces’ Air Corps operated Emergency Aeromedical Service, based in the midlands.

The Air Corps service is fully State funded and was facing challenges in maintain full time cover.

ICRR reached an agreement with the HSE to make its back-up helicopter and a pilot available four days a month. This has no impact on the full-time Cork service which continues as normal and a positive endorsement to the new service.

To support the MISSION POSSIBLE campaign, see

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruth Bruton is the Irish Community Rapid Response Operations Manager.

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