Asking the experts: What is the best advice for farmers in an emergency?

Farm accidents that are severe enough to necessitate an airlift by helicopter to hospital happen on a wider scale than people may think, the Emergency Aeromedical Service has warned.

The Emergency Aeromedical Service, better known by its call sign Air Corps 112, knows better than anyone the extent to which such accidents happen, having responded to numerous farm incidents since its inception in 2012.

When asked what advice the service would have to farmers regarding what to do in an emergency, Commandant Stephen Byrne, of the Irish Air Corps, outlined a number of pointers.

The commandant noted that a lot of farming community incidents, by the nature of its work, tend to be people that are going out on their own, which can obviously have implications.

“If you do have to go out on your own, make sure you have a mobile phone, that you do know how to send an emergency message.

“The best advice, if you are in any sort of emergency, is to know your Eircode – that’s very, very important.

“It’s the first thing that we’re going to look for – what’s your location? Because it can be difficult to locate a person.

“We’ve often had situations with the farming community or any rural community, where they’d ring in and someone would say ‘what’s your Eircode?’ and they won’t know, so they’ll ask the person beside them what’s their Eircode.

That could be the neighbour’s house – which is five minutes up the road. So then the helicopter is orbiting over the house saying ‘this doesn’t look like the scenario that we’ve been told’. Something as simple as knowing your Eircode is vitally important.

“I’d even go back a step, before we go down that road – what precautions can you put in place to make your industry and make your job as safe as possible?”

The commandant added that safety procedures would help, whether it’s covers on PTO shafts or extra help if you’re dealing with farm animals that you think may be contrary or difficult.

“The biggest thing is that, maybe, farmers and those in the rural community may not know that this sort of stuff happens as frequently as it does.

“I know for me it was a shock. When I went home and told my dad and those in my farming community, that this happened yesterday or this happened last week, even they were shocked that it was happening as regularly as it is.

“An awareness that this is happening on a wider scale may cause people to focus minds.”

‘Golden hour’

Commenting on the role of Air Corps 112 as a rapid response air team, Commandant Byrne explained:

“There will often be the case that the land ambulance will get there quicker and they will start intervention; but naturally where we come into our own is for stage two – which is lifting the patient from the likes of Clifden and bringing them all the way to Galway or further afield.

Obviously it’s case by case but, if you have a significant trauma injury possibly like an amputation from a PTO shaft, you’re going to have a significant amount of bleeding; or an attack from an animal, a cow or a bull, you just don’t know what sort of internal bleeding you have – so there’s only so much that can be done by an advanced paramedic in a field or at the side of a road.

“So, at that stage, where it comes down to is you need to prepare that patient and get them to a specialist centre to complete a scan to see how much internal bleeding is going on.

“That’s when really speed is of the essence. You really need to get that patient there fast.

“So then the difference is, if that patient has to go by road, rural landscapes into metropolitan hospitals, you’re looking at 40 minutes to an hour and 40 minutes.

“You’ve heard of this ‘golden hour’ [the timeframe following a traumatic injury when prompt medical treatment will have the best outcomes] before; the helicopter reduces that down to 15 to 20 minutes max.

If you’ve a patient in rural Co. Clare, the Listoonvarnas of this world; for them to get to either Limerick or Galway, you’re looking at an hour, an hour and 10 or 15 minutes. One transfer we did was from Listoonvarna to Galway city helipad in eight minutes.

“We’re not always going to the closest hospital – we’re always going to the most appropriate hospital. That’s the difference between Air Corps 112 and your road ambulance. Your road ambulance by its nature will have to go to the closest hospital,” Commandant Byrne concluded.