Contest Life-Saver Saved Twice

If anyone has good cause to support a good cause, Rodney resident and avid fisherman Paul Dickinson makes an ideal candidate.

Paul says that the Surtees Leigh Fishing Contest, supporting the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and local community initiatives, is a regular fixture on his calendar and he has very good reason to support the event.

Paul has needed the services of the rescue helicopter twice.  

Almost twenty years ago, Paul ran into some trouble when his boat was caught in a storm off Great Barrier Island. The window of the saloon at the front had broken and taken onboard so much water, the vessel came to a grinding holt.  Paul, his partner at the time, and their Staffordshire Bull Terrier “Priscilla” were left to the mercy of the sea.

Paul, who suffered lacerations from the glass to his forearm, called 111 for help. The 1 News helicopter, who were nearby reporting on a traffic in Orewa, overheard the conversation, and was first on scene. Shortly afterwards, the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived and Intensive Care Paramedic Alec was winch inserted into the water to help the stricken passengers.

“We had trouble finding Priscilla,” Paul recalls, “She was found cowering on a squab in the cabin below and was the last to be winched aboard.”

Paul believes the wet winch rescue was used as a text book example for the service at the time of the accident.

“While we featured on 1 News, Priscilla made it on ‘The World’s Greatest Animal Rescues’ TV show,” he says, “news of her rescue was viewed around the world!”

Paul’s second rescue occurred last year on 10th January.

The incident was much closer to home for Paul, in Point Wells. Wife Inna and daughter Violetta were very thankful that the chopper was available to help save Paul’s life that day.

Having returned from one of his many fishing trips with his mates the previous day, Paul set about smoking their catch early the following morning.

“About one hour into the process, I noticed the temperature had dropped on my smokehouse’s gauge,” Paul recalls, “Instead of following normal procedure of turning the gas off and letting the gas vent out, I relit it.”

Paul was instantly enveloped in a fireball of gas and thrown to the ground.

“I remember lying on the grass and thinking ‘that was a lucky escape’’, but then looking at my arms and legs and seeing the skin hanging off my body like lace.”

Paul hastened to turn off the gas, put one of his arms in a drum of water, and use an outside shower hose to cool his body down. Inna dialled 111 to call local emergency services.

The rescue helicopter was called in because Paul's burns, affecting his arms, legs and face, were so severe.

"I’d never experienced any pain like it,” Paul says, “I required a lot of medication.”

He remembers the calm and happy demeanour of attending Westpac 2’s Intensive Care Paramedic Chris who would help stabilise him.

“He shoved the empty morphine capsule in my hand and told me he knew that I, “the cheeky bugger (or words to that affect) had eaten all the mince pies!”

“It was a funny and welcome distraction, Paul says, “It instantly got my mind off the pain!”

He credits the crew as being absolute professionals and highly organised.

Paul reached the Middlemore Burns Unit, based in South Auckland, in just under forty minutes of the rescue helicopter taking off from Point Wells.

Paul would spend one and a half days in the unit.

“They asked if I wanted to be miserable in the hospital or miserable at home,” he laughs, “I chose the latter.”

It would take two and a half months for Paul to return to his job as a painter.

Paul continues his love of fishing and his support of the Surtees Leigh Fishing Contest.

He has become somewhat of a life-saver himself over the years. When the original Leigh Hotel was no longer able to host the contest, due to its closing down, Paul came to the rescue when it looked like the event might not happen at all.

“Our business, Leigh Top Shop and Bar, hosted it that year instead,” Paul says, “Before it was passed into the very capable hands of the organisers today.”

“Even if I’m unable to attend, I make sure that I support it by buying a ticket,” he adds.

Realising how important emergency services are for his local community, he encourages anyone, fisherman or not, to do the same.

Photo: Paul, Inna and daughter Violetta Dickinson pay a visit to Mechanics Bay, base of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter.