Connecting with the community and saying thank you for the support is a major part of Graham Nickisson's role with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
What started out as a volunteer gig with the service at 17 years of age, turned into to 36 years with a service Graham is very passionate about.
On October 20, 2018, Graham worked as a crewman on his last flight before transitioning into the community liaison role for Northern NSW, covering the aircrafts that service out of Newcastle, Tamworth and Lismore. Now he works directly with members of the community via the local support groups to share his stories and say thank you for financially supporting this vital service.
'No one has ever had to pay to be assisted by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service,' is not only a slogan for the service, but a motto Graham lives by, and he understands first hand how much of a difference the helicopters make when it comes to time sensitive injuries.
"We are a link in a chain," he explained. "We service when it's time critical. We can get the person to a hospital quicker."
Graham is very open about the good, bad and the ugliness of what he has seen over the years and admits the trauma finally caught up with him in the end. On the good hand, he remembers when Gary Walker asked to have his terminally ill wife transported to their son's police graduation. It was January 30, 2007 and it was her dying wish to be there.
"Westpac flew her down and she passed away that evening after returning home," Graham recalled.
Volunteers are the heart of the service. We would not survive if it wasn't for the generosity of the community.Graham Nickisson
On the other hand, it was after attending a very bad accident involving a fatality 11 years later, on January 30, 2018, that Graham says a switch was flicked. So he went to human resources and was offered the community liaison officer position.
"Best thing I ever did. Now I get to talk about what a wonderful service it is."
Part of his role includes supporting the 37 volunteer support groups in his area by attending functions and talking about his experiences and helping with fundraising events.
"Volunteers are the heart of the service," he said. "We would not survive if it wasn't for the generosity of the community."
He refers to the support group volunteers as the 'red shirts' and says he has the upmost respect for what they do.
"The amount of money they raise is sensational."
Hence why it's so important for him to say thank you, but also to acknowledge all the "unsung heroes" behind the scenes, the men and women who work around the clock to keep the helicopters in working order.