21 Dec 2016

Surf lifesavers called out to road, farm emergencies

12:48 pm on 21 December 2016

Surf lifeguards at some of the North Island's most popular beaches are increasingly being called out to other emergencies, prompting calls for greater support from local and central government.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand, and software company Emsisoft, will use GPS data and drones to map rip currents and their behaviours.

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Surf Lifesaving northern region chief executive Matt Williams said it had already been a busy season for those patrolling beaches around Auckland and Northland.

But volunteers were also being called out to a large number of non-water incidents.

"That involves weekly road and vehicle accidents, either on the beach - as more people are driving on the beaches - or neaby roads; medical incidents, heart attacks, spinal injuries by people on the beach, or again nearby; we've had a raft of quad bike accidents on beaches and farms which we've had to respond to," Mr Williams said.

While surf lifeguards were happy to do the work and help the community, changes needed to be made, Mr Williams said.

"Of course it brings stresses with it - it was never what our organisation was set up to do.

"We're responding well ... but we're going to have to mature as an organisation to continue responding in that fashion," he said.

"Then of course the value proposition and the funding of that service is going to have to change because we're asking more of our volunteers, we're doing more and we have new costs at a time when quite frankly we're struggling to meet the current costs sustainably."

Local authorities were doing their best to fund surf lifesaving services but it was time for central government to step in, Mr Williams said.

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