James (Jim) O’Neill

Search and Rescue

Job Title: 
Helicopter Rescue Paramedic (Winchman, Winch Operator and trainer)
Place of Work: CHC Ireland / Irish Coast Guard helicopter rescue base, Shanon airport, Co Clare, Ireland

What does your job include?
For 14 years I’ve been working as a Helicopter Rescue Paramedic, at the CHC Ireland operated Irish Coast Guard helicopter base in Shannon airport, on Ireland’s west coast.         

My employer CHC is a global provider of helicopter services and currently contracted to the Irish government. I currently carry out 24hr shifts working as either a winch-operator or winchman depending on my roster. As a registered paramedic, my responsibilities involve providing emergency medical care to patients, often in a wide range of hostile environments. The service operates on a 24/7 basis across 4 rescue bases, using the Sikorsky S92 aircraft, with an off-shore range out to 230 nautical miles. The S92 is fitted with a variable speed, twin rescue hoist system, with both hoists having 290 feet of usable winch cable. The majority of rescue missions involve the winchman paramedic being winched onto a vessel at sea, a mountainside or seacliff, before stabilising the patient and both being recovered to the aircraft. Both paramedics in the aircraft are then involved in patient treatment on the journey to hospital.   

My secondary role is as a line trainer, which involves training new crew members, upgrading winchmen to winch-operators and assisting with managing crew standards. CHC Ireland is unique in that it often employs experienced registered paramedics after an extensive selection process and fully trains them to operate in helicopter search and rescue. Helicopter rescue is a highly rewarding occupation for a paramedic, which while dangerous and unforgiving, it allows the opportunity to treat a wide range of patients in challenging environments. 

How did you get into your role?

Orignially from N.Ireland, I served 21 years in the Irish Defence Forces, working initially as an infantry soldier, then for 10 years in helicopter search rescue and finally for 5 years as a Military Training and Survival instructor in a training school. During this period search and rescue evolved from a military role to a civilian role, with increased oversight and progressive medical standards.

Throughout my military service I maintained my interest in remote medicine, working not just in helicopter rescue, but part-time as an ambulance paramedic and also teaching as a member of WEMSI (Wilderness Emergency Medical Services Institute) Ireland. On retirement I successfully applied for a job with CHC Ireland as a pre-qualified winchman paramedic and I’ve been based in Shannon ever since!   

What do you think is the most important benefit of being a member of the College of Paramedics, and why?
Being a member of the College of Paramedics has benefited me greatly, due to the amazing access to the British Paramedic Journal, the excellent CPD events and  keeps me informed about paramedic career development in the UK.