Emma Sutherland: Saving Lives is all in a Day’s Work

Monday, 21 December 2020

Emma Sutherland was 10 years’ old when she first caught the surf lifesaving bug – and it’s flourished within her ever since. But fast-track to the start of 2020 and the now 32-year old found herself tackling a very different kind of bug as part of a specialist team deployed to Wuhan, China at the dawn of the Covid-19 outbreak.

As a qualified Intensive Care Paramedic, Emma was one of just three St John staff who made the trip to help evacuate Kiwis and other foreign nationals from the Covid-19 epicentre.

She and her team carried out health screenings on the almost 200 passengers before they got on board the plane to ensure they weren’t showing symptoms, as well as making sure the flight crew followed safety instructions.

“While we had the clinical expertise to deal with any range of incidents on board, we spent most of our time reassuring the passengers that they were on their way home. They were really anxious.”

Emma says the experience was “a privilege”.

“It was a huge deal for the passengers and their families and it was quite humbling to be involved. It was such a huge mission to organise – so many people had a part to play. It was a privilege to be able to help – it was a unique and special opportunity.”

Things have settled down since then and Emma recently completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Health Science.

“I've studied, worked and volunteered for a long time now so I just manage to juggle it, but having an understanding and supportive family makes it achievable. It does get tricky sometimes though.”

It’s clear to anyone that the Hawkes Bay local has a love for giving back to her community.

“I love that Surf Lifesaving is a community service. Our volunteers at grassroots level get a really positive experience by giving back to their community.”

Emma’s been a Surf Lifeguard at Pacific SLSC in Napier since she was 14. She served as Club Chair for 3 years and, over time, has served as Club Captain, Director of Lifeguarding, First Aid Instructor, Surf Lifeguard Award Instructor, Regional Examiner and general committee member.

She’s now an Instructor for the National Lifeguard School, a facilitator for the bp Leaders for Life programme – and in September 2020, Emma joined the Board at SLSNZ.

With so much going on, Emma says going on patrol is an opportunity to “turn off the noise of everyday life” and spend five hours only thinking about keeping people safe at the beach.

Over the years, Emma’s been involved in a number of rescues – but she says her most memorable is one she missed.

“A 15 year-old lifeguard who I had instructed the previous season performed an incredible, out-of-hours rescue in massive surf and rescued a 10-year-old boy.”

Emma arrived at the club moments later and assisted with first aid once the patient was on shore awaiting the ambulance.

“It was memorable because a lifeguard I had trained had a ‘spidey sense’ and went back to watch these kids swimming out of patrol hours and absolutely prevented a drowning, which was an incredibly rewarding and 'proud Aunty' moment to have contributed to his skills and knowledge.”



For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving New Zealand
021 757 433