The region's emergency services have presented a united front against plans to move the Illawarra's aeromedical service base out of the area.
Police, paramedics, firefighters, nurses and lifeguards gathered at the Albion Park helicopter base yesterday to officially pledge their support for a campaign to keep the rescue helicopter in the region.
The state government has been considering moving the base to Sydney, citing cost savings, but it is believed Nowra is now also a serious contender.
Illawarra firefighter Darin Sullivan believes the move will strain resources.
"Any emergency incident requires us to have the ability to call on the resources you need, whether it's a helicopter, fire truck or police car," he said.
"You need to be able to call in whatever resource you need to protect that family - we're all just cogs in a big wheel and if you start taking out cogs, the wheel doesn't turn."
NSW Police Association spokesman Bob Minns said police were concerned about the potential impact on victims.
"When we go to these jobs, five minutes can feel like a lifetime," he said.
"Many times, these people are in a tragic position and five, 10 or 15 minutes can make a big difference; it just means we won't have access to that next level of service."
Sergeant Minns said the helicopter had been effectively serving the region for years, reaching incidents across the coast efficiently, and any move would drastically affect response times.
Specialist doctors trained in field work have been based with the helicopter in Albion Park and are also set to go if the helicopter is moved.
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said losing the doctors would create further delays.
"What this means is that if we have an industrial accident and the chopper is fogged in, in Nowra or Sydney, we would have to wait another hour for a specialist doctor [to] arrive by road," he said.
Wollongong Rotary has gathered more than 5000 signatures on a petition to keep the service at Albion Park.
Pictured: Emergency service representatives Graeme Goodman, Arthur Rorris, Gary Salvesen, Alan Lever, Julie Ljubovic, Ken Holloay, Steven Vann, Glenda Buckland and Wayne Cannon with members of Fire and rescue NSW and the CHC helicopter. Photo: ANDY ZAKELI