Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > Topics > Air Medical Transport
All Articles

EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

It's déjà vu all over again

Editor's note: This story is in response to the recent news piece, "Air medical industry 'resisting upgrades'". Amid the recent spate of deaths, NTSB says the voluntary approach to improvements is not working. Tell us what you think in the member comments.

Is the EMS helicopter industry stuck in the 1980s? Like a famous baseball figure once remarked, "It's déjà vu all over again." It was back in that decade that the ground ambulance industry finally began to transition from something that seemed like a mortuary business to the more uniform, professional appearance we see in current day EMS.

I can remember how agencies back then ran fast and loose with regulations, staffing and equipment levels. While I can laugh now, it wasn't so funny then driving vehicles that didn't have equipment onboard or enough tread left in the tires while breathing carbon monoxide fumes in the passenger compartment.

Voluntary adoption of more stringent regulations didn't work then. Not enough money, operators said. But when regulators came calling, resources were suddenly there.

I also can recall how dinosaur medics and EMTs — me included — grumbled about the loss of our "freedom" as we headed into the 1990s. More regulations! More restrictions! But in hindsight, I think it's been more helpful than hurtful in helping us to professionalize the industry.

Unfortunately, this quaint homily does not quite apply to HEMS. If an ambulance suffers a flat tire, at least the person driving it can quickly try to pull over to the side of the road. If something goes wrong midflight in a helicopter, more often than not the end result is a crash.

Yes, changes will increase costs. But what will be the cost to crew and patients if the industry continues to follow its current path?

And as we discovered in the past, voluntary adoption means changes can never happen across the board, which can create unfair competition between services. It's time for the FAA to act now to protect those whose mission is to help others.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.

EMS1 Offers

We Recommend...

Connect with EMS1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+

Get the #1 EMS eNewsletter

Fire Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
Enter Email
See Sample

Online Campus Both

Air Medical Transport Videos