Ga. first responders train on interacting with emergency helicopter transport
Emergency personnel took part in a training exercise to learn safety procedures and protocols required while interacting with an emergency transport helicopter
By Jon Gosa
The Albany Herald, Ga.
LEESBURG — Lee County emergency personnel took part in a training exercise Monday at the Lee County Fire Department to learn safety procedures and protocols required while interacting with an emergency transport Air Life helicopter.
After a short classroom briefing, the Air Life flight crew landed on the scene at the Leesburg station and practiced a live scenario in which volunteer trauma victim, Lt. Coleman Williams, was loaded into the helicopter -- while the aircraft was running -- by several different teams.
"The number one thing we are here to learn today is safety," Lee County Fire Chief David Forrester said. "The transport time to a trauma center is so much quicker using the helicopter and we want all of our personnel to know the proper procedures of how to interact with that aircraft."
Flight paramedic Jack Paulson briefed first responders during the training exercise on the dos and don'ts of working around a helicopter, which included landing site security, never approaching the aircraft unless you have a "thumbs up" permission from the pilot, always approaching the aircraft from a 45-degree angle of the nose, and always securing lose clothing, eye wear or equipment.
Paulson points out that something as simple as a sheet from a strecther could be catastrophic if sucked into the rotor blades.
"Scene safety and security is a big thing, no matter where we are landing, but especially if we are landing in someone's yard, in a field or on a highway," Paulson said. "That scene has to be secure because when we are landing on the scene we are going to leave that helicopter running.
"We cannot have anybody approach the aircraft. If we are landing on a highway, we have to have both directions of traffic shut down. We can't land in the northbound lane of Highway 19 and not shut down the southbound lane. There have been incidents of drivers gawking at what is going on and actually run into the helicopter."
According to Paulson, Air Life was brought to rural south Georgia because of the lack of access to trauma centers.
"... (T)here are no trauma services available until you get to Thomasville, Tallahassee and Dothan," Paulson said. "In this area there are no trauma centers and there is no access to it. When you have a major trauma, the idea is that you want to be on a surgical table within an hour of the incident.
"By ground, that is impossible, especially in this area. You can't even get to Thomasville within an hour from here with the ambulance stretched out."
A helicopter can travel the same distance as an ambulance in about one-third of the time, Paulson said.
"When we talk about ground versus air time, it is usually a third," said Paulson. "If you can make it there in an hour, we can make it there in 20 minutes. This particular aircraft cruises at about 115 knots, which translates to about 138 mph; straight line, no curves, no stop lights, no traffic, no nothing, just straight there. We are always pushing that golden hour; trying to get patients to a trauma center, to a surgical center within an hour of the incident."
Beyond speed, there are other advantages over ground ambulance units, according to Paulson.
"In Georgia, on the ground, paramedics are not allowed to paralyze people to pass an intratracheal tube, but we are capable of doing that," said Paulson. "When you get someone who has had a head injury and they are combative, they got blood in their airway and you can't really secure their airway really good, it is very handy that we can actually put them to sleep, take control of their airway, and protect it. That way you don't have to worry about aspiration pneumonia, you don't have to worry about them fighting you and other stuff. It makes a tremendous difference.
"We also carry blood products in the aircraft, which no other helicopter service does that. We carry fresh frozen plasma and packed red blood cells, so we can actually give blood in the field. If we have someone who has had a major hemorrhage, we can start blood on them before we get them to the hospital. That has never been done before."
According to Paulson, the main issue with any emergency is the clock.
"It all really boils down to time," Paulson said. "Getting the patient to the trauma center, getting them to that comprehensive center, getting them to a specialty hospital as quickly as possible is the most important thing and doing it safely."
Air Life is based out of Camilla and provides emergency airlift flight services for all of Southwest Georgia.
(c)2017 The Albany Herald, Ga.