A small crowd of firefighters, emergency squad members and police officers converged on a recreation field at the Whitehall Central School campus on Saturday July 9. As they waited, a bright blue and
white helicopter flew out of the morning sky. It made a pass from southwest to northeast, circled and came in for a landing, pointing due west.
It was landing zone training for the first responders from multiple agencies so they can learn how best to work as a team with the crew of an air ambulance helicopter. Utilizing an air ambulance in a
lifesaving situation requires the cooperation of many emergency personnel, not just those on board the air ambulance. For that reason, on-the-ground training is necessary if the ambulance is to be used
correctly. Ground training exercises, which involve any emergency personnel who may respond to a serious injury, include how to work near an air ambulance, how to load patients into an air ambulance, how to communicate with the air ambulance over the radio system. The helicopter is from LifeNet of New York based at Albany Medical Center.
“Because safety is so important, and people are so curious about helicopters, it’s important that first responders know how to secure a landing zone,” said Brian Brooks, Deputy Chief with Whitehall
Volunteer Fire Company. “Safety is our main focus.” Prior to the helicopter landing, Paramedic Jamie Barton of LifeNet of NY presented a two-hour course explaining how the ground crews could
best assist in setting up a safe landing zone and helping them transfer a patient to the helicopter. The helicopter travels with a Paramedic and a Registered Nurse on board. Firefighters were
instructed that if extrication involved the possibility of an amputation, on scene personnel can advise the flight crew and an Emergency Room Doctor can be added to the flight to perform such a
drastic medical procedure if necessary.
Just such an incident happened last year at a motor vehicle accident in Fort Ann. Whitehall firefighters were called to help extricate a victim from a single car that crashed into a tree on Route 4. “He was
wrapped up in there pretty good” says Deputy Chief Brooks. The impact had rolled the floorboard around his feet. “We took over after Fort Ann firefighters had worked for over an hour and half on the
extrication. The patient had lost a lot of blood from a compound fracture of his left femur and was in shock” according to Brooks. “The left foot was the one wrapped in the wreckage. When I saw a
second helicopter land and the doctor get out, I told our guys to make whatever cuts we can to get this guy out because this doctor is going to cut his leg off. We took six more bites of the wreckage,
physically jumping on the hydraulic tool every time to peel back the hardened metal. Each time we made more progress and then suddenly the foot was free! It was great feeling. The patient was able to keep his foot despite that it was shattered pretty good.”
The air ambulance service is owned and operated by Air Method Inc., which owns air ambulance helicopters all across the county. Law enforcement and rescue officials say the landing zone training is
very important. “The landing zone training will allow us to have safer landing zones when we enlist the services of a rescue helicopter,” said Jason Vandenburgh firefighter and Village Police Officer who set up the training, “It will keep both the helicopter crew and the on-ground personnel safe. It’s important for us on-ground personnel to know what the aspects of a safe landing zone are.”
Another helicopter training program with DHART (Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team ) Air Ambulance will be held in August and is open to all firefighters, EMS and Police.