Special Training
By Deputy Chief Josh Randolph
November 19, 2013

Tuesday November 19th, 2013, St. Stephens Fire Department hosted a med-center air class. This class is designed to educate firefighters on how and when to set up a landing zone when a helicopter is needed for a patient. The two hour class reviews safety techniques for the flight crew, the public safety personnel on the scene, the patients, and the general public. Class room review was provided by a flight nurse then the helicopter was called in to land at St. Stephens Fire Department Headquarter station. The helicopter was landed on the rear parking area which is designed and preplanned to land a medical helicopter in case of emergency. The firefighters were given a tour of the medical helicopter and a review of how to use some of the equipment on board. The firefighter’s main priority with the use of the helicopter is landing them safely, assist with loading patients, and providing a safety barrier between the aircraft and the general public during arrival and departure of the aircraft. St. Stephens Fire Department host med-center air bi annually to review and refresh on the safety techniques when using the helicopter. On average St. Stephens Fire Department will use the helicopter services for critical patients 1-2 times per year.

Med-center air is owned by Carolinas Medical Center and has been in business since 1986. At that time it had one helicopter and was based at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Today, there are a total of four helicopters. Three are in service at all times and one is a back up when maintenance or repairs are needed to the primary aircraft. The helicopters are based at air ports in Hickory, Concord, and Rock Hill. Med-center air also has air planes and ground units. Med-center air provides an extension of services by Carolinas Medical Center, rapid transport to the most appropriate hospital, and to be a secondary responder for EMS in our region. The current average for med-center air is 955 transports per month. The staff includes over 130 medical crew, 27 pilots, 10 mechanics, and 15 communication specialists.

Med-center air is used by fire departments and EMS across the nation for rapid transport of critical patients to the appropriate facility for the medical care that is required. The air craft is on call 24hrs. per day and 7 days a week. For the safety of the crew, emergency responders, and the patient; the helicopter will only launch weather permitting at the base, the scene, and the facility in which the patient needs for appropriate care. The crew consists of three responders; a flight nurse/paramedic, a respiratory therapists, and the pilot. The helicopter may be requested through the local communication center by the firefighters, EMS, or any emergency personnel on the scene. The criteria is for critical patients that have suffered severe trauma, burns, or medical condition that local EMS or hospitals cannot provide the appropriate care for or if the appropriate facility for the critical patient is more than 20 minutes away from a level one trauma center. Med-center air is considered and put on standby for serious vehicle accidents that involve heavy damage with a patient entrapment, pin-in, or ejection from a vehicle. Med-center air also provides assistance with mass causality incidents and has the ability to provide surgical field amputation if needed to save the life of a patient.

The firefighters have multiple responsibilities when landing a helicopter on an emergency scene. First and foremost is the safety of the emergency personnel on the scene, the crew on the aircraft, the patient, and the general public. Fire department personnel are responsible for the communication between the pilot and the emergency crews on the ground. The fire department is also responsible for setting up a proper landing zone for the aircraft and its crew. Many times in an effort to save precious time for the patient, the fire department will set up a landing zone at or near the emergency scene. The firefighter is responsible for GPS coordinates, and a safe landing area that consist of an area as flat as possible, free from debris or loose objects, and to make sure no overhead dangers are present such as trees, power lines, power poles, towers, and tall objects. The firefighter is responsible for walking the entire landing zone which should be approx. 100ft. x 100ft. to be sure it is clear of all obstacles, and any by-standers. The firefighter is also responsible for directing the aircraft safely to the ground with the use of emergency vehicles and lighting.

Catawba County and the surrounding counties are fortunate to have a helicopter in Catawba County. A med-center air helicopter is based out of the Hickory Airport which allows a quick response time for our critical patients that meet the requirements and need medical air transport. The average response time to the St. Stephens Fire district is ten minutes from the time that the helicopter is requested until it lands on the scene if it is available and weather permitting. To save additional time for the critical patient, St. Stephens Fire Department staff has preplanned 10 landing zones spread throughout the fire district. Fire Department staff will visit these areas at least once a year to make sure nothing has changed or been added to the landing area. The coordinates and addresses for each one of these preplanned landing zones have been documented and are numbered at our fire stations, our fire apparatus, our local 911 center, and also has been documented with the communication center for med-center air. This allows more efficiency when landing helicopters in the St. Stephens Fire District. We would like to thank the business and property owners that have allowed us to use and pre-plan their property for helicopter landing zones.