AirMed, HazMat scenario prepare emergency personnel with hands-on training
By Kate Johnson & Annette Tait
When the pager tones sound or the radio crackles, ambulance, fire, and law enforcement personnel need to be ready for anything. In addition to common situations like speeding vehicles, prairie fires, and minor accidents and illnesses, Oliver County has potential for major injuries due to motor vehicle or recreation-related accidents. Risk factors for larger disasters also exist – trains and semi-trucks travel through the county carrying potentially dangerous cargoes, and common agriculture chemicals could present significant danger if a collision caused a tank to burst.
Local emergency personnel have recently had two opportunities to prepare for worst-case scenarios, with a visit from the Sanford AirMed helicopter and a hazardous materials – or HazMat -- exercise in Beulah.
If the AirMed helicopter is ever needed to transport a patient from Oliver County, ambulance squad members and Sheriff’s deputies who participated in the hands-on landing zone and patient transfer training know exactly what to do.
Past trainings have been held using the Betty Hagel Memorial Civic Center for a landing zone. Recognizing that – in a real emergency – conditions may be less than ideal, this year’s training offered participants the opportunity to set up a safe landing zone near a rural incident scene and transfer a mock patient from the ambulance into the helicopter.
“Overall I thought it was really good training, actually being able to land a helicopter out in the country, finding out what it takes to make a landing zone for them to be able to land safely,” Emergency Medical Technician and Assistant Squad Leader Randy Bittner said. “Some people think they just come in, land, load the patient, and go. It’s not really as easy as it sounds.”
Prior to meeting the AirMed helicopter in a field east of Center, AirMed Flight Paramedic Ashley Kann provided a classroom session that covered marking the landing zone, identifying potential hazards, communication while the AirMed crew is en route, protocol for approaching the helicopter, and situations – such as wind gusts and hillside landings -- that increase danger to emergency personnel.
After arriving at the intercept point, Kann asked squad members to point out possible hazards at the site and prepared squad members for the exercise, which was conducted as if it were an actual emergency. A request for a helicopter intercept was made, and the landing zone lead communicated with the AirMed crew while coordinating with law enforcement to position vehicles for public safety and to mark the landing zone.
“It was a learning experience – we need to do it more often,” Sheriff’s Deputy Allen Troy said. “Once you learn something, if you don’t do it regularly, you forget it.”
When the helicopter landed, the AirMed crew met the ambulance crew at the rig to begin advanced interventions, if needed, and transfer care of the mock patient. The AirMed and ambulance crews then took their patient to the helicopter and loaded her inside. The ambulance crew carefully left the landing area following the prescribed route, and the helicopter took off.
“We got so many good pointers from the pilot and the paramedic, where they can land, and how we can bring our patients to them,” Squad Leader and EMT Mickie McNulty-Eide said. “They also reinforced that [Oliver County has] an agreement with AirMed, so residents don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for the service.”
Instead of heading to the hospital, AirMed returned after a short flight, landing to return the mock patient to the squad.