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Safety demonstrated


LifeFlight has never experienced any helicopter crashes during its 20 years of service, Judge said. It demonstrates its commitment to safety by using only twin-engine rotorcraft with autopilot capability. “Everything NTSB ever recommended is on board,” Judge said. Pilots must have a minimum of 2,000 hours of flight time to be hired, double that of some air ambulance companies, then spend 6-8 weeks training before getting full flight status. Pilots are required to have full IFR checkrides every six months as well as spot line checks.


LifeFlight nurses and paramedics undergo 500-800 hours of full-time orientation. LifeFlight also offers critical care training to emergency medical professionals across the state, including the use of a human patient simulator that can be customized to reproduce various scenarios. “These are simply the right things to do,” Judge said. “People are handing their loved one into the care of strangers, and they have to trust that every single person is going to do the right thing at the right moment.”


Every Maine hospital works with MedComm, LifeFlight’s communications center, and LifeFlight pilots must get MedComm approval to land at hospital helipads. This avoids the potential for tragedies such as a 2008 helicopter collision in Flagstaff, Arizona, that occurred when one of the


pilots didn’t communicate with a hospital in the minutes before attempting to land. One of those who perished was Burr’s ops boss in the military. “Three days before the accident he called and said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here. This place is going to kill me,’” Burr related. “I think every day, ‘I’m so lucky up here.’”


Any LifeFlight of Maine crew member, and even dispatchers at the comm center, can cancel a flight if he/she feels uncomfortable. It’s happened to Burr five times. “Anybody at any time can say ‘No,’ and there will be no repercussions,” Burr confirmed. “It takes a lot of pressure off the pilots. Everybody feels an incredible responsibility to get to where we need to go. We’re playing for keeps. If we make a mistake, very bad things can happen.”


New hires tell him they appreciate the team atmosphere, which includes the communications dispatchers. That team spirit in turn fosters the adaptability that often is key for the flight crews. One day they might be flying to an island and boarding a boat to pick up a patient from another boat, and the next day they might be dismantling a tractor rototiller to pull out an injured patient, Burr said.


The nurses and paramedics who work for LifeFlight work with physician-level protocols. LifeFlight’s aircraft and ground ambulances are modularized to allow seamless transfer from one mode to another.


48


Sept/Oct 2018


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