Firefighters get tips on air ambulance landing zones

Published 6:00 pm Friday, September 16, 2011

The Zetus Volunteer Fire Department held aclass Thursday night involving the largest independently owned airmedical service in the United States.

    The service is called Air Evac, and firefighters from Zetus andLoyd Star listened to a helicopter team talk about the service, theaircraft and what would be expected from the firefighters inassistance with landing zones.

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    The volunteer firefighters gathered at the Zetus station and waitedfor the Air Evac team to land in a pasture behind the department.The crew consisted of pilot Kersas Dastur, flight nurse AmyAldridge and flight paramedic John T. Riggs.

    Aldridge explained the helicopter is basically equivalent inservices to what an ambulance can offer patients in theirtransports to hospitals.

    “We can pretty much take care of everything,” Aldridge said.

    Paramedic David Stanley led the landing zone safety class andexplained the importance of medical helicopters having access topatients in critical conditions in rural areas of the state.

    Lincoln County is one such area that has the option of calling inan Air Evac team, which has a base in nearby Natchez.

    “Really, we would land on a regular four-lane highway,” Stanleysaid. “But with so many of these narrow roads and wooded areas, weneed your help.”

    The firefighters’ roles will include calling in for thehelicopter’s assistance, informing the pilot team of theirlocation, providing details of the landing surfaces includingground slope, topography and whether or not there are airobstructions in the area as well as wind speed and direction.

    “You’re the ones that are putting us there (at the landing zone),”Stanley said. “So it’s a major trust thing.”

    Stanley and the crew urged that the No. 1 threat to landing thehelicopter is power lines.

    “They become virtually invisible to us,” Dastur said.

    The firefighters learned about safety when being around ahelicopter.

    “Most accidents occur at the tail rotor,” Stanley said. “You can’twork around this aircraft and not pay attention to detail.”

    Stanley explained the criteria for calling in a flight includessuch patient conditions as cardiac victims, stroke symptoms, lossof consciousness or unresponsiveness, and death of another in thesame accident among other things.

    But the bottom line, Stanley stressed, is that the Air Evac team isat the disposal of the firefighters.

    “This helicopter is here for you,” he said. “That’s (the company’s)philosophy. We’d rather burn the fuel making our way here and haveyou say we don’t need you than wait and say to yourself that weshould wait until we know the situation is really critical.”

    Stanley explained that the company is completely self-sustaining.The money they make comes from memberships. A person can pay for amembership, which means they will not receive any bills for thecost of using emergency airlifts.

    The Air Evac base in Natchez has a service area of roughly BatonRouge to the south, Monticello to the east, Vicksburg to the northand Alexandria to the west.