As the blue helicopter circled the empty parking lot at the Chippewa Valley Technical College Emergency Service Education Center, second-semester Fire/Medic program student Daniel Brzeskiewicz realized he was learning something useful.
“This can help me next week when I’m working with the ambulance service up in Colfax,” he said.
Brzeskiewicz was one of the students in classes in the Fire/Medic and Paramedic Technician programs who received training at CVTC recently on the protocols associated with helicopter ambulance services, including the setting up of a landing zone.
It’s something that people in emergency medical services need to know today. Decades ago, airlifting patients by helicopter was almost exclusively done by the military. Today, all areas of western Wisconsin are served by air ambulance services.
Speed of transport to an emergency room is not necessarily the reason why an air ambulance is summoned.
“The most important thing is what they do for the patient,” said CVTC Fire/Medic program Instructor Scott Tillotson.
A responding EMS team can bring different levels of care to the patient at the scene, depending on the level of training of the crew and service as a whole. The helicopter brings not only speed, but advanced levels of patient care that the crew on the ground may not be able to provide.
“If we can bring advanced life support or critical care, all the better for the patients,” said Tillotson.
The need to immediately provide a patient with units of blood, or the need to install a chest tube may be among the reasons why an air unit like Mayo One would be summoned by the first EMS responders on scene.
“Most likely, they are going to be the ones making the decision whether to call the helicopter,” Tillotson said.
In a classroom briefing before the Mayo One landing, Flight Paramedic Ryan Rismeyer gave the students tips on transferring patients into the flight crew’s care.
“When you are handing off a patient, be concise,” he said.
“Tell what you have done for the patient, but then tell them, ‘this is why you are here,’” Tillotson added.
Most of the training session, though, was on the critical issue of establishing a landing zone for the helicopter. In ideal conditions, a helicopter can take off and land vertically, but that is not the preferred approach. Rismeyer said the minimum space needed is 60-feet square, but they much prefer at least 100 feet square.
Obstructions like power lines and tall trees must be taken into account. The land crews must also be careful of objects – like loose plastic pieces from a car wreck – than can become dangerous missiles driven by the prop wash of a helicopter.
“We all need to look around and see the hazards and report it to the incident commander,” Tillotson said.
The Mayo One unit and crew had no problem setting down in the West Campus parking lot for the training. They did not carry away a patient on take-off, but the students there did carry away some knowledge.
“I really didn’t know a lot about the difference between a critical care nurse and regular EMS and what they can bring,” said Brzeskiewicz. He added that it was essential training. “You don’t want the first time you’re doing something to be when you have a sick or injured patient.”