Law & EMS Ops: Beyond Imagination
This article was originally published in the August 2003 issue of R&WI and has been edited to comply with current grammar and style guidelines. Check out our special June 2017 50th anniversary edition of the magazine, where we celebrate the past 50 years — and look ahead to the next 50 years — of rotorcraft innovations.
This image originally appeared in the August 2003 issue of R&WI
When Palm Beach County, Florida, received a federal grant to purchase its first helicopter, it selected the Bell Helicopter JetRanger. It had the latest EMS equipment, including a radiotelephone to call directly into each emergency room in the country.
Back then, I got a telephone call from the sheriff attempting to convince me to join his department. He said I Would go to their police academy, thus becoming a regular deputy sheriff, and training as an emergency medical technician with the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Memphis. This really interested me. Since I’d done about everything else in aviation, I elected to join the Palm Beach Sheriffs Office. What I was about to experience was beyond anything I, or the public, could imagine.
At first, we concentrated on traffic operations. But that quickly expanded to total law enforcement and emergency medical services. It was a herculean effort for one ship to patrol the 2,700-sqare-mile county.
Many flights involved transferring premature babies to a hospital in Miami. Some were so tine they didn’t’ look human. We transferred extreme burn cases to the same host pita. In the closeness of the helicopter, these were often unsettling.
One road in the county had a curve that had been the scene of numerous bad accidents over the years. One afternoon, I was dispatched to a head-on accident with injuries at the curve. Minutes later, we arrived to find seven dead teenagers and two surviving ones with multiple, compound limb fractures and internal injuries. The ER doctors told us they would not have survived ground transport.
On the outskirts of West Palm, we witnessed a large car on a two-lane road speeding toward a stop sign at an intersection with a four-lane boulevard. It ran the stop sign and slammed into a Pinto, causing it to pirouette down the boulevard. The impact broke the gas tank loose and the fuel ignited. In the minutes it took to land and run to the Pinto, the fire became so intense we couldn’t’ get within 3 feet of the car. Flames filled the cabin. From the passenger seat, a lovely girl of 18 looked at me. Her eyes said, “Why?” Then it was over. I still see her.
Two weeks later, there was another call of a head-on collision on a heavily traveled two-lane road. Each car had been doing about 70 mph. On a treacherous road like that one, there are no fender benders. We landed on the nearby canal bank and found one man who had been ejected through his windshield, flew 70 feet and landed next to a canal. He was unconscious, but alive. The top of his skill was brushed. After consulting my observer, I decided I would fly the man to a hospital and radio for other units to extract a girl from the other car. I called the hospital to prepare for receiving my patient. A medical doctor himself, he died hours later.
I got back to the scene just as a wrecker truck arrived from one direction and a fire engine from the other. Getting in the car, I was dismayed to discover the girl had a cut from her ear to the corner of her mouth, causing her cheek to dangle. Her right arm was broken just behind the wrist, with the bone protruding Both legs had compound fractures. She was about to go into shock. To calm her, I combed her hair and told her how pretty she was while the two trucks attacked chains to the front and rear of the car.
Just then, my observer asked me to step out of the car. He said the fuel tank was leaking. I told him to have the wrecker gently back up until I signaled, but I kept my left arm around her waist. If it torches, I thought, I’m coming out with her no matter what. The car spread just enough for me to get h legs separated from the steering column. I carried her to a hospital. She is fine and beautiful today.
After 22 months, I left the sheriff’s office with the highest respect and admiration for the dedication of law and EMS aircrews everywhere.