Day Kimball partners with emergency providers on helicopter transports

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Tue., Mar. 8, 2011
The interior of the Life Star helicopter. Photos by D. Coffey
The interior of the Life Star helicopter. Photos by D. Coffey

Ralph Miro, nursing director and EMS coordinator at Day Kimball Hospital, spoke to more than 100 EMS personnel about the hospital's new protocol for arranging emergency helicopter transport. Volunteer rescue personnel from all over the quiet corner, including East Killingly, Putnam, Pomfret, West Thompson, and Woodstock, listened as Miro, Steve Wexler, M.D. and two representatives from Life Star (Hartford Hospital) and Life Flight (UMass) spoke about when to call for emergency transport, how to call for it, and the procedures to follow once the call was made.

Miro acknowledged that EMS personnel are often the first line of defense in the care of critically ill patients. We rely on EMS to recognize when critical care is needed, he said.

Miro reviewed the factors involved in making an assessment of a patient. He passed out protocol sheets with symptoms calling for special attention such as severe burns, gunshot wounds to head and neck areas, respiratory distress and possible spinal cord injuries. EMTs must make decisions about care without the luxury of hospital equipment and staff, but he urged them to make the strongest assessment they could. “Take a look at the whole patient,” he said. “If you're not sure about calling in a helicopter, call,” he said.

Helicopters from Life Star and Life Flight are staffed with rigorously trained helicopter pilots and flight nurses who are also trained to perform several advanced procedures. Fifty on-board medications allow the crew to treat a wide variety of critically ill patients. The helicopters are essentially intensive care units. And they can land anywhere there is a 75 foot by 85 foot patch of safe ground that is clear of obstructions and close to the patient. The audience was briefed on the procedures for identifying landing zones, including how to mark the corners (and light them if calling a helicopter at night), how to approach the aircraft, and how often and when to communicate with their crews.

The feasibility of flights is based on three factors determined by the FAA. Under certain circumstances helicopters will not be sent out if weather conditions are determined to be unsafe. Ceiling cloud cover, visibility and high winds can delay and rule out entirely med flights, if it's determined to be unsafe flying conditions.

 Lt. of Special Operations for the Bungay Fire Brigade Charlie Jackman was pleased with the new protocols for calling in helicopters in emergencies. “The calls used to go through Day Kimball Hospital,” he said. “Now it's easier. It's up to the EMT, not the hospital. We're better off.”

Miro acknowledged that there were going to be times when a helicopter was called when it wasn't necessary. “If you're not sure about calling, call,” he said again. “If its an overcall or an undercall, we'll talk about it in a collegial way.”

A helicopter was flown in for the seminar. After the presentations were over, audience members were invited to take a closer look at the cockpit and bay.

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