Around 7 PM on February 7th, 2008, a tremendous explosion ripped apart Imperial Sugar's refinery located in Port Wentworth, near Savannah, GA. A mass casualty event with dozens of burned patients fell upon the local emergency management agency, and a call for help was put out across counties and states. EMS helicopters from Augusta and Atlanta GA, Charleston and Columbia SC, and Savannah's own LifeStar responded towards the disaster within minutes of being alerted. They brought care and comfort at speeds approaching 150 miles per hour. When one patient asked a LifeStar flight nurse, "am I going to die?" she answered honestly. Then she gave him medications that removed his pain.
Different companies, fierce competitors at any other time, set aside all differences and cooperated magnificently to move horrifically burned humans -"their skin was falling off them"- to definitive care. There was no "us versus them," rather, it was a team response to tragedy, and in my experience, it was HEMS (helicopter emergency medical services) finest hour. This single event demonstrated the value to our nation of a veritable air force of helicopters that sit ready to respond day or night, about 1500 strong, staffed with thousands of tremendously skilled nurses, paramedics, physicians and pilots. How this force came to be, how we got to where we are today in HEMS - our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, will be the topic of this series of posts and will eventually be collated into a book about flying sick people. It will also be my account of 17 years sitting in the front of these magnificent machines and listening to these heroes - who move about us unnoticed and unappreciated - doing good work.
America knows we are here, but like blind men grasping different parts of an elephant, few Americans not directly involved in our industry really understand it. Most Americans know someone who has been flown to a hospital in a helicopter, many have purchased subscription plans to assist with payment should the need arise, and stories of financial abuse flare up in the media from time to time. And there are the crashes. People know we are here, but they don't really know us, I intend to let them fully understand our industry.
We are going to roll the log over and look underneath.