Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is The Scene Safe?

The flight nurse looked out the back windows of the aircraft in disbelief. They had landed on a two lane road at an accident scene - in front of the aircraft a horrific car crash was being sorted out - behind them, the road was open. It was chaotic, and emergency vehicles were still inbound. As she glanced behind them, she observed a large vehicle bearing down on her. Too fast, too close. She yelled.

With feet to spare, the truck veered off the road and came to a stop beside the aircraft. The truck's driver had been unable to determine distance to the obstacle to his front - a running helicopter - because of the dozens of flashing lights and apparatus surrounding the scene. He was responding to a crash with his own lights and siren going, and had some adrenaline on board. It almost ended like this... ( the action starts about 1:45 in)

If the video is not supported on your device you can access it here.

The film above makes a good case for not having trucks driving next to a running helicopter on scene. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a film should be worth a few million (dollars - what that aircraft cost) How sad and ironic is it that you can survive for years operating "a collection of parts - flying in close formation - all supplied by the lowest bidder," and get whacked by a truck on the ground.

The hazards of  landing a helicopter at an accident scene are easily overlooked, especially after landing at a few hundred of them without incident. We take it for granted that everyone involved is trained, and knows what not to do - but every once in awhile this ends up not being the case.

I landed at a scene once in South Carolina. My crew asked me to stay running. As I watched them disappear into the back of the ambulance, the man they had designated as my "tail-rotor guard," wearing blue jeans with cigarette in hand, strolled up to my left front window and casually had a look at the cockpit. When asked to move away from the running helicopter, he stated that he knew what he needed to do.

Apparently not.

The situation is made more complex by the fact that we in HEMS depend on cordial relationships with first-responders for flight requests. If we don't get calls, we stop making house payments. We face competition in our service area, and we want them to call us, not the other program - so we walk a fine line between demanding a level of performance and accepting whatever-goes on scene. One thing you don't want to do is be the guy or gal who offends the volunteer-chief of the fire service setting up your scene; but you also don't want to kill a new probie - or have her kill you.

Clearly, the answer is communication and training. Someone from your flight program needs to visit every agency in your service area at least once a year to present a class on the good, bad, and ugly of scene operations. Someone needs to call and debrief each scene operation - what the military calls "after action review." If you are relegating this task to a business-development manager you are asking for trouble - they get paid to increase flight volume, not safety. Part of your training should be a review of actual accidents and incidents. There was a time when a director of operations I worked for didn't want us to speak about crashes with customers. As a person who has taught AMRM classes for several years and seen what works and what doesn't, there is nothing like a discussion of actual events - real people, real blood - to get someone's attention and buy-in for scene safety.

Click here for a story about the type of training that should be occurring everywhere.

Fly (and land) safely...


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