Friday, March 6, 2015

Pressure Relief Valves...

A flight request came across the radio. The young new pilot checked the weather computer, found numbers that looked good, and accepted the flight. As the crew walked outside they looked up at a low ominous ceiling. The nurse looked at him, and back at the sky. She could read his mind. He had accepted a flight, and he was having second thoughts. But he had just said that the weather was good and that they could go.

In an even, friendly voice she said, "it's okay to change your mind, if you don't think the weather is good enough we don't have to go. There won't be any trouble."  

He spoke into his radio, "Communications, this is Lifeflight. We are unable to respond for weather." 

If you are a HEMS crew member, be advised. Your pilot is under pressure.

It's a normal fact of life, and he or she is not unique in this regard. You are under pressure too - but his or her pressure can hurt you, whereas few crew members have ever hurt or killed a pilot.

The pressure I am considering here isn't the run-of-the-mill off-duty stuff, like bills, broken faucets, sick kids, or angry ex's. I am writing about pressure that affects a pilot's judgement during the course of a HEMS transport. Pilot's stand up to pressure to be good enough, to get the job done, to keep everyone happy, to correctly answer questions, to never make a mistake.

But making mistakes is human.

Airbus recently produced an excellent video detailing a pilot under pressure, and a near-catastrophe. It's called "That Others May Live" and is located at...


The pilot in the video was in the middle of aborting a flight when an ambulance pulled into his landing zone. He felt pressure to transport the patient, to avoid disappointing the ground EMS service, to get the job done. If you had been the crew on that aircraft you could have been a "pressure relief valve." You could have said something like, "boss, I can tell you are anxious about the weather, We are going to ride in with this guy in the ground ambulance - and then we are going to come back and stay here with you until the weather let's up. We don't have to fly this guy."

Pressure released.

In another instance, a pilot was racing a storm back to his base, with two nurses on board. He was feeling pressure to get the aircraft back to it's base - pressure to beat the storm. Imagine if the crew had said something like, "hey friend, that weather up front looks pretty bad, why don't we stop at this airport over here, or that hospital over there, or this field right in front of us and let the storm ( and the pressure) blow off.

In yet another case, a pilot was attempting to stretch a fuel load. He was under pressure to avoid looking dumb by landing in a field short of his destination. If you had been on board and said that you could land near a road, and finish the trip in an ambulance, and come back with fuel; and if you had added something like, "the company will admire you for having the courage to do the right thing," well you would have released the pressure.

Now maybe you are under pressure at the same time as I your pilot. Maybe you need to get to daycare, or a date, or keep a promise. Please consider the pressure that your pilot is under, and don't forget that you may be the pressure relief valve that defends all of our tomorrows.

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