Sunday, December 13, 2015

Three Will Say Go...

I find out on facebook - usually.

A helicopter crashes. A crew member or two or three whom I have worked with announces that they are departing HEMS to return to the hospital, or to return to school, or perhaps to leave heath-care altogether.  Cited reasons are schedule, or time with family, or a better job beckons... I miss them when they leave, but I understand the forces at play.

These departures occur in the aftermath of a fatal crash. Crashes get people thinking, considering risks and options. And some folks decide that the risks of flying sick people outweigh the benefits. The companies aren't much help with this - not in my experience. The mindset of management seems to be, "hey, if you don't want this job, don't let the door hit you on the way out. There is a line of people waiting for your job." Perhaps there is a half-day "safety stand-down" in which management and speakers discuss events, and then we are expected to saddle-up and get back on the horse.

Some of us don't climb back up.

That's too bad. We lose capable, compassionate caregivers every time someone flies a helicopter into the earth. They don't come right out and say why. They just go away quietly. They represent the "other" cost of a crash. Consider the costs to recruit and train a flight nurse. And then orient her or him to health-care during flight-operations. Six weeks as a third crew member? Not uncommon. The most precious assets in HEMS are wearing flight suits, and some of them will leave after this last crash in California.

I attended Krista Haugen's presentation on what survivor's go through during the recent AMTC.  She also discussed how programs should prepare for and respond to crashes. It was the last class, the last hour of the last day of the conference, and the room was full. Krista was the co-founder of the Survivor's Network for the Air Medical Community. She lived through a crash and it affected her. Sometimes we need to talk things out, with someone who has been there. That's what the network does, they offer someone to talk to.

Click there to visit their facebook page...

Long ago, a friend took my helicopter and crew in Honduras and crashed. The guy sitting in my seat died along with everyone else on board. I experienced emotional aftershocks, and physiological effects. Two months later, after the Army un-grounded the Chinook fleet, I climbed into a pilot's seat and my legs began to jump and hop on the pedals. My voice was okay, and I knew what I had to do, but for the life of me I could not stop my legs from jumping. The instructor in the other seat said, "don't worry, it will pass."

I tell you this too friend. If you are upset about this last crash - or any of the others we have suffered, that is okay and normal. Different people will respond in different ways. Some may cry, some may laugh, some may scoff, Many will say it's because of this or that factor. And some fools will look you in the eye and tell you that crashing is part of flying and if you can't deal with it too bad.

Crashing helicopters is not part of flying. We CAN stop crashing helicopters. And you are part of the answer. I won't tell you not to go if you feel you must, but consider that your replacement will be some young person with stars in her eyes, someone who won't have your depth of experience, someone who won't understand - as you do - how important it is for a crew member to know when to say...


Pilots, please consider easing up a bit for the next few weeks. Consider what is going through your crew's minds. If one of them asks about the weather, that is a sign. An extra dose of conservatism may let them work through some things that are bothering them. This is especially true if you are working with people you don't know well. You may have "flown in much worse weather than this" and you may be sure of your skills and a good outcome. But please remember, the crew is your first concern - not the patient. You may not like them, you may not like this, but it's true. Your job is to protect the crew. And this includes being mindful of their feelings.



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