Mercy provides helicopter 
training for local first responders

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

30-35 attend classroom session, helicopter landing in Shell Knob

As part of the new partnership between the South Barry County Ambulance District and Mercy Hospitals, the Mercy Emergency Medical Services team has been providing trainings for local firefighters and first responders in Barry County communities to familiarize them with their emergency aircraft helicopters.

Mercy took over the contract with the ambulance district March 9, which was previously held by Cox for 27 years.

"The trainings are something Mercy is doing to help interact with the local fire departments, first responders, and 911," said Ken Cieslinski, South Barry County Ambulance District board chairman. "Our first responders are just as important as anyone on the EMS front. What I did not want was to have a new provider and have the fire departments say we never heard about it. I wanted them to get to know Mercy, their practices, and have our provider be open to getting to know all of our first responders. But [Mercy was] already heading in that direction before we even discussed it. Their communication was very good."

Many first responders turned out for the training events, which included a classroom presentation, followed by an evening landing of one of Mercy's emergency aircraft helicopters.

"We had about 30-35 first responders attend from all over the county," said Chuck Miner, district administrator for the Cassville Fire Protection District. "Their aircraft is basically the newer generation of helicopter from what we've had in the past. Mercy's protocols are a little different than what we're used to, so it was about getting to know how the helicopter's going to land compared to Cox, going over the equipment do's and don'ts, etc.

"They are very safety-oriented, and it's all geared toward patient care and expedience to a trauma unit. We also reviewed radio frequencies and made sure we're all on same page with that because different fire departments use different frequencies. The helicopters can basically land in a 100-foot-by-100-foot area, about the size of a small box. At night, they come in on night vision goggles. This generation of aircraft can fly in conditions that normally have been forbidden, such as low visibility situations."

"We're trying to familiarize all the first responders with our aircraft to orient them to our aircraft and our needs," said Bob Patterson, Mercy EMS director. "It's an incentive for those first responders, so we can talk about safety, and requirements about the landing zone. Life Line helicopter is in Branson West and it's one of the aircraft we use to orient folks. We're very excited to be able to serve the people of this community, and with resources like Mercy Hospital Cassville, as well as three Life Line helicopters and three other ground ambulance services in close proximity, we'll be able to get patients the help they need quickly."

Exeter firefighter Kirk Wynns also attended a training.

"It helped me know their capabilities and the important things that our first responders need to know about working around helicopters," Wynns said. "The ones we [previously] had were a lot different. Their helicopters are bigger, stronger and can carry a lot more equipment."

Mercy helicopters also have a special instrument rating, which allow them to fly in low-visibility situations by day or by night.

"It's very enlightening and they have very sharp crews," Wynn said. "They give a really good presentation."

Rusty Rickard, fire chief at Shell Knob's Central Crossing Fire District, also attended the training with his crews.

"I know Mercy has offered to do as many trainings as necessary to get as many departments together for the classes as they can," Rickard said. "They do a presentation of all the requirements and safety side of things and get everyone familiar with how they operate and their policies and procedures, then you go out and see and touch and get used to their helicopter. And, we'd rather learn about it beforehand when things aren't going crazy and when we're not trying to get someone in one."

Rickard said the training in Shell Knob was well-attended, and got good reviews.

"Our members were very impressed with the training, and we look forward to working with them," he said. "Several members of the Mercy management team, as well as three of the ambulance board members, were in attendance. It's normally our responsibility to secure the landing zone for the helicopter, have radio contact with the pilot to describe any obstructions or challenges they might face, and to assist with loading the patient into the helicopter. This class addresses all aspects and topics of the things we need to know, primarily related to safety and to the best and quickest care of the patient.

"We're glad they're getting our volunteers trained and familiar with their equipment before we have to go out there and meet them in the real world. Because of the distance, when we get serious patients, and we fly a lot of people out of here by helicopter, it's a good hour-plus ride from Shell Knob to Springfield, so if we can get a helicopter here, that's great, but there are a lot of variables such as weather."

Rickard said he feels better knowing a helicopter is as close as Branson now, because how fast it can arrive is critical during emergencies.

"We can get someone to the hospital a lot quicker [by helicopter] than by ground," he said. "Mercy's got the helicopter sitting in Branson West, and it could be on call like any other helicopter, but just it being available to us is appealing versus waiting for one to come from Springfield, or Harrison, Ark. At the end of the day, it comes down to patient care and how quickly we can get them to the hospital."

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