Many people believe air rescue started during the Korean War (think M*A*S*H*). It didn’t. An article in the November 2021 edition of Plane & Pilot points out that air medical services were first conceptualized in the late 1800s, by using hot air balloons to transport injured soldiers. The first official air ambulance flight was in 1917, in Turkey, using an airplane. It saved almost three days versus traveling over land.
This same article provides some interesting statistics:
- There are over 700 EMS helicopters currently in service in the U.S., affiliated with over 200 medical centers.
- There are over 1,000 flights per day in the U.S.
- The typical crew consists of one pilot and two medical personnel.
- The cost of a single ride typically ranges from $15,000 to $36,000 (versus ground EMS typically being from $800 to $1,200)
- Unfortunately, less than 30% of the cost is generally covered by insurance.
- There are also risks. The accident rate is high: 5 accidents per 100,000 hours of flight time.
- There have been safety improvements, though, with night-vision goggles now a requirement. The motto used for flight cancellation is “3 to go. 1 to say NO.” Patient survivability is not to be considered in the decision making process, but accidents have occurred when well-meaning heroes continue in conditions that are not favorable. Greater that 1 out of 3 pilots have admitted they feel pressured to complete flights.
- That said, overall, air transport is safe. Its utility cannot be questioned. Survivability increases a whopping 57% when traveling by air versus ground.
Here in Palm Beach County, we have an outstanding trauma system. Our helicopters, named “Trauma Hawks,” are under the auspices of the Health Care District. Their website rightly brags about the system’s effectiveness:
- There are two air ambulances to cover the County’s 2,300 square miles. With a cruising speed of up to 178 miles per hour, the Sikorsky S76-C+ has proven itself to be a workhorse.
- Crew members are medical professionals with years of training and experience in the field, as well as in hospital critical care and trauma departments.
- The air medical team includes at least one commercial instrument-rated pilot, a Florida-licensed registered nurse who also is a state-certified paramedic, and an additional state-certified paramedic. The medical team members are Palm Beach County Fire Rescue personnel.
- Both helicopters can quickly be configured to handle two patients at the same time.
- Both helicopters carry medical supplies and equipment to perform advanced life support, including oxygen supply system, IV warmer, suction systems, patient monitoring devices, ventilator, and infusion systems.
The next time you look up and see one of these large, distinctive red, white and blue helicopters flying by, say a prayer for the trauma victim they are trying to save. And remember to give thanks to the brave personnel who make our wonderful trauma system work so well here in Palm Beach County.
Lesser, Lesser, Landy and Smith hopes you, your friends, and your family never need the services of the Trauma Hawk. That said, our firm is here to help if you ever need us following a major accident.