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MEDSTAR helicopter begins training mission, visits SFRD

By Staff | Jul 20, 2011

Members of the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District inspect the Lee County EMS new MEDSTAR Bell 430 helicopter, which visited Fire Station #1 on Monday morning.

Just before 11 a.m. on Monday, there was a buzz about Sanibel Fire Station #1.

To be more precise, the buzz was actually coming from above the station, as the Lee County Lee County Emergency Medical Services’ new MEDSTAR helicopter visited the facility on Palm Ridge Road briefly during it’s inaugural training mission.

“Today we’re giving a general overview of the aircraft, and showing how emergency crews are going to load their patients onto the helicopter,” said Lee County EMS department chief Warren Panem after the 2002 Bell 430 helicopter landed behind the station. “We’re going to give them a more detailed briefing in the next few weeks.”

Based at Page Field in Fort Myers, MEDSTAR made several stops en route to Sanibel — including Captiva — to show off their latest air rescue vehicle. The previous MEDSTAR aircraft, an EC 145 helicopter, crashed into the Gulf of Mexico while responding to an incident on Upper Captiva Island in August 2009. It was not able to be salvaged.

At the time of the incident, it was reported that all three MEDSTAR 1 crew members — pilot Diana Tackett and paramedics Dave Duncan and Jason Ausman — were rescued from the Intracoastal Waterway safely and without serious injury. The crew had been responding to an emergency call on Captiva.

The MEDSTAR helicopter approached Fire Station #1 from the north.

Paramedic Tim Waters called the new MEDSTAR, identified by tail number N430LC, “a lot beefier” than the previous aircraft.

“After we left Page Field, we were cruising at 165 mph,” he noted. “That’s about 40 mph faster than the last helicopter.”

Waters and fellow paramedic Kevin Geren showed the Sanibel Fire & Rescue crew members how to properly load a patient onto the new helicopter. Unlike the last MEDSTAR aircraft, which loaded from the rear, the new vehicle can be loaded from either side.

“You want to approach the aircraft from a 90 degree angle,” said Geren. “Once the patient has been brought onboard, you want to leave along the same path…. and you don’t want to come back once you’ve cleared the rim (rotor blades). That’s a safety issue.”

Geren also pointed out that the angle of the blades is tilted slightly forward, resulting in the blades being lower to the ground at the front of the aircraft.

The helicopter, painted with an orange and blue striped pattern, is expected to be put into service next month.

Danny Duncan, chief of the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District, was very impressed with the upgraded MEDSTAR vehicle.

“We probably use it as much as anybody else in the county during season,” said Duncan. “This will get patients to medical care faster so we can put our ambulance right back into service.”

SFRD Training Officer Tim Barrett agreed.

“It’s a better ship… faster and safer,” he said. “And you can fit two patients at one time if you need to.”

Pilot Rob Fulton explained that with the addition of a new weather-tracking unit at Sanibel’s mosquito control pad, MEDSTAR will be able to service the islands even during inclement weather.

Sanibel firefighters and EMS medics demonstrate how to load a patient onto the MEDSTAR helicopter.

“Our pilots are totally comfortable with the mechanics right now, and we are working with the paramedics to determine where their equipment should go,” added Panem, noting that MEDSTAR hopes to be fully operational by early August. “As soon as we have everything down pat from a safety perspective, we can add patients to the mix.”

Paramedic Kevin Geren shared some of the new MEDSTAR protocols with Sanibel's personnel.