Medflight soars into the future
September 2, 2015
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  • The Virginia State Police (VPS) EMS Med-Flight program, was brainstormed by Chesterfield Fire and EMS Chief Bob Eanes (now retired) and former Governor Gerald Baliles. The helicopters, with a staff of brave pilots, paramedics and nurses have saved thousands of lives since its inception in 1984.

    The helicopter originally was based at Fire Station 14 on West Hundred Road, stored in the fire station bay. When dispatched to an emergency, it was wheeled out on a platform and was flown to the call for help.

    Today, the Med-Flight program is still going strong. Med-Flight is housed at the Chesterfield County Airport in the Virginia State Police Aviation Unit. Though over the years the crew members have changed, the mission and spirit of Med-Flight has remained the same.

    David Nichols is a retired Virginia State Trooper and pilot, he was one of the first pilots to navigate the rescue helicopter.

    “‘Big Jim’ Whitehurst [one of the original pilots] and I flew helicopters together for the Department [Virginia State Police] from July 1976, so when the EMS Med-Flight was initiated, we obviously were a part of the program, along with several new trooper-pilots that had come along with the inception of the aviation unit a year before in 1983. Before that, the Department had what was known as a pilot’s list, and troopers that happened to come along with flying experience were given a check-ride, and flew the department’s aircraft.”

    Later in the Med-Flight program paramedics were provided by Chesterfield Fire and EMS, Colonial Heights, Henrico and Goochland.

    Over the years the helicopter has responded to thousands of calls, but there always has to be a first call.

    “Our very first call on the very first shift was with Ben Garey (paramedic) and myself,” Nichols said. “ We were requested to transport a heart pump up to UVA, and on the way over to I-Lot to pick it up I asked Ben to give me some idea just what we’d be flying, and he said it was just a small box that would eventually be inserted in the chest of a patient, that would help manage the rhythm of the heart. Well, as we were landing, a truck, after backing up to the landing pad, had two guys pushing something that resembled a washing machine out and lowering it on a hydraulic lift. I looked at Ben and said I’d hate to see the guy that thing is going to be inserted into.He said, ‘ah it’s not exactly what I thought we were getting,’ We got it in the aircraft and got it to UVA.”

    By 2005 Medflight had responded to 8,200 calls for service.

    In 2011, the Medflight program purchased two new helicopters and underwent a color scheme change. Sgt. Shawn Rivard, a trooper-pilot and base commander for Med-Flight, said the two new helicopters that were purchased were American Eurocopter EC-145 helicopters. One for the Med-Flight Abingdon Base (Med-Flight II) and one for the Chesterfield base (Med-Flight I). The new color scheme has the VSP colors and the VSP patch. Rivard said that Lt. Colonel Stockton was the driving force behind the new color scheme. The new EC-145s are primarily medevac helicopters, but are also equipped with a hoist for rescue missions. They are completely Instrument Flight Rules capable, Rivard continued, meaning they can fly in the clouds.

    The EC-145 has a fully articulating hoist, medevac interior, fully IFR state-of-the-art cockpit with all glass panels and more room in the interior, explained Rivard. Two patients can be transported at the same time if needed. The EC-145 is fully night-vision goggles compatible, which its predecessor, the Bk-117 was not. The helicopter has a cruising airspeed of approximately 140 knots.

    The previous Med-Flight BK-117 helicopter was sold to Joplin, Missouri to replace their helicopter that was destroyed in a devastating tornado May 2011.

    More changes are on the horizon for Med-Flight.

    “Since the inception of Med-Flight, we have always flown with flight paramedics as the clinical staff,” Rivard said.  “We have had some flight paramedics who were also registered nurses but they did not serve in the capacity as a nurse while working at Med-Flight.

    “The industry standard of a medevac service is one flight nurse and one flight paramedic, a nurse has specialty training in the hospital setting, therefore making inter-facility transfers much easier and more beneficial to the patient.  A flight paramedic has specialty training in the pre-hospital setting, therefore making on-scene calls [crashes, farming incidents etc…] much easier and more beneficial to the patient.  With the combination flight nurse and flight paramedic on board the aircraft, we have the best of both worlds.”

    “Due to budgetary reasons,” Rivard explained, “Chesterfield Fire and EMS had decided to cut half of the staffing for the VSP Med-Flight I Program.  The decision was made by VSP executive staff to partner with VCU Hospital for the remaining clinical staff.  VCU Hospital has hired three flight nurses to be assigned to the Med-Flight I Program.  VCU is in the process of hiring a fourth nurse for the program.”

    In 2014 the total calls for the aircraft was 1,249 with 511 being Med-Flight and 738 police calls. In 2015, total calls from Jan 1-July 31 were 733 with 350 being Med-Flight and 383 were police calls.

    Through all the changes, challenges and constant requests for help, Med-Flight and its dedicated pilots, paramedics and nurses, answer the calls and continue to fly its heroic missions.