Rural Volunteer Fire Departments frequently encounter requirements for emergency medical transport to larger trauma or specialized treatment hospitals, generally by air ambulance. Examples of this include major trauma from vehicle accidents, head or spinal injuries, stroke, heart attack, and many other conditions.
“As the volunteer fire department on the scene, we are tasked with establishing a safe landing zone for the air ambulance to land in for immediate flight to a facility capable of providing the patient treatment required,” said John Gantt, President of 287 Richland/Chambers Fire and Rescue.
“Frequently we find that there is insufficient light, uneven or wet ground, tall grass or brush, or insufficient clear space for a landing at the scene so we must shut down a highway to provide the area necessary to safely land a helicopter,” Gantt said. “This presents its own dangers as it subjects the helicopter to a vehicle driver who does not stop when we close the roadway. In addition, each landing area is an unknown to the helicopter pilot responding.”
“Since our station is located right on US 287, we normally land the air ambulance in a field adjacent to our fire station as this is a location the pilots are familiar with. However, frequently this area is not usable due to insufficient light and muddy ground that we can’t land on. There are also power lines along one side that are difficult to see at night. All of this can make using the area difficult, particularly at night. Additionally, it is hard to move the stretcher from the ambulance in front of the station across the rough ground to the helicopter in the field.”
The volunteer fire department was looking for a positive project during the pandemic when they discovered Navarro County Electric Cooperative’s Operation Round Up Program. The department submitted a grant request that was approved to improve the area used to land the helicopter and eliminate the major operational challenges.
After consulting with the local air ambulance company, PHI Air Medical, the department designed a designated landing zone at the station to include a 20 foot square concrete pad and a 100 foot concrete walkway from the fire station to the pad. Adding lights around the pad, on the walkway, and in the general area made it easy to land the helicopter at night and to move the patient from an ambulance to the helicopter.
“This is an area that can be used by all the surrounding fire departments and Corsicana Fire Rescue ambulances as it will be a location familiar to the helicopter pilots and is usable day or night, even with wet or muddy ground,” said Bruce Speak, Fire Chief. “It is a safe area and easily accessible by both ground and air ambulances.”
“As a community-based air ambulance service that frequently serves the area, we were excited about the enhanced safety and new capabilities the helipad provides for the entire community. And we were happy to donate a windsock to the department for use at the new pad,” said Snapper Pierce, base manager of the PHI Air Medical Corsicana base.
“We provided the design and the labor to construct the LZ,” said Assistant Fire Chief Dwight Larson. “But, without the funding from Operation Round Up and the help of Navarro County Electric Coop, we wouldn’t have been able to add this capability to the area. We really appreciate the support from both the Coop and PHI as our community partners.”