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Volunteers get a lesson in helicopter rescues

April 26, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - Maryland State Police "Trooper 3" swooped down on Williamsport High School Saturday afternoon, punctuating a presentation of the dos and don'ts of helicopter rescue missions.

Trooper Donnie Lehman, a Maryland State Police medic, delivered a slide show to about 25 people. His talk ranged from how rescue workers on the ground can assist helicopter pilots to how rescuers should decide whether to call for a chopper in the first place.

Dave Hays, a volunteer with the Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Service, said the information was a refresher for veteran members but brand-new to more recent volunteers.

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"Our station, alone, has a lot of new volunteers that have never seen the helicopter," he said.

Missi Liewellyn said she had seen the helicopter at air shows, but never up close. While she had learned much of the information in training classes, she said the visual demonstration helped her connect the abstract concepts with real life.

"I've never seen it this close," said Liewellyn, 21. "I've never heard a presentation like that and it was very helpful deciding when to call (for a helicopter)."

On that score, Lehman said it is always better to call for a helicopter and then cancel than to guess wrong in the other direction.

The other top rule is to use caution around the machine. Its tail rotor, for instance, spins at a rate of 3,500 rpm - enough force to knock over a 12-year-old child at 14 feet away, Lehman said. On the other side of the helicopter, Lehman said the tail rotor can suck away caps, stethoscopes and other loose items.

After the call has been made, Lehman said it is vitally important for rescue workers to clear a 100-by-100 foot space and make sure there is no debris. They should also inform the pilot about uneven ground, nearby telephone wires and other potential obstructions, he added.

"It's the little things that waste time," he said. "The helicopter is a tool, and any tool is only useful if it's used properly."

Lehman also said it is important for the ground crew to be alert when the helicopter is landing. He recalled one instance when the chopper was landing without its landing gear and scraped the bottom.

"It you see us landing and we don't have wheels, please tell us," he said. "We have to have our landing gear down or we're in a whole heap of trouble."

Williamsport volunteer Amy Bradley, 19, said she was struck by how small the helicopter is.

"You can hardly fit a patient in, let alone a provider," she said. "But it was really neat."

Williamsport volunteer Michael Lida, who organized the program, said he was happy with the presentation but disappointed with the turnout.

The schedule of events also included presentations by the state fire marshal's office, the Washington County Sheriff's Department and a stress management session by a Washington County Hospital nurse.

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