Paramedic saves lives from the air

July 15, 2002|by CAILIN MCGOUGH

Editors note: This is the fourth in a weekly series spotlighting local heroes who work to give comfort to victims of tragedy, and save lives and property.

Before he became a helicopter pilot and paramedic for the Maryland State Police Aviation Division, Donald Lehman worked as a dairy farmer in Leitersburg.

The fire hall was only a mile away.

"My uncle was the assistant fire chief there. He wanted me to be a fire truck driver because I was available during the day," said Lehman, 41, of Hagerstown.

Once he got his EMT certification, he found that he liked working on people better than he liked putting out fires, he said.


Lehman became a volunteer paramedic in 1986, later working full time at Community Rescue Service in Hagerstown before deciding he wanted to fly. He obtained a pilot's license, applied to the state police as a trooper and worked the road for only a few months before he was pulled into the aviation division, he said.

A Maryland State Trooper in the Aviation Division for seven years, Lehman also oversees five paramedics and five pilots as a section supervisor with the state police in Frederick, Md.

"As a kid, in my wildest dreams I never would have imagined I'd be doing this," he said. "But here I am."

Recently honored with the Trauma Director's Award at the first EMS Awards banquet, Lehman said the award was particularly special because it came from Dr. Mark Kross, director of the Washington County Trauma Center.

Since the closure of Washington County Hospital's trauma center in June, the workload has increased, Lehman said.

"Over half of our medevacs in June have been out of Washington County, and almost all would have been driven to the trauma center. We wouldn't have flown at all," Lehman said.

Eighty percent of missions are medevac, while the remainder are law enforcement and search and rescue, Lehman said.

The medevac service, provided free to Maryland citizens, is funded by an $11 fee for license plate re-registration.

No other system in the world has that, Lehman said.

"No matter where you are in this state, I can get to you in 18 minutes," he said. "And once I pick you up, I can get you to a hospital in 18 minutes."

Because he often sees the worst of the worst, Lehman said he keeps his paramedic experience well-rounded by volunteering at Community Rescue Service on days he is not working a 12-hour shift at the helicopter base in Frederick.

He also spends time off with his wife and two children, he said.

In addition, Lehman teaches basic trauma life support in the paramedic degree program at Hagerstown Community College and pediatric advanced life support to doctors and nurses at the University of Maryland Hospital.

The class addresses emergency assessment of patients and gives an overview of what paramedics do.

"When I step in the back of an ambulance, we have to collaborate with the crew that's already there and lead the treatment of the patient in the way it needs to go, yet do it with the spirit of teamwork," he explained.

Finding that balance can be a challenge, but a worthwhile one, Lehman said.

"There's no greater reward than going home at night knowing someone is alive because you were there," he said.

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