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Maryland State Police helicopter crews ready for rapid rescue

August 02, 2008|By JOSH SHAW

FREDERICK, Md. -- Trooper Gregg Lantz had just finished scarfing down his fast-food lunch in anticipation of receiving a call when word came that a worker had been injured at a manufacturing plant in Buckeystown, Md.

Moments later, Lantz, a paramedic for Maryland State Police, and helicopter pilot Matthew Wagner took off in Trooper 3, a Eurocopter Dauphin N3 helicopter based at Frederick Municipal Airport, and were on their way to the scene of the accident.

The flight took no more than seven minutes, and once Wagner found a landing spot, Lantz gathered his equipment and headed into the plant.

Inside, he found a man whose leg had been crushed by an 1,800-pound steel beam.

The man quickly was transferred from one backboard to another, and Lantz helped put the man into the back of the helicopter. Then, Wagner lifted off and headed for Washington County Hospital as Lantz attended to the man in the back.

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For members of the Maryland State Police Aviation Command, the transition from filling out payroll sheets and eating lunch to flying to accidents and looking for missing people must be instantaneous because in some cases, every second can count.

To help ensure that is the case, there is at least one pilot and one paramedic on duty at the airport in Frederick for each 12-hour shift.

Lantz, 29, has been a paramedic with the state police for three years, while Wagner has been flying helicopters for 18 years, seven with the state police.

So far this year, Trooper 3 had flown on more than 300 missions as of July 28, including four during the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift worked by Lantz on that day.

Depending on the day of the week, the time of day or the season, the number of missions each medevac helicopter handles can vary.

Rush hour is busy because there are more cars on the road, and the summer and weekends are busier because people are outside boating, hiking and traveling greater distances, said 1st Sgt. Charlie Eisele, the Southern Region supervisor, who spoke by phone from Aviation Command Headquarters in Baltimore. He said a typical mission to save a life involves a male between the ages of 18 and 28 who is in good shape and is outdoors.

The shift starts with both the paramedic and the pilot performing preflight examinations of their equipment and the helicopter. Since all but one of the helicopters are more than 13 years old, maintenance checks are important for safety, said Sgt. Joe George, who oversees the Western Region, which includes Trooper 3 in Frederick and Trooper 5 in Cumberland, Md.

The paramedic and the pilot then meet to talk about weather conditions, equipment problems and anything else they might need to discuss.

Trooper 3 has its own hangar with an office just off to the left, where the state troopers can do work and monitor police scanners.

There are eight state police helicopter bases across Maryland, all of which are controlled by a centralized communications system -- Syscom -- that has a duty officer who is in charge of the fleet.

All calls for state police aviation support go through Syscom. When a call comes in, the duty officer dispatches a helicopter based on location and other factors.

On the fly

At about 9:30 a.m. on July 28, Trooper 3 received a call to pick up two K-9 police dogs and their handlers and take them to Easton, Md., where multiple bomb threats had been made.

But shortly after Trooper 3 picked up the dogs, the mission was called off and Lantz and Wagner returned to Frederick.

Shortly after grabbing a takeout lunch from a fast-food restaurant about 12:15 p.m., Lantz heard on the police scanner about the plant accident in Buckeystown.

Lantz suspected Trooper 3 would get called out for that one.

He quickly finished his lunch just in case he was right. Moments after he polished off his last taco, the call came from Syscom.

Wagner, the pilot, got into the cockpit of the helicopter, while Lantz pulled it out of the hangar using a gas-powered tow cart. Within five minutes they were in the air, flying to the site of the accident.

Since it is extremely noisy inside a helicopter, the pilot and paramedic use headphones to communicate with each other as well as with the medics at the scene of the accident, Syscom and hospital staff.

Wagner circled the plant first to find the best place to land, and seven minutes after going airborne, the helicopter landed.

Lantz was briefed on the situation in the air, learning that a steel beam weighing nearly a ton had fallen on a man who was working at the plant.

When Lantz arrived at the scene, police officers, firefighters and medics who already were on the scene had braced the man's leg and ankles and placed him on a backboard.

The man was conscious and breathing on his own, and the medics determined that Washington County Hospital was the appropriate place to take him.

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