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Airlift training helps Redmond first responders practice and keep skills

Airlift Northwest pilot Art Godjikian shows first responders where a patient would be loaded into a helicopter to be transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
Airlift Northwest pilot Art Godjikian shows first responders where a patient would be loaded into a helicopter to be transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

If anyone was outside on Union Hill in Redmond Tuesday morning and happened to look up around 10 a.m., they probably would have seen an Airlift Northwest helicopter circling the area in search of a place to land.

But the first responders gathered on The Bear Creek School grounds were not awaiting the mechanical bird's arrival to transport a trauma patient to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The helicopter's presence in town was part of a training exercise for the Redmond Fire Department (RFD), Medic One and other area agencies.

Once the helicopter landed, pilot Art Godjikian (below) discussed what he needed in a landing zone and the things ground crews can do to help him before he arrives on the scene such as provide coordinates, information about wind direction, nearby wires, poles and signs as well as proper lighting at night.

Godjikian also discussed how quickly they can get to eastern King County.

"We can get here in 10 minutes," he said.

However, this is only if they are leaving from Boeing Field in Seattle.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE

In addition to Seattle, Airlift Northwest has helicopters in Bellingham, Arlington and Olympia that fly to wherever they are needed throughout western Washington. Patients are then flown to Harborview, a level-one trauma center. This is the highest rating for trauma centers and means the medical center always has operating rooms and physicians in all specialties on hand.

"(Harborview has) the staff and the equipment and they're there 24/7," said RFD Capt. Jim Jordan.

Jordan, who is in charge of a medical battalion, said they only call Airlift Northwest in dire situations when the patient is seriously injured. He added that since a helicopter could be flying from as close as Seattle or as far as Bellingham, they will look at different routes and traffic conditions to determine whether just driving from the Eastside to Seattle would be faster than waiting for a helicopter because time is of the essence in these cases.

"These people need to go quickly (to Harborview)," he said about trauma patients.

Because time is such a large factor in transporting patients to the medical center, Jordan said having ongoing training is important to help first responders practice and keep their skills.

He said in the past, the training sessions with Airlift Northwest has been done about every two years but he wants to try and increase it to once every year.

WORKING THROUGHOUT THE REGION

Airlift Northwest is a private company whose helicopter crews — one pilot, a pediatric nurse and an adult nurse — work with agencies throughout western Washington. In addition, the company has planes and crews that do similar work throughout the WAMI states: Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. All of the aircraft is owned by Airlift Northwest and the pilots are contracted through Air Methods in Colorado.

In addition to landing zone information from Godjikian, the nurses at the training session shared what they needed from ground crews in preparing patients for transport. Jaime Pritchard, an adult flight nurse with the company, said if everything goes right, they could have a patient ready to go in 10 minutes or less — their average time is about four minutes.

"I'd love it if it was three minutes. ... We want to get out of here, too," she said about working as quickly as possible to prepare patients to fly.

Emily Kuty, a pediatric nurse with Airlift Northwest, said once a patient is loaded into the helicopter, they continue to provide care until they arrive at Harborview. She said they have to rely on their nursing knowledge and training and learn to adapt to working in a more cramped space.

"It's critical for the patients' success," she said.

Kuty added that being a flight nurse doesn't require any extra schooling, but they learn a lot on the job.

"It's a lot more hands-on training," she said.

During Tuesday's training session, ground crews onsite got some hands-on training as well by strapping "patient" Redmond firefighter Taylor Hutton onto the stretcher and loading him into the helicopter (above).

Hutton said things are a bit snug initially going in, but once he was settled in, the area is quite open from a patient's perspective.

SERVING THE COMMUNITY

Jordan said training sessions aren't held in one designated area and additional training sessions have been held at the Bellevue Fire Training Center so agencies from Kirkland, Woodinville and Bellevue in addition to Redmond can attend whichever and where it is convenient for them.

For the training in Redmond, The Bear Creek School volunteered it grounds — which is next door to Redmond Fire Station 13.

"That's a great community service on their part," Jordan said about the school.

Kelly Saulsbury, director of building operations at Bear Creek, said they are grateful to have two critical sites on campus that can be used as landing zones for Airlift Northwest.

Karen Beman, vice president of enrollment, collegiate and alumni affairs for the school, added that partnerships between Bear Creek and the emergency responders is especially important because safety is such a high priority in a pre-K through 12 environment.

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