Prepping for helicopters

Aerial help: The Salmon Arm Fire Department will train to assist in landings such as this one in April by the BC Ambulance Service Interior Air Ambulance. - Observer file photo
Aerial help: The Salmon Arm Fire Department will train to assist in landings such as this one in April by the BC Ambulance Service Interior Air Ambulance.
— image credit: Observer file photo

Salmon Arm’s fire department will be adding helicopter landing prep to its repertoire of emergency services.

At the request of Fire Chief Brad Shirley, council authorized the fire department to provide a helicopter landing zone service within the city’s boundary.

This service expansion comes with a $400 equipment cost (to be purchased within the department’s 2014 budget), as in-house training of department members.

“Ideally, we need five people to set up a landing zone, so the training that we would receive from our training officer in house deals with finding… a safe location to land a helicopter, put out some cones, have one person in charge with some baton-type items to bring the helicopter in to land,” Shirley explained. “Once the patient is put on the helicopter, we’d make sure it gets away safely.”

In a memo to council, Shirley estimates this service could be utilized up to eight times a year at any given location within the city. He explained that other emergency services typically do not have the resources or, in some cases, training, to safely prepare a scene for an emergency helicopter landing.

A case in point was an April incident where a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle west of town on the Trans-Canada Highway.

“That was one example where they were really struggling to find people to land a helicopter,” said Shirley. “As it was, we were there because of the vehicle accident anyway, but because we don’t have the training or council’s permission to provide that service… we ended up assisting. But the RCMP officer that actually did it was very unprepared, didn’t have the proper protective equipment on, eyeglasses on and things like that.”

In addition, Shirley said those who provide the air service appreciate having fire personnel on the scene during the landing in case there’s any trouble.

If firefighters aren’t already needed at an emergency scene where an air lift is required, Shirley estimated it would cost about $130 to provide the landing service, adding this could vary depending on location, time of day, etc.

Coun. Alan Harrison questioned if this represents more senior government downloading of financial responsibility, but Shirley said the emergency scene air lift is a fairly new service, adding helicopters used to land at the Jackson campus field near the hospital.


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