If you live in a rural area and don’t have access to a hospital, what do you do in a medical emergency? That’s where Life Flight comes in. Life Flight and other organizations like it use helicopters to whisk passengers in hard-to-reach areas over mountains and bodies of water that would take cars hours to travel, in a matter of minutes. On top of that, the helos are equipped with life-saving equipment to keep a patient stable during the trip. Meet a pilot and a nurse for Life Flight in today’s episode to learn more about how aviation provides a vital link between people and the health care they need.
Want to see Life Flight in action? Check out this video we did with them about their operation!
Life Flight isn’t the only health care organization in the air. The folks from the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital have also joined us on the podcast to talk about their organization. Listen at this link!
Transcript after the jump.
SEAN MOBLEY: The Flight Deck is made possible by listeners like you. Thank you to the donors who sustain the Museum of Flight. To support this podcast and the museum’s other educational initiatives, visit www.museumofflight.org/podcast.
Hello and welcome to The Flight Deck, the podcast of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. I’m your host, Sean Mobley. In this season two of The Flight Deck, we’re taking a behind the scenes look at Curator on the Loose, which is the Museum of Flight’s web series featuring our Senior Curator Matthew Burchette who goes out into the aviation world and brings viewers places they normally wouldn’t be able to go. We’ve been spending this season of the podcast going back into interviews from the TV series that were either condensed for time or completely cut from the show, because we just didn’t have time to include them in the TV episodes. But we want to share them with you, so here we are today.
Now this episode is particularly special because both of the interviews I have for you today did not appear on the show. These were interviews that were conducted with Life Flight, which is a medevac helicopter service that serves people across our region. There’s a lot of water here in Washington State, a lot of mountains too. Can’t really drive in a straight line to get places too much here in Washington because of all that water and all those mountains, and so helicopters can much more efficiently, much more quickly get people who might live in more rural parts of the state to hospitals and medical centers. The two interviews today were taken actually before we started filming with Life Flight. In the TV series episode, we went on a training day, we went to one of their bases. But on this particular day, Life Flight actually came to us. They were attending some sort of conference at the museum. Outside groups will rent parts of our space for conferences, and that’s why Life Flight was here. And so they flew in a helicopter for that conference, and they were kind enough to give us some interviews. So, the interviews you’re going to hear today, again, never before heard. They’re with one of the pilots and one of the flight nurses for Life Flight. Now a heads up, it was raining on this day, and this was also recorded outside on the airport here right in front of the Museum of Flight King Count International Airport Boeing Field. So, you’re going to hear some rain pitter patter, which is nice and relaxing, and you might also hear some background noise because there were other people around, and it is an active airfield. So, there’s some background noise I did my best to get rid of as much as I could, but just a heads up.
And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Matthew Burchette for the interviews.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Okay. We are in a Bell-429 Life Flight helicopter, and I am with Rick. You are one of the pilots. Tell us a little bit about this bird.
RICK (PILOT): Well, like you were saying, this is the Bell-429. It’s built back in 2000, so it’s fairly new. It’s super fast, super quiet, super-efficient, and all the pilots love it, the crews love it in the back. It’s pretty spacious, and we can fire this thing up and off the ground in less than three minutes. We can shut down, have the rotor stop turning within two minutes so the crew can jump out, and load and unload the patient in a very efficient manner. So far, we all love this aircraft.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That is very cool. Now, when you say you can stop the rotor from turning, do you guys have a rotor break?
RICK (PILOT): Yes, we do. So, we shut the engines down. We let it coast down to a certain RPM, and then we can reach above our head, pull the lever, and it will actually put breaks on the rotor system to stop it.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That’s very cool. It’s like my old bicycle. So, how long have you been flying with Life Flight?
RICK (PILOT): I’ve been flying with Life Flight since October of last year. I’m one of the new guys.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Nice. Do you like it?
RICK (PILOT): So far, it’s totally different than what I’ve been doing, and it’s great, because I get to get out and help the community throughout the Pacific Northwest and help save lives. When people have a bad day, they call us, and hopefully we’re there to make their day much better.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: This is the only time I really want to be in a Life Flight helicopter; while I’m perfectly healthy.
RICK (PILOT): Yeah. If you call us, you’re probably having a bad day, and we try to make it as efficient and quick and safe as possible. Our crews, I can hear them in the back here talking to the patients, if they are coherent, and they’re trying to make them as comfortable as possible, because a lot of times it’s their first time in a helicopter and they’re already having a bad day, and they’re already scared, and anxious, and they get in a helicopter, and that just adds to it. And so far, knock on wood, I haven’t had anybody get sick in the back, and the crews love it, and so do the patients.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Now, what can you do when you’re back here? I mean, what kind of things can you handle back here?
RICK (PILOT): Well, I’m up in the front. I’ve got my medical crews in the back, so I can’t do much except help load and unload the patient once we land. But up front, that’s my office and I try to get us to point A to B as quickly and as efficiently and safe as possible.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: How long have you been flying?
RICK (PILOT): I started back in 1989. I’m one of the old farts.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: You and I are about the same age, but we won’t go there. Thanks, Rick. This has been awesome. You know what? I think what we’re going to do is maybe we’ll interview one of the crew back here, and we can talk about what the capabilities back here are, because that’s kind of where the whole thing is, is it’s kind of like a flying ambulance.
RICK (PILOT): Well, yeah. It’s actually even better than an ambulance. These guys have a lot more equipment, capabilities, and they have bags of goodies stashed throughout the helicopter, so they’re pros back here.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That’s awesome. Thanks, Rick. We appreciate it.
Okay. We are back here with Andrew who’s a flight nurse with Life Flight Network. So, tell us a little bit about Life Flight. I mean, what do you guys do?
ANDREW (NURSE): Our job is to safely, rapidly transport any patients that we have from point A to point B.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Okay. Now, would it be safe to say you guys are like a flying ambulance?
ANDREW (NURSE): We are. We’re actually more advanced than that, I like to think. We’re a flying ICU/emergency room almost.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That is really cool. That’s way more expansive than I would have thought.
ANDREW (NURSE): It is. And our capabilities are pretty impressive with the advancements we have as far as ventilators and other technology goes.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Tell us a little bit about what your job entails.
ANDREW (NURSE): So, our job entails being a flight nurse. We’ll get patients either from a scene call, which would be where EMS or we can be the first ones on scene to get a patient that’s a trauma, for example, from a vehicle accident or could be having a heart attack that’s out in the woods. Other calls that we’ll be involved in are what we call interfacility transports where we will take them from a smaller hospital, for example, to a larger hospital where they can get more definitive care if they need to see a specialist, a heart surgeon, you name it. So those are the predominant amount of calls that we’re involved in as a flight nurse.
I work with the flight paramedic as well who are really a great asset, especially when we have them on a lot of the scene calls as that’s more of what their training entails. So, we have a flight nurse, myself, and then a flight medic, and it’s really a complimentary group of people that we have coming together to take care of our patients.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: What’s the difference between a flight nurse and a flight paramedic?
ANDREW (NURSE): So, the flight paramedics, they have specialized training as far as the paramedic goes; where they have to take a test certification, it includes learning a lot about the flight environment, how altitude can affect patients. Those are just some of the small examples of how the flight paramedic – and like I say, with the flight paramedic, they really have good training as far as it goes with scene calls, things in the backwoods, more so where the nurse has the training for hospital environment. Not that we don’t get that training, but it really works out to be a good, like I said, complimentary group of people together that can do more concise care.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: What kind of things can you handle in the helicopter while you’re in flight? Is there something that you just can’t do other than, of course, surgery?
ANDREW (NURSE): We will not take a combative patient, just for safety reasons for us; for the flight crew. What we can do is always work around that and give some medication if needed for some of those patients that may be confused and combative to help bring the situation down. Those are really primarily the only ones that we won’t take. We won’t hazardous waste patients, for example. They’ll have to be decontaminated first prior to us flying them.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Now, can you guys do like intubations and all that kind of stuff?
ANDREW (NURSE): Yeah, we’ll do intubations, we’ll do chest tubes, we can give blood enroute, we’ll do needle decompression we call it first. We will intubate. We have a ventilator that will do the work for us instead of having to bag that patient.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Wow. That’s amazing. Now, how long have you been flying with Life Flight?
ANDREW (NURSE): I’ve been flying for a little over three years now. Three-plus years. Best job I’ve ever had. I’m pretty fortunate in that I look forward to going to work every day.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Oh, yeah. Me too. It’s awesome. Now, question. What is the hairiest thing you have seen?
ANDREW (NURSE): That’s a tough one. Because sometimes it can be that simple looking patient that will fool you, and next thing you know their vital signs may be dropping. And so to me, those are the hairiest patients. Some of us, it maybe that OB patient. It differs for everyone, being the obstetrical emergency, because you never want to have a baby in the back of this. We have pretty strict criteria for those that we will fly. For example, how dilated and some of those other parameters.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Okay, let me put it this way. What is the hairiest place you’ve flown into?
ANDREW (NURSE): Into a backlogging road with snow coming up from the rotor wash, but I kind of thought it was fun.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Spoken like a true pilot. That’s awesome. That is very cool. We appreciate your time. Thank you so much. How cool is that?
SEAN MOBLEY: Thank you for tuning into this episode of The Flight Deck, the podcast of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. If this was interesting to you, you should definitely check out the TV series version of this. Our curator actually got to participate in one of their exercises. We talked to some other pretty cool people. You can find it either by going to YouTube and just searching for the Museum of Flight. You can find it that way, or I’ll also include a direct link to the episode on our show notes for this episode, which you can find at www.museumofflight.org/podcast.
If you like what you heard, please rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcast or wherever you downloaded us from. You can also support our work with a donation. Head to www.museumofflight.org/podcast and click the yellow donate button. You can contact the show at firstname.lastname@example.org. And until next time, this is your host, Sean Mobley saying to everyone out there on that good earth, we’ll see you out there, folks.