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It’s been 20 years since Cox Health in Springfield first took to the skies, transporting critically ill patients throughout the region via helicopter. In those two decades, the Cox Air Care program has conducted more than 15,000 flights and it remains accident-free. As it moves into its 21st year, the program continues in its pattern of safety by adding some new technology. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore visited the flight crew and has this report.
As the helicopter touches down on the Cox South helipad, the flight nurse and paramedic wait for the rotor to stop spinning before sliding open the door and rushing the patient into the Emergency Room.
On this particular day, they’re returning from the scene of a car accident in the small town of Crane, Missouri.
When the sun goes down tonight, the crew will take with them a new piece of equipment: night vision goggles that allow them to see in the dark almost as if it were daytime.
The flight program’s director, Susan Crum, says all members of the flight crew—which consists of a pilot, a nurse and a paramedic—now wear the goggles when flying to any destination in the dark.
“When we go into a landing site at night, you’re relying on someone on the ground—EMS, fire and rescue—to tell you what’s there. Are there power lines? Are there obstructions? What is the terrain like? So the goggles are going to give you an added safety feature what we’re better able to see at night what we wouldn’t have been able to see before,” she said.
Many of the helicopter’s flights are to rural areas, some of which are completely devoid of light once the sun sets. Flight paramedic Frank Perez and flight nurse Jim Lawrence take me out to the helicopter to show me the goggles. We climb inside and close the door.
Inside are a stretcher and three seats. On the walls are a heart monitor, a GPS computer, a radio, and hookups for oxygen. The pilot is separated from the rest of the passengers.
Flight nurse Jim Lawrence unzips a canvas bag and demonstrates how the night vision goggles click onto a helmet.
“Chin strap…These come down over your eyes…”
They look like the binoculars you’d see attached to the army helmets of US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. And actually, they’re the same ones used by the military. The night scope casts a green tint to everything.
Flight nurse Jim Lawrence says now that he's had them for a month, he's amazed that the crew ever flew without them at night.
When there’s a medical emergency, a specialist locates the scene, either by map or computer, then sends the GPS coordinates to the pilot.
Flight paramedic Frank Perez says he’s landed on many, many farms in his 20 years at Cox. He says on longer flights, like the hour-long trek to St. Louis, the helmets get a little heavy with the goggles attached, but overall, they’re a tremendous benefit to the program.
The Cox Air Care team is on call 24/7, and consists of four full-time flight nurses and four paramedics, as well as pilots, maintenance staff and safety officers.
The team averages between 500 and 600 flights per year.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.