Securing A Safe Landing Zone For Medical Helicopters


OKTIBBEHA COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI)- When working the scene of an accident, if injuries are critical, first responders will often call in a medical helicopter to airlift a patient to the hospital.

Calling the chopper is just the first step of the process.

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Oktibbeha County Fire Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said there’s a lot that goes into setting up a safe landing zone.

“What we will do is make sure the area is secure, and in some cases get a number of floodlights or automobiles that will circle the landing location,” said Rosenhan.

From the moment the call is dispatched, fire crews have only a few minutes to begin creating a clear landing zone.

There are times when the scene is near a fire station, allowing pilots to land on helicopter pads like the one at the Maben Volunteer Fire Department.

“The landing zone has to be a 30 x 30 helipad and it has to be at least three to four inches thick of concrete in order to hold the weight of the helicopter,” said Wayne Yeatman, Fire Chief at the Maben Volunteer Fire Department.

Then there are times when the scene is off in a field or on highway, too far from a helipad.

Chief Yearman said these instances present problems for fire crews because there are a lot of things that can be hazardous.

“We have to make sure it’s safe for them to land and make sure there are no power lines, no trees, no debris where they’re getting ready to land at such as a loose gravel, paper, or anything,” said Chief Yeatman.

“If we’re on a four-lane, which we are a number of times, we’re very careful about overhead wires and shutting down traffic both ways for a period of time,” said Rosenhan.

Rosenhan said they have to work efficiently and effectively in these situations to ensure everything goes according to plan.

“It’s an interesting service,” said Rosenhan. “We have to watch the weather, we’ve got to watch safety, we’ve got a watch all sorts of things, but we train for this at every opportunity.”

If a scene isn’t clear, Chief Yeatman said debris can get caught in the helicopter blade causing significant damage.

In those situations, pilots won’t be able to fly the patient to the hospital, instead they will have to be taken by an ambulance.