A LifeTeam helicopter and crew came to Pratt to teach first responders how to set up a helicopter landing zone.
When lives are on the line, seconds count. A medical helicopter can land close to an accident site and transport them to a hospital in about half the time it would take for a ground transfer.
Setting up a safe, on- site landing zone is critical to getting the helicopter in and out as quickly as possible.
About two dozen first responders from various agencies took part in a landing zone exercise on Aug. 4 in an open area north of Walmart on land owned by Dale Withers who also provided the building for the exercise.
Leading the exercise was former Pratt resident Eric Buck, a flight paramedic for LifeTeam. The helicopter used for the exercise came out of Garden City.
Buck presented an in- formation session workshop then everyone moved outside for a live landing zone exercise.
An accident site looks much different to the helicopter pilot than to the first responders on the ground. The pilot needs to know about all potential issues such as power lines, transmission towers, buildings, trees, roads, weather conditions (especially wind), ground conditions (level, dry or wet, any loose elements) and anything the first responders can report that could be a potential hazard, Buck said.
To help see any potential dangers, responders should hold their arm up at a 45 degree angle and make a 360 degree turn and report anything they see, said helicopter pilot Emily Sanders.
For the exercise, four responders were placed at the corners of the landing area that needs to be at least 100 feet by 100 feet square. A zone 100 feet by 150 Feet is better and a zone 200 feet by 200 feet is even better.
Some lights were placed in the LZ but Sanders, who has been a pilot for 12 years, was having difficulty seeing them so safety cones were used at the corners. But helicopters create a lot of wind when they land and the cones could be a hazard, Sanders said.
Anything that is loose in the landing zone could get picked up and become a hazard. Ball caps should not be worn because they can blow off. Fresh snow, gravel, dirt and even cut grass can be a problem with visibility.
“If we can see something that may be a problem, we’ll abort,” Sanders said. “But what about the things we can’t see.”
So the four responders put on yellow reflector safety vests and that did the trick. Before landing, the pilot flies around the area in “high recon” to acquaint herself with any hazards. The pilot also looks for an alternative landing site during the re- con. Only when the pilot is 100 percent satisfied with the area will the landing take place, Sanders said.
Emergency vehicles can be parked under power lines. Helicopters never land on vehicles so putting them under a power line is very efficient.
At night, lights should be facing the wind so when the helicopter, it can land into the wind and the lights won’t blind the pilot.
If the landing zone is on a highway, all lanes of traffic have to be shut down. It’s a hassle for motorists but its the safest for the helicopter.
After the helicopter had landed and the engines were shut off and the blades had stopped spinning, the first responders were invited to come take a close up look. Sanders warned everyone to stay away from the tail rotor area because it is very dangerous. When the tail rotor is spinning, it becomes almost invisible. Buck said the tail rotor doesn’t hurt you, it doesn’t knock you down, it kills you.
For that reason, a member of the crew, paramedic Christopher Wesley at this training session, stands at the end of the landing skid closest to the rotor even when the helicopter engine is shut off. That crew members job is to keep everyone away either by warning them verbally or tackling them if necessary, Sanders said.
At the scene, they usually keep the motor running and try to be on the ground no longer than 10 minutes.
Anyone who approaches the helicopter should do it from the front so the pilot can see them. When patients are placed in the helicopter, they approach from the front or side but never from the rear. And they leave the same way to avoid the tail rotor.
Weather is a critical factor for helicopters. If weather conditions are not favorable, the helicopter will not fly. Temperature is a factor. The cooler the weather, the better the helicopter can fly. Storms and fog will prevent flying.