Suffolk gets most use

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 6, 2002

&uot;Nightingale&uot; air ambulance service could mean the difference between life and death at the scene of some traumatic incident. The time it takes to drive by ambulance to a special trauma center like Sentara Norfolk General Hospital from Suffolk’s could make a difference to a critically injured patient. A flight by Nightingale takes an average of 8 to 10 minutes

One surprising fact: Suffolk uses Nightingale more than any other area in Hampton Roads according to John Stanley, pilot.

&uot;That’s because there are 430 square miles and if you’ve got something that happens, say up by the Union Camp holding pond, and you have to send an ambulance way out there… well, you could lose your patient before your navigate all those roads,&uot; said Stanley. &uot;By Nightingale, we can transport them in about 8 to 10 minutes from anywhere in the city. In my opinion, Nightingale is a wonderful, lifesaving program.&uot;

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Stanley is the only second lead pilot in Nightingale’s 20-year history. He began his service in 1990 because he was in the right place at the right time. Stanley sat down long enough late Thursday evening to say that he has flown 219 missions to Suffolk in the past 19 months, or as he explained, Nightingale sits down somewhere in Suffolk an average of 10 times a month.

Prior to his service with Nightingale, Stanley flew helicopters for the U.S. Navy, flying the CH-46 Sea Knights for 11-years. He stills serves the nation through the Navy Reserves, where he is the Commanding Officer of Tactical Air Control Squad 2286.

At 46 years old, Stanley is still amazed at the medical missions he’s flown in Nightingale.

&uot;I’ve been flying in this area for so long that I know it very well and when we arrive quickly to help someone, it’s just such a great feeling,&uot; he said. &uot;I guess I’m most proud also of our safety record. We have been blessed with good fortune.&uot;

Stanley also described a recent airlift from South Mills, N.C., where they

were met by rescue personnel.

&uot;They knew what they were doing and it makes it much safer when their awareness level is up and focused,&uot; said the pilot.

&uot;We go out and do training and tell them how to set up safe landing areas and how to respond around the helicopter. This training is invaluable in their being able to maintain their safety. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the firefighters who set up the landing zones that get us there, to the scene safely, and that is crucial to getting our patient to a trauma center for immediate treatment.&uot;

On all Nightingale missions, the three-person flight crew consists of a certified pilot, flight nurse and a flight paramedic. Four pilots who man the controls of Nightingale during the around the clock shifts, are military trained with an average tenure of 11 years as Nightingale crew member.

Three different aircraft models have worn the name of Nightingale. The latest model is the German-made American Euro Copter BK-117.

The crew is a dedicated group of individuals with a great deal of experience among them. One of the nurses, Esther Danielson-Berger of Currituck, N.C., began flying the medical missions Feb. 25, 1982. She still vividly recalls the flight since it was her first on a helicopter.

&uot;It was also my first as far as working with Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance Service,&uot; said Danielson-Berger. &uot;That was on Aug. 8, after I was selected from among several other candidates for the position. They sought professional nurses with at least three years critical care background.&uot;

Danielson-Berger added she gained experience in critical care at Lee Memorial Hospital.

&uot;I was a little apprehensive at first because the air ambulance service was so new in the country,&uot; she said. &uot;Nightingale was the first hospital-based air ambulance service in the Commonwealth of Virginia.&uot;

The nurse said she flies with paramedics who are nationally registered, meaning they have a vast number of certifications as emergency medical technicians.

&uot;Nightingale first started with three pilots like helicopter air ambulances in the rest of the country,&uot; said the nurse. &uot;We were the first program in the country to go to four pilots, which greatly increased the safety of our program. Programs with only three pilots find that they are greatly overworked and that it could cut down on safety.&uot;

Danielson-Berger said Nightngale pilots, mechanics and the helicopter are all leased from Omni Flight, a Dallas, Texas, based vendor that also provides maintenance on the big blue bird.

The service began flying a Bell Long Ranger, which had only a single engine.

&uot;Two years later, we moved up to an American Euro Copter BO 105, which had twin engines, again greatly increasing our safety margin,&uot; said the nurse. &uot;Since we fly over so much water in our service area, if we were to lose power, we’d have a back-up engine. We had the second helicopter for 12-years, and then we began leasing the BK 117, which was a bit larger enabling us to have more complete access to the patient.&uot;

The BK 117 was leased from Omni Flight in 1996, and it helps the medical team provide services as far west as Charlottesville, and up to the National Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

&uot;If we go 125 miles out, we can return to the hospital without having to refuel and that’s crucial when you have a critically ill or injured patient,&uot; said Danielson-Berger.

The nurse also pointed out that the Nightingale pilots pay strict attention to weather conditions, a fact that has helped them maintain a perfect safety record.