Utah Air Guardsman rides along with AirMed

  • Published
  • By Maj. Krista DeAngelis
  • 151st ARW/PA
The sun peeks over the horizon as Staff Sgt. Alan Reynolds prepares for his briefing inside the University of Utah hospital. It may be an early morning, but for the AirMed medics and aircrew that he is sitting with, it's just another day on the job.

Sergeant Reynolds, a member of the 151st Medical Group, Utah Air National Guard, is about to have the unique opportunity to ride along on an AirMed "air ambulance" mission to observe how specialized medical personnel perform critical-care patient transports. On any given day, members of the AirMed may be taken to the top of a ski resort's mountain peak or to the scene of a severe Utah traffic accident. Not knowing if their next patient will live or die, this special medical team has to prepare for any emergency.

As Sergeant Reynolds settles into the briefing room, the crew goes over flight procedures, safety issues and other flight information in preparation for the day's mission.

"The purpose of the training is to give me some hands-on experience in a real aeromedical evacuation situation," he explains. "It's really exciting, with plenty of adrenaline."

After the crew pre-flights the Bell 430 AirMed helicopter and loads the equipment, the chopper takes the team to the Utah cities of Vernal and Tooele on two touch-and-go patient pick-ups. During the trips, Sergeant Reynolds is not only allowed to ride along, but was able to participate in parts of the mission.

"During the mission I learned how to load patients onto the helicopter and observed how the helicopter is set up," he said. "I was really impressed with the professionalism of the crew."

The University of Utah AirMed ride-along program was established as an orientation for people like Sergeant Reynolds to observe what happens when aircrews pick up and transport critical patients. The program focuses on third-year medical residents, firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics throughout the Salt Lake valley. Several months ago, the 151st MG coordinated a special training opportunity with AirMed that allows their Air Guard medics to ride along and participate on some of these emergency flights.

"I believe it's important for my medics to see these types of traumatic situations," said Senior Master Sgt. Merlin Tomshack, 151st MG health systems specialist. "Particularly because of homeland defense, and if something was to ever happen here...my medics would be out providing support on some level and will be engaged with AirMed. It's a great opportunity for us to get to know them and close the gap between civilian homeland defense and the military."

Utah's AirMed unit is one of the oldest in the country, and is based at the University of Utah hospital. In 30+ years of existence, AirMed has grown into a well-known air medical transport service that currently utilizes a combination of four rotor- and two fixed-wing aircraft from six locations throughout the state to transport approximately 2,500 patients per year. The AirMed and Air Guard program grew out of discussions with Sergeant Tomshack and Doug Morgan, the AirMed coordinator.

"I was approached by Merlin at an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) conference a while back regarding training for his medics," said Morgan. "We were happy to accommodate that request and I believe it was helpful to the Air Guard medics. It's always beneficial for us to work with other agencies, and it makes us better providers in the long run."

Sergeant Reynolds echoed that sentiment explaining, "I think joint training is important. It gives us a chance to see how other agencies operate and improves our own knowledge and skills."

And at the end of the day, Sergeant Reynolds was not only able to improve his skills, but was able to witness success as both transport patients were delivered safely to the University of Utah hospital to receive the medical attention they required.

"It was a great experience for me to ride along with AirMed," he said. "I really appreciate their willingness to let me be a part of their team for a day."

The Air Guard and AirMed ride-along program is currently ongoing. Approximately 19 medics from the 151st MG will be given the opportunity to observe and participate in this specialized medical mission.