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Helicopter emergency crew achieves the pinnacle of rapid response and care
For the past 14 years, Air Evac Flight Nurse David Stotz has refined his medical skills, along with a highly-trained team of paramedics, nurses, medics and mechanics.
“Most of us look at ourselves as humble – not something special,” said Stotz, a Cedar Park resident who launches from Marble Falls Air Evac 49 (AE49). “We're out here doing a job that thousands of people around the world do every day.
“The training is pretty intense. When you're newly-hired, a lot of it is self-structured, where you are completing it on line, then there's face-to-face training with an instructor who works with you,” he added. “Then here at the base, you get one-one-one training with your preceptor – either a nurse or a paramedic.”
The medical emergency helicopter facility is located behind the Marble Falls Fire Rescue fire hall, 700 Avenue N.
“Air Evac came to Marble Falls after speaking with local officials, EMS personnel and hospital personnel to determine if they felt there was a need for us and would utilize us for their patients,” said Air Evac 49 Program Director Terri Thompson, who has worked at the base for 13 years.
“We opened in September of 2001,” she added. “In fact, our helipad was being poured on September 11, 2001, the day the world changed and none of us would be the same.”
The current crew is comprised of four pilots, four flight nurses, four flight medics, a helicopter mechanic, a membership manager and the program director.
“Our team at AE49 is very strong and are family to each other. We have transported over 6,000 patients from this local area and are so grateful that we are allowed to help care for our community,” Thompson said. “In addition, our strong membership program means our members who are flown for a life- or limb-threatening medical emergency will have no out-of-pocket expenses if flown by an AirMedCare Network participating provider. Whatever their insurance pays is considered payment in full.”
To guarantee top-notch care, the facility prides itself in attracting stellar, well-trained and committed personnel.
“We have an incredible team of highly-skilled and extremely motivated individuals who take their job very seriously but who are also very humble and consider themselves just a part of the chain that makes things happen for each patient,” Thompson said. “Every single link in this chain matters, and we are lucky and humbled to be a part of it.”
Stotz explained that the “links in the chain” not only include the company's crew, but several area entities throughout the region.
“We work other (first responders) all the time. We get out once a year and do landing zone classes with all the local fire departments,” he said. “We interact with them when it may not be an urgent situation. “We get to know them, so they can get to know us to help get us on the ground safely.”
AE49 Pilot Rick Neely, a Burnet resident, said each crew member hones his or her specialty.
“We do our part to always stay ready. The med crew takes care of their end. I take care of the pilot end. We have a mechanic who takes care of everything mechanically,” Neely said. “We're really blessed in this space. We all get along really well.”
As a pilot for the entity for five years and a peace officer for 30 years, he and other crew members have cultivated coping mechanisms while performing their critical tasks.
“Different people handle experiences different ways. You couldn't be a police officer for as long as I've been a police officer unless the way your brain worked was when there is a crisis or an emergency, things get very very calm inside,” Neely said. “I may later on go sit somewhere and have tears in my eyes, but while it's happening, I'm very calm and confident in what I'm doing.
“That carries over into this job because there's no other way to handle it,” he added. “You can't panic when something goes wrong.”
Along with such expertise to handle crises, crew members find solace in the dependability of other first responders.
“We can't do this job without firefighters, the EMS groups on the ground, the dispatchers, the police or the deputies shutting down the road,” Stotz explained.
He provided a peek into some of the crews' common procedures.
“Typically, we'll get some information, so as a crew we're talking about how we're going to land, where we're going to land and what we're going to do once we land,” he said. “As a med crew, we're talking about the patient, what we may expect, do we need to do something like put an airway in, what injuries we may see, what treatments we're considering, once we land whether we're going to the ambulance or a car … where we're taking the patient when we pick them up.”
AE49 Flight Paramedic Katherine Baxter offered insight into the state of mind of the crew.
“(Working on an EMS flight crew), it's a more critical type call,” she said. “You focus. Make sure the patient gets what they need whether it's comfort or all the way down to saving their lives.”
Baxter, who has worked for Air Evac for six months earned a spot on the team after working as an ambulance paramedic for Marble Falls Area EMS for 10 years.
“You have to fit right in. There's a flow,” she said. “We all know what needs to be done for the patient, so we just get it done … and trying to stay ahead of what (the patient) needs.
“[The Air Evac team is] absolutely amazing. They're family.”
That family includes agencies in Marble Falls, Granite Shoals, Kingsland, Horseshoe Bay, Burnet County and Llano County.
“We get to know the local responders very well. That's our business – to be there when someone needs help,” Stotz said. “We meet people on the worst day of their lives. Our goal is to take care of them and do whatever they need to do. Get them to the hospital quickly and safely.
“We're part of a bigger team. We're all in this to take care of patients. At the end of the day, that's our goal.”
Thompson added, “The strong bond with all the first responders is a must to get the patients taken care of safely and in a timely manner, getting them to the most appropriate care facility with excellent care.”
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