First Responders: Medflight provides airlift to local hospitals

June 14, 2013
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If you are ever near the Longwood Medical Area (LMA) and see a helicopter landing on top of a hospital, that is most likely the work of the nonprofit Boston Medflight.

“We take everything,” said Andy Farkas, chief operations manager at Boston Medflight, listing off several types of cases, such as adult trauma, cardiac patients and hospital-to-hospital transfers.

Farkas said 13 percent of transports are from accident scenes, while most are hospital-to-hospital transfers, such as when the company transferred a burn victim from Bangor, Maine to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), which has one of the top burn centers in the nation. Hospitals in the LMA have their own helipads that Boston Medflight’s helicopters use to land.

He said the company transport patients three different ways: helicopter, jet and ground ambulance. Farkas said Boston Medflight receives about 3,000 requests for transport annually, of which 60 percent are by helicopter, 30 percent by ground and 10 percent by jet.

Boston Medflight has its main headquarters at the Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, but also operates out of the Lawrence Municipal Airport and the Plymouth Municipal Airport.

The bases cover the north, central and south parts of the company’s primary coverage area, said Farkas. He said 95 percent of the company’s flights are eastern Massachusetts, the Cape and the Islands, southern New Hampshire and northern Rhode Island. But, Farkas said, Boston Medflight has used the jet to transfer patients from as faraway as Canada and the Bahamas.

Farkas said the company responds to an accident scene when it is called either by EMS or firefighters, who follow certain statewide protocols. He said there are many types of accidents that the company attends to, ranging from traumatic motor vehicle accidents to diving mishaps to people falling out of windows.

“It varies, what we do,” said Farkas.

But, he said, the staff is trained to manage the different cases. Boston Medflight has a staff of about 100 members, including medics who fly with the helicopters.

Boston Medflight has pre-designated landing zones, such as school parking lots, that it uses on accident calls. If it is a highway landing, the pilots will be in constant contact with police and firefighters, making sure there is crowd control. The pilots are also equipped with night-vision goggles, so they can land safely while it is dark out.

“Safety is our number one priority,” said Farkas.

From the accident scene, Boston Medflight will bring the patient back to the closest facility, according to Farkas. He said on flights to Boston, the destination is chosen from a rotating roster of five adult trauma hospitals. Farkas gave the example that if BWH was chosen on a previous flight, next on the list might be Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Farkas said the helicopters follow predetermined routes—usually following main roads—into the city, minimizing noise and avoiding obstructions. He said the pilots are in contact with the Logan Airport traffic control tower. The helicopters also have equipment that detects other planes and hazards.

He said Boston Medflight has been in operation for 28 years and never had a crash.

A Boston Medflight helicopter landing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Courtesy Photo)

A Boston Medflight helicopter landing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Courtesy Photo)

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