Lifeflight/ARPP medevac drill

By Joseph M. Latvis

Before each field season begins, the ARPP publishes and distributes its site-specific dive plan and emergency evacuation protocols to (among many other organizations and individuals) the two medevac helicopter services nearest to our remote Aucilla River sites. In the event of an injury requiring rapid evacuation to a hyperbaric chamber or level one trauma center Lifeflight Helicopter Service stands by as primary air transport to Tallahassee Community Hospital, 20 minutes distant. (Shandscaire Helicopter Service stands by as secondary air transport to Shands Hospital, 40 minutes distant.) Although each ARPP crewmember also receives a copy of the logistically complicated emergency evacuation procedures (which involve recovering a diver from the riverbottom to the surface, to a chase boat, to the operations vessel, to an evacuation vessel, to a boat dock, to an evacuation vehicle, to a predesignated helicopter landing zone) we have never had to activate these procedures.

Shortly after the October ‘98 field season commenced, Lifeflight supervisor Tom McNab contacted me to explore the possibility of conducting an emergency evacuation drill. With project director Dr. Webb’s enthusiastic endorsement, October 8th was designated for the joint exercise. Lifeflight helicopter pilot Don Spells first flew to our primary landing zone LZ-2 at the Ladson property in the open field on high ground at Nutall Rise to verify that ARPP dive plan coordinates were accurate. Because the river was in flood stage, this LZ could not be reached by our evacuation vehicles without traversing inundated access roads to deliver the simulated patient. Pilot Spells consequently wheeled the BK117 helicopter several miles south to our secondary landing zone LZ-3 at the Taylor County Aucilla boat ramp.

The helicopter landed in an open field adjacent to the boat ramp just as our simulated evacuation vessel arrived from Sloth Hole site. ARPP’s lead medical personnel (Metro Dade Fire Department paramedic Mike Simpson, Florida EMT Joe Latvis, and operations supervisor Bill Gifford) met with Lifeflight supervisor McNab and flight nurses Tracy Evans and Kristy Fishback. As the rotors wound down, the rear bay doors were opened, and details regarding patient intubation, packaging, and oxygen administration were discussed, as well as helicopter protocols, communications links, and response times. Field scientific director Andy Hemmings provided an impromptu fossil/artifact clinic for the flight crew, before they boarded the helicopter and lifted off for the return flight to Tallahassee. The compelling intensity of the drill reinforced the field crew’s belief that situations requiring such emergency medical intervention can indeed occur, and that if and when they do, our CPR/first aid/oxygen provider training and evacuation procedure preparedness are the best response to serious injury or illness.