Two Together: A Helicopter Success Story
by Martin J. Pociask
photos courtesy of West Michigan Air Care
Air Care staff believe in teamwork, and safety is their first priority.
A 365SJ N model, which will soon be replaced and the primary
365WM response helicopter sit on the Bronson Helipad.
"Scene location" landings can include grassy fields, highways,
country roads, and people's back yards.
John Eichel, one of two maintenance crewmembers, works on
a helicopter at the Bronson hangar.
On March 21st, Helicopter Association International (HAI) member,
West Michigan Air Care, Air Medical Transport, located and based in
Kalamazoo, Michigan, celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Set in motion
by the merger of Borgess Inflight Medical Service and Bronson
CareFlite Inc., Air Care became the first air medical consortium in the
United States to be established through the consolidation of two active
and existing programs.
Borgess Medical Center is affiliated with the Sisters of St. Joseph. It
is a 426-bed institution specializing in cardiac, neurosurgery, and trauma.
Bronson Methodist is an independent 438-bed hospital, with specialty
areas in trauma (ACS level I), burns, NICU (level III), pediatric intensive
care unit (PICU, designated Children's Hospital), cardiac, and hyper
Covering a large area that includes Southwest Michigan and
Northern Indiana, with occasional flights to more distant locations such
as Detroit, Chicago, Fort Wayne, and South Bend, Air Care serves a population
of more than a million in an area that is largely rural farmland.
Even though Air Care operates out of Kalamazoo, ninety-six percent of
the patients transported live outside of Kalamazoo County. The company
performs life saving missions to regional facilities and emergency
agencies, operating within a 75-mile primary and 100-mile secondary
radius. Traveling at an average speed of 175 miles per hour, their fully
equipped helicopters can be airborne and on the way within minutes of
receiving a request for service. Air Care maintains a communication center
dedicated to the mission of expedient and safe patient transport.
Air Care routinely provides air medical transport into and out of
"scene locations," which simply put can include, highways, country roads,
fields, and people's back yards. Air Care also transports critical patients
from smaller area hospitals to larger more specialized hospitals, landing
at airports, helipads, and rooftops. Occasionally they also assist in
searching for missing or injured persons. They have even responded to a
request to help locate a missing airplane, which had been lost for several
days. In that event, Air Care located the site, provided the rescue team
with the coordinates, and transported the injured pilot to a trauma center
West Michigan Air Care employs a staff of 29, including five pilots,
12 medical crewmembers, six communications specialists, two maintenance
personnel, three administrative staff, and a Program Director.
The company has two AS365 N2 Dauphin Eurocopter helicopters, main-
20 Summer 2003
taining one in service and utilizing the other as backup.
Air Care has just purchased a second N2, to replace the
current designated backup helicopter. HAI member Air
Methods is presently configuring the new N2 Dauphin
helicopter with a new medical interior. One of the new
interior features include a unique center mounted litter
system. Air Care's two-man maintenance staff totals over
45 years of experience in helicopter maintenance. Both
A&P maintenance technicians hold certification awards
from American Eurocopter for extended years of
Air Care is proud of their safety record and has always
seen safety as a number one priority. To date the company
is 100 percent accident and incident-free. Flight
crewmembers conform to the highest standards. The
company strongly supports and encourages continued
education for all its employees. All members of the medical
staff are listed as Advanced Cardiac Life Support
(ACLS) instructors and crewmembers are also listed as
Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), Neonatal
Resuscitation (NRP) and Prehospital Trauma Life
Support (PHTLS) instructors. Three of the staff are graduates
of the Medical Transport Leadership Institute
(MTLI), and an additional three are about to graduate
MTLI. Pilots attend flight safety programs on a regular
basis. Four out of the five pilots are Air Transport Pilot
(ATP) rated; the fifth pilot is in the process of obtaining
the ATP rating. Air Care pilots average over 3,000 hours
of helicopter flight experience. Air Care continues to
obtain recertification every three years and adheres to
strict Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport
System (CAMTS) standards, as well as on-site survey credentialing.
In 1995, West Michigan Air Care became one of the
first 25 (out of 240) programs in the nation to obtain
CAMTS certification, and they hold the honor of being
the first merged program in the United States to receive
certification. In May of 2002, West Michigan Air Care
became one of only five facilities in the state to receive
the prestigious Michigan Voluntary Protection Programs
(MVPP) Star award for workplace safety and health
excellence, which was presented by then Lt. Governor
Dick Posthumus at a reception at the Kalamazoo Air
The company participates in numerous special programs
such as providing Landing Zone classes for all
EMS and Emergency response personnel in their region.
The classes are unique in that they include a very thorough
training on safety in and around the helicopter.
Each participant sits in the pilot's seat to help develop a
better understanding of how limited the pilot's vision
actually is when performing a landing at the scene of an
emergency. Some class participants actually get to fly in a
helicopter to see first-hand what it is like to perform a rescue
by conducting a simulated emergency scene landing.
Air Care also sponsors Students Against Drunk
Driving (SADD) demonstrations in cooperation with the
local high school emergency response personnel. These
demonstrations are performed at several high schools
each year prior to their prom, and are narrated by Air
Care staff. The students watch staged performances of fellow
students involved in motor vehicle accidents due to
drunk driving, as they are being rescued and transported
by Air Care's helicopter to a trauma center. The demonstrations
are very effective because the victims involved in
the dramatic accident are often classmates and friends.
The message has a personal impact. Additionally, West
Michigan Air Care contributes to safety by mailing
AirWaves, a quarterly newsletter to all medical and rescue
personnel in the region.
Air Care is an excellent full service critical care transport
system, which serves as a model for transporting critically
ill or injured patients by helicopter, providing quick,
efficient service 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.
HAI congratulates West Michigan Air Care for their
outstanding service to a grateful public and for their commitment
to excellence. We are proud of our many members,
who like Air Care, routinely perform life saving helicopter
missions, often at great peril to themselves. Happy
anniversary West Michigan Air Care!
Martin J. Pociask is director of communications for HAI.
“SAluTe To excellence”AwArdS
cAll for nominATionS
for 43 years, the Helicopter Association International's (HAI) "Salute to
Excellence" awards have recognized outstanding achievements in the civil helicopter
industry. HAI's thirteen "Salute to Excellence" awards cover a range of
industry achievements. By acknowledging the exceptional merit of an individual or
organization, HAI's "Salute to Excellence" awards encourage the continued attainment
of the highest standards of professionalism in the civil helicopter industry.
The deadline for nominations is November 20, 2003. However, HAI encourages
members to submit nominations as soon as possible.
individuals or organizations may be nominated in one or more of the categories
listed below: Details and nomination forms are available online at www.rotor.com
AviATion mAinTenAnce TechniciAn AwArd
AviATion repAir SpeciAliST AwArd
igor SikorSky AwArd for humAniTAriAn Service
The Joe mAShmAn SAfeTy AwArd
ouTSTAnding cerTified flighT inSTrucTor AwArd
AguSTA communiTy Service AwArd
eurocopTer golden hour AwArd
excellence in communicATionS AwArd
helicopTer mAinTenAnce AwArd
md helicopTerS lAw enforcemenT AwArd
lAwrence d. Bell memoriAl AwArd
roBerT e. TrimBle memoriAl AwArd
piloT of The yeAr AwArd
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