The Desire to Care

October 24, 2022

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, help arrives in all forms and fashions from seemingly everywhere. So, when a helicopter crashed in southwest Florida just days after Hurricane Ian left a swath of destruction across the state, help was there almost immediately from the local community and communities from all over the nation.

Under American Medical Response’s contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, resources from across the country were deployed to Florida. Some of those teams included Air Evac Lifeteam, Med-Trans Corporation and Heartland Ambulance Service.

Among those teams were Med-Trans Pilot Gary Desserich, Air Evac Lifeteam Flight Nurse Gretta Richardson, Flight Paramedic Jason Archey, Heartland Paramedic Frank Mancera and EMT Dustin Dahmer. These crews would soon be asked to do a bit more than provide response to Hurricane Ian’s effects.

Just days after the storm, a private helicopter went down with four passengers onboard near a local fire station.

The team aboard the private aircraft was working to help reinstate communications systems that were impacted by the hurricane. 

The response to the crash was immediate. Local fire department and EMS personnel were among the first teams onsite. However, because there were four patients with traumatic injuries in need of immediate care, the local 911 dispatchers began looking for other nearby assets that could help. 

“We were just completing a transport when we heard a lot of chatter over the radio,” said Mancera. “Dustin looked at me and said that something big must be happening. As we were heading back to our staging area, dispatch saw that we were one of the closest units available, so we got the call.”

Mancera and Dahmer were the second ambulance to arrive on the scene. Both were immediately assigned a patient.

“When we arrived, they asked us if we were an ALS or BLS truck,” said Mancera. “As soon as they found out we were ALS, they told us we’d be taking patient number one, who was in critical condition. We grabbed our gurney, got the patient loaded and took a report from the on-scene paramedic.”

When their patient was loaded, Mancera and Dahmer went code three to the nearest trauma center. On the way, they treated and stabilized the patient.

Meanwhile, the air medical crew was out on a repositioning flight to a field hospital set up nearby when their call came in.

“We were on the final approach to the field hospital when we got the call to go to a scene located just five miles away,” said Desserich.

By the time he landed the helicopter near the scene of the crash, three transports were already in progress for the most critical patients. Richardson and Archey would be tasked with caring for the fourth and final patient.

Richardson and Archey took a report from the crews on scene and began discussions on the safest and most appropriate means to get them to the local trauma center. It was decided that they would be transporting their patient to the local trauma center by ground ambulance.

“We were definitely in the right place at the right time to get this patient to where they needed to be,” said Richardson.

After Richardson and Archey had departed the scene in a ground ambulance, members of the local fire department approached Desserich with a critical request.

“Some firefighters approached me and asked if I could help them shut the aircraft down,” said Desserich. “I was near enough that I knew it wasn’t the engine running. The avionics fans were on, so I was able to reach in the wreckage and turn them off.”

After helping to secure the aircraft, Desserich lifted off to meet Richardson and Archey at the hospital.

While first responders did a lot to help the communities of Florida in the aftermath of the hurricane, Desserich, Archey, Richards, Mancera, and Dahmer all agreed that even if this had been the only call they responded to while deployed, it would have made the trip worthwhile.

“Deployment or not, I just want to take care of people,” said Archey.


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