First Flight Turns 30

September 12, 2018

Source: Florida Today

In 1988, Ronald Reagan was President, shuttle Discovery led the space program back into flight nearly three years after the Challenger disaster, and, on the local front, Brevard County’s first and only air ambulance program debuted.

This year marks 30 years of Health First’s First Flight — the Integrated Delivery Network’s (IDN) mobile medical unit that flies critically injured patients to the hospital due to an injury or life-threatening illness. With trauma being the No.1 cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 46, having a medical evacuation helicopter on call is a critically important to any community.

“I always go back to the fact that my job provides me with the opportunity to help someone in a time of need, big or small,” said Ronnie Watson, a First Flight paramedic. “I truly feel beyond blessed to be given the knowledge, abilities and opportunity to do my job.”

Based at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, First Flight has delivered more than 20,000 patients to receive the emergency care they needed.

“Being able to get to the scene of a trauma or other medical emergency as quickly as possible is crucial,” said Brett Esrock, Chief Executive Officer of Holmes Regional. “When you are severely injured, there is no time to spare. Having a medical helicopter to transport our most critical patients at a moment’s notice has saved countless lives over the past three decades — and certainly many more to come.”

A look back

While based in Brevard, First Flight serves beyond the county’s borders. Indian River and portions of Osceola and Orange counties also depend on it for emergency transport.

Operated by Metro Aviation, it can accommodate two patients along with three crew members.

First Flight services began as Care Flight, a flight program based aboard a 350S ASTAR helicopter. The name was changed to First Flight in 1994 due to copyright issues. In 1995, the program contracted with Metro Aviation, which allowed for an upgrade to a BO105 helicopter.

When Holmes Regional became an accredited Level II Trauma Center that same year, First Flight saw their call volume more than double — from approximately 400 flights annually to 855.

In 2000, the flight program obtained its EC-135 twin-turbo engine Eurocopter, which continues to be used today with the latest medical equipment. First Flight attained its own hangar and maintenance facility in 2004.

The improvements keep coming. Twelve years ago, the air ambulance service began carrying blood for critically ill and injured patients. In 2011, Night Vision goggles were added to the crew’s repertoire.

As of mid-July 2018, there have been:

  • Nearly 20,000 patients flown
  • 16,500 flight hours logged
  • Over 1.7 million miles flown

Answering the call

Licensed by the State of Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, First Flight essentially serves as an in-flight Intensive Care Unit.

When the communications center receives a call from Emergency Medical Services or law enforcement, the flight crew is en route within minutes.

The experienced flight crew are pilots and more. The highly-trained team includes medical personnel with backgrounds in emergency, critical care, flight and pre-hospital nursing care.

Each flight has:

  • A pilot with more than 3,500 hours of flight time (many with military experience);
  • A licensed paramedic certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Prehospital Trauma Life Support, Department of Transportation Air Medical Crew Core Curriculum.
  • A registered nurse with at least five years’ experience in critical care with a dual-certification as a licensed paramedic; RNs must hold the same certifications as paramedics.

“It really has been an incredible asset to the community,” Esrock said. “When someone is severely injured or facing a sudden, life-threatening health crisis, our team is here to assist local responders. First Flight quickly and safely cares for these patients while getting them where they need to be.”

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