When there’s a horrific crash and all hope is lost, just look to the sky.
Since July 1, 1994, the DHART Helicopter has been swooping into rural areas in Vermont and New Hampshire to quickly transport the most badly injured victims to the emergency room at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
But the DHART Helicopter is more than just a ride. The medical personnel and equipment on board make it a flying intensive care unit.
“As soon as we had extricated the patient, DHART was overhead and landing,” said CALEX Ambulance CEO Michael Wright, as he discussed a recent crash in North Concord. “This allows for rapid care and transport directly to a trauma center with a critical care team that can provide advance procedures on the way.”
According to the DHART (Dartmouth Hitchcock Advanced Response Team) website, the helicopter and its crew are ready to go at a moment’s notice and usually launch within 5 minutes after receiving an emergency call.
The flight paramedics and nurses carry advanced medical equipment including a supply of human blood to help stabilize patients at the scene.
The DHART program brings the hospital to the patient no matter where they are including on state highways, remote areas and even on mountain tops.
But the local connection is a key element in the process.
“The helicopter can be called in by any medical professional who determines that someone is suffering from injuries that are above the capabilities of treatment for the local hospital,” said St. Johnsbury Fire Chief Brad Reed. “So that could be the firefighters responding or first responders or ambulance personnel.”
CALEX CEO Wright said the decision to call in the DHART helicopter is based on several factors.
“Severity of the injuries, stability of the patient and location of the incident,” said Wright. “Does this patient benefit from rapid transport to a Level 1 Trauma Center or does this patient require advanced procedures such as chest tubes, blood products and other services that will benefit patient outcome immediately at the scene.”
The DHART helicopter landing zones (LZ) are often at local hospitals but the remote landing areas are based on the accessibility and distance from the incident.
“The LZ in most of our communities have been pre-determined,” said Lyndonville Fire Chief Jeff Corrow. “DHART has the GPS coordinates to all the pre-determined LZs. Depending on the distance to the pre-determined LZ, we may have to make a decision to find a closer landing area to the scene if we can find an area to land on - like an open field, parking lots or even landing in the roadway if it’s clear of any hazards.“
Chief Reed said that while the State of Vermont does not require training for firefighters to prepare helicopter landing zones, there is training available.
“The team at Dartmouth-Hitchcock does provide that for our fire departments,” said Reed. “We have been through that training and retake it periodically as a refresher.”
DHART responds to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week but there are times when the helicopter is not available because it’s on another call or in bad weather.
“Weather is the biggest factor if it flies or not, ie: snow, wind, fog, rain,” said Chief Corrow.
According to its website, the DHART helicopter pilots are equipped with the latest in modern technology including night-vision goggles and “terrain awareness” and “traffic awareness” technology - which allows the helicopter to avoid running into the ground or other aircraft. And DHART has now expanded with airbases in Lebanon as well as in Manchester, N.H and Burlington, Vt.