CATOOSA, Ga. – Tucked away in the Georgia mountains, the historic Catoosa training site owned by the Tennessee Army National Guard sits quietly and unassuming. It was awake and bustling Oct. 30, 2014 during the first-of-its-kind joint-agency medevac training. This unique training exercise organized by Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Duncan, was different on many fronts - civilian aircraft were used, civilian pilots led the training, and the Angel EMS Life Force helicopter made a special appearance on the new landing zone (LZ), marked earlier that morning.
Members of the Tennessee National Guard teamed up with Erlanger Hospital Life Force, Catoosa County Fire, EMS and Police for the first of its kind joint-agency medevac training consisting of both classroom and hands-on training led by Life Force Pilots, coordinated by Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Duncan, and held in Catoosa, Ga., Oct. 30, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nicole Smart, 118th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
As NCOIC of the Catoosa training site, Duncan takes training and safety seriously.
“We are responsible for the safety of those on the training site, so it's better to prepare for injury than to hope it doesn't happen,” he said.
At a recent conference Duncan attended, medevac training was the topic of discussion. Without military air assets in the Catoosa area, he got right to work designing a solution that included his 15-soldier team, Catoosa County firefighters, Life Force pilots, EMS, and police.
“We don't have any military assets to provide medevac training, so we teamed up with local forces and Life Force,” said Duncan. “We're going over how to place an LZ the way they like it, find alternate LZ locations, and how to package a casualty. That is the primary goal. The secondary goal is to put faces to names, because we don't want to meet for the first time during an emergency.”
The day of training began in the classroom led by Glen Suskind, Life Force paramedic. His areas of focus were history, safety and important statistics. Civilian air medical got its start after Vietnam and took off in the '80s, which is also when Life Force was established. Looking to do a few flights a month, the crew ended their first year with more than 700 flights to Erlanger Hospital. They offer service within a 20-minute flight range on both sides of the Tennessee/Georgia border and their pilots hold dual certification to provide care in both states.
In true Southern hospitality fashion and to show their appreciation for the training opportunities, the hosting soldiers paid out of their own pockets to provide breakfast for the training event. Bagels, doughnuts, juice and coffee lined the two long tables. Everyone had a hearty breakfast that morning before heading outside for the second half, hands-on portion of the training.
“The goals for today were hands-on training for the soldiers, face-to-face interaction with the agencies and follow-on training with different scenarios in the future,” said Duncan.
Emergency vehicles and their corresponding team members lined the know distance (KD) range and 33 trainees from all agencies stood along the side as they watched the Life Force bird make its landing. Shortly after the four pilots made their egress for introductions, the group quickly began climbing in and peering around the aircraft to get a closer look. They looked like curious kids as they bobbed and weaved in and out of the open doors.
The EC135, which doesn't currently have a military equivalent, was the item on display. The back-loading doors were opened and Suskind rolled out a stretcher, giving a show-and-tell of his prized bird.
“The aircraft is kind of like a flying ICU,” he said as he showed the big features packed into the small space.
With specialty equipment on board, training is constant to keep the crew sharp. Pilots must have three years of EMS experience and five years of in-flight medical experience before being considered for the Life Flight team as well as a 3,000 flight-hour minimum. Our pilot of the day, Mike, stopped counting at the 14,000 hour mark.
The curious bystanders had Q-and-A with the flight crew and had an opportunity for all to see the bird up close and personal - most said it was for the first time.
“We learned some new things today – how to package a patient, that height and weight is a huge factor because the bird is quite small, and that EMS will show up first,” said Maj. Carter Honeycutt, Catoosa training site OIC.
With a lot of training options packed into a small site, Duncan used forward thinking to create a unique training opportunity that bonded his team with local emergency response teams.
“It's a small training site with plenty of opportunity for injury, so our main task is to minimize the speed bumps from the time someone gets injured to the time they get care,” Duncan said. “When situations happen you don't rise to the occasion, you fall back on training.”
Honeycutt beamed about the humble Duncan, calling him a one-man show when setting up the training.
“We have units here every weekend, so it's hard to get everyone together but we did today, and it's important. You can never have too much training,” he said.
The joint-service training event was the first of its kind and one of many to come at Catoosa and other National Guard training sites, which include Smyrna, Myelin and Tullahoma. For those interested in conducting a training of their own, the Catoosa crew says they are happy to answer any questions and share their knowledge.
By U.S. Army Sgt. Nicole Smart
Provided through DVIDS
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