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Auto-launch system means quicker response times, lives saved

When a trauma occurs, there’s a specific process in place to ensure appropriate action, and hopefully save lives. Often in rural areas, or areas without Level 1 trauma centers, Life Flight helicopters are relied upon to get care for people in need.

In Newberg, Life Flight Network and REACH are used regularly to fly patients to Portland.

“A trauma injury means somebody that we think could be injured badly enough that they’re going to need surgery in a timely manner, such as for internal bleeding, abdominal bleeding or severe head injuries,” said Frank Douglas, Newberg Fire Department division chief. by: FILE PHOTO - Saving lives - Life Flight Network is called in instances of trauma. In Newberg, that occurs about 30 times a year, with patients transported to one of two trauma centers in Portland.

But it’s not always known when a call comes in if someone will need to be transported by Life Flight. So there’s a protocol in place.

“When we get to the scene, we establish an incident command system,” Douglas said. “Every call has an incident commander and that incident commander is responsible for resources at a scene, so the incident commander will ask the 9-1-1 center to active Life Flight.”

An active status means a helicopter and crew is sent to the scene, but they are also often put on standby until first responders know if they are needed. Once active, it only takes five or 10 minutes for Life Flight to arrive at the scene. Then a similar amount of time for patients to arrive at either Oregon Health and Science University Hospital or Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, the two trauma centers in Portland.

“What matters is we try to get the patient to a surgery operating room as quickly and safely as possible,” Douglas said.

In Newberg, this happens about 30 times a year, although it’s typically spread out. There may be a week where there are three or four flights, and some weeks where there aren’t any.

Looking to make the system more efficient, in turn benefiting patients, Douglas said they are starting to “auto-launch” Life Flight when it’s possible.

“Which they prefer when possible. Basically they will go en route to a call roughly when we do,” he said. “When we get to the scene we decide if we need them. If they’re called automatically and we don’t need them, they just circle and go home.”

Even though Life Flight helicopters may seem more extreme than ambulances, Douglas advised thinking of them as air ambulances that can transport faster if needed, or if traffic might be an issue.

“You have about six liters of blood in the body for an average adult. If you have a head or chest injury where you’re bleeding out 200cc a minute, you don’t have much time,” he said. “We had an incident recently where we had to wait (because) the Aurora copter wasn’t available, so we had to wait for copter from Longview (Wash.). When we did the math waiting a little bit was still better than trying to drive the patient to OHSU at 5 p.m. Friday night.”

Being prepared is a theme when it comes to emergency response, and Douglas said he encourages everyone to purchase a Life Flight membership.

“It’s only $60 a year … that can save somebody a lot of money, especially if they don’t have insurance,” he said.

For more information about Life Flight Network, visit www.lifeflight.org.

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