BLET students learn about MedCenter Air helicopters

Published 9:31 am Friday, February 24, 2023

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The helicopter made several flybys before landing in the middle of the soccer fields beside Stanly Community College Thursday morning, the roar of the rotor blades drowning out all other noise.

It was one of Atrium Health’s five MedCenter Air copters, making a stop as part of a basic law enforcement training exercise for about a dozen of SCC’s BLET students.

The MedCenter air helicopter typically responds to people who are critically injured and need life-saving support.

The MedCenter Air helicopter landed in the middle of one of the soccer fields by Stanly Community College.

MedCenter Air operates four helicopter bases that serve North and South Carolina, according to Atrium’s website. The bases — in Concord, Hickory, Wadesboro and Rock Hill — are open nonstop.

Nurses and therapists involved with MedCener Air have three to five years of experience in ICU or ER medicine and must be cross credentialed with EMS certifications, according to Atrium.

The helicopter that stopped by Thursday is based in Wadesboro. It typically makes at least 100 trips into Stanly in a year, Albemarle Assistant Fire Chief Kenny Kendall said. It takes the helicopter less than 15 minutes to take a patient to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

“That’s why we fly a bunch of people,” Kendall said.

The MedCenter Air helicopters take part in around 120 flights each month, said Flight Nurse Blake Springer, noting the copters have fielded 200 requests so far in February. He has been a nurse with Atrium for 20 years, including the past seven with MedCenter Air.

During the training, which lasted about 20 minutes, Springer and his colleagues described the parts of the aircraft, talked about picking up and transporting patients, answered student questions and even placed one student on a gurney, simulating what it would be like to receive treatment.

Flight Nurse Blake Springer talks with BLET students about the MedCenter Air helicopter.

Although stationed within the Charlotte area, the copters have transported critically wounded patients to hospitals across much of the state, including Asheville and Winston-Salem. They have also gone out of the state to areas such as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia.

“We’ll fly just about anywhere,” Flight Respiratory Therapist Trevor Wakefield said. The helicopters, which are equipped to operate within a 150-mile radius of each base, also transport patients to other hospital systems, including Novant Health.

The most common circumstances requiring MedCenter Air assistance are car accidents and injuries suffered from falls, Wakefield told the students, though they also transport gunshot victims.

“Usually from the time you clock in until the time you leave, it’s nonstop,” Springer said.

Since most Stanly County law enforcement officials will be involved in situations requiring life-saving support, getting the students familiar with the helicopter and how it operates will help them in the future.

With BLET students set to join departments across the county after they graduate in the summer, the chances are “very high” they will encounter situations involving MedCenter Air copters, BLET director and former Albemarle officer David Esposito said.

“We live in a rural part of North Carolina, so the chances of students being involved with a helicopter are high, as opposed to Charlotte or some of the larger cities,” Esposito said.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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