Base Fire Department aids local emergency units for Mercy Flight

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- A local emergency medical evacuation helicopter landed on base June 2 to airlift an injured local man to Erie County Medical Center. According to Base Fire Capt. Aaron McLane, the unidentified man suffered severe head trauma when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle a few miles outside the base. Base fire-rescue personnel responded to an emergency request for assistance by establishing a landing area on base for the rescue flight and coordinating required assistance for transport. 

"We received a call at approximately 9:30 p.m. from Niagara County Dispatch saying they had a motor vehicle-versus-bicycle accident on Lockport Road and that they had a need to land Mercy Flight here on the base and load the victim into (the helicopter) for transport," said Capt. McLane. 

The team took immediate action to establish an emergency landing area for the inbound helicopter. Capt. McLane and Fire officer Lt. Nick Pressley established a 10,000 square-foot landing area on the flight line side of the fire station. 

"We 'toned out' with the command vehicle, the safety officer and a rescue crew. We made contact with NFTA tower and told them we had a mercy flight inbound and got permission to set up the landing zone on Foxtrot parking area," said. Capt. McLane. "Helicopters require a 100 by 100 foot landing area, so we took strobe lights and set up an area for them to see on their approach to land in that area," he said. 

Meanwhile, the Fire Dept. also requested a police escort from 914th Security Forces for Tri-Community Ambulance to enter the Main Gate. A security vehicle was dispatched to escort the ambulance from the front gate to the Landing Zone, where the patient was loaded into the awaiting helicopter. 

It all happened like clockwork. 

"On this evening, I was the acting assistant chief, so I was the command officer in charge of the Air Force part of the operation," said Capt. McLane. "From the time we received the call from Niagara County Dispatch to the time the aircraft left our area was 19 minutes. We actually had the LZ set up in probably 7 minutes at the most. It was pretty quick." 

According to Capt. McLane, other firefighters who responded to the call included Capt. Ron Harkins, Lt. Nick Pressley, and Firefighters Steve Mower and Jordan Ferry. Capt. McLane credited the training and experience of the Fire Dept. team for their quick and effective response. 

"We're always ready," said Capt. McLane. "I've been in this for about 20 years, so I've marshaled a few helicopters before for car accidents. Lt. Pressley was the lead rescue crew chief. He is also a volunteer firefighter, so he's done it a couple times as well. We were able to set up quickly because we both had the experience to get out there and get it done, and tell the other guys what they needed to do and where the markers had to go, so I think that had a lot to do with it."

"It was smooth. The guys did exactly what they needed to do and they did it quickly. We had very limited time, and we knew that they were inbound. The guys listened, they know what they had to do, and they went out there and did it. It was an excellent operation." 

He also credited the base dispatcher on duty for her role in coordinating the response. Working the swing shift, base dispatcher Tameka Abdus-Sabr was at the radio. Having only started the job about a month earlier, she was fresh from her on-the-job training. 

"My role as the dispatcher was here to coordinate with the FAA tower for the Landing Zone for Mercy Flight," she said. "Basically, what I did was communicate back and forth with Niagara County Dispatch regarding the Tri-Community ambulance service that transported the injured person onto the base so he could be flown to ECMC hospital." 

She also coordinated with the Niagara Falls International Airport Air Traffic Control tower here. Mr. Tighe Savage was on duty that night and called with positive comments about her performance. 

"I saw them setting up and I spoke with her," said Mr. Savage. "The coordination was handled flawlessly as to how we were going to bring them in, where we were going to land mercy flight, how the victim was going to get onto the base, and get in and get out of here." 

Ms. Abdus-Sabr credited her training here with helping her "keep her cool" and perform well under pressure. 

"I started this job April 26; I never had to do anything else like this before," she said. "I had a few emergency calls before that, not any to this extent. Just the training that I've received here as far as dispatching calls allowed me to (do it). I'm never really nervous; being overwhelmed or nervous, you are prone to make mistakes. I wasn't nervous at all."
"We coordinated it really well to get it all taken care of," said Mr. Savage.
Capt. McLane attributed their standing agreements with local emergency services agencies for enabling them to provide assistance rapidly in times of need. 

"We have a mutual aid agreement with Niagara County in which, If we have a fire here on base, we can call Niagara County for support and if they have a fire or a car accident off base that they need help with, we'll go down there and support them, so this is a kind of community support we provide to Niagara County. 

Capt. McLane is also a Master Sgt. in the Air Force Reserve, assigned to the 914th Airlift Wing safety office as a Ground Safety Superintendent. Lt. Pressley is also a reserve Staff Sgt. assigned to the Base Fire Dept. According to Capt. McLane, the injured bicyclist was not immediately known to be connected to the base population in any direct way.