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Flight Nurse's Quote

Posted 4 years 315 days ago ago by Randy Mains

On the 13th of June flight nurse Jonathan Godfrey, posted the following missive on his Facebook page. Jonathan is an air medical helicopter crash survivor and stanch air medical safety advocate in the industry. His post serves to remind others in the business to stay vigilant and not to be lulled into a sense of complacency.  What he so eloquently says in his message is worthy to be reposted here for his observations apply to anyone in our business.  Here is what Jonathan said.

As I prepare my flight suit for tomorrows shift, I feel uneasy because there is a calm, quiet chatter in our community, free of the intensity after a loss. I have no doubt that I will return home tomorrow night, navigating the same risks, but feel as though I am always waiting for the "other shoe" to drop when things get quiet and comfortable on social media and in the news.

Sometimes that is good. I enjoyed when we went an entire year without a single fatality. If we back away and look at the larger picture, it is a different result. There will be some that prefer me to not tell you what I see.

I have waited to post this to avoid anyone feeling that it is pointed towards any one event. I also become more frustrated over the years as the names (read: empathetic grief and growing anger) pile on, year after year: There have been three fatal helicopter air ambulance crashes in about six months, nine crew and one patient died. The public response to it seems to be far less of an outrage and outcry than that of the crash of the NYC tour helicopter that claimed five lives and had one survivor, or even far less than the SINGLE passenger killed when Southwest Airlines had their first fatal incident in forever. Why is that? 

Have we come to accept the deaths of our air medical families? I am convinced the industry as a whole has become numb and has fallen into some sort of apathetic acceptance that we are “dying, doing what we love.” I am not pointing fingers at anyone but us, all of us. 94 percent of crashes are due to human decision making, human error according to one air medical study -- not just the pilot, but the entire crew. No loss of life is acceptable for commercial flight -- zero. What number of fatalities is an acceptable one for helicopter air ambulance? Do we not set the bar? C’mon folks. 

I have lost people close to me, have worked with the entire community to achieve the number of ZERO lost in a crash. I still fly/transport full time and am exposed to the same risks. I feel empathetic, sad, frustrated and at times I am angry. This must stop. It cannot ever become OK or normal.

The helicopter air ambulance community is necessary in the fabric of EMS (emergency medical services). We must always strive for a healthy, safe and efficient reputation. We must do better, to the point of outrage if that is what is needed. Vigilance, my friends. Jonathan Godfrey RN.

Well said Jonathan.  Your message is something everyone in the business should keep in mind. When I read your words, another statement crept into my mind by Dr. Ira Blumen in his conclusion in the special supplement to the Air Medical Physician Handbook in November 2002. Dr. Blumen’s observation 16 years ago is as true today as it was when he wrote it. Here is what Dr. Blumen said:

“We have regulations, we have safety committees, we have standards, we have safety summits, we have AMRM, we have surveys and we have reports. We have better aircraft, we have newer technology and we have accreditation. And we have 30 years of experience. What we also still have are unnecessary pressures, unnecessary risks, unnecessary distractions, poor communications, complacency—and the same old human errors. What we do not have is an excuse!”

Flight nurse Jonathan Godfrey’s advice is sound.  Remain vigilant and keep your guard up.  In CRM terms, remain situationally aware.  Take on board what’s happened in the past, carry it forward to what is happening now then look to the future and imagine what COULD happen if you continue on your course of action or inaction. 

Being vigilant can pay huge dividends.  Being aware can give you clues that links in an error chain may be forming or perhaps you or one of your team are demonstrating one of the ten hazardous attitudes.  If so, identify then stop what you’re doing (or not doing) to avoid calamity thus breaking a link in the chain.  Doing so ensures everyone will make it home safely.

Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected]