Thursday, May 5, 2011


It's weird to arrive at work and see an empty helipad where Angel 3 usually sits.

Most of the time it means the outgoing crew got a late flight.  But when there's also a company van sitting in front of our quarters (like today), it usually means that the helicopter broke down somewhere, and the pilot and/or crew had to drive back.

They actually do that fairly often:  Break down. When I first started out as a flight paramedic, that was worrisome. 

Eventually, though, I realized that breaking down on the ground  is no big deal.  Even breaking down in the air (which doesn't happen nearly as often) usually just means that the equivalent of a "check engine" light came on.

The most common kinds of helicopter "check engine" lights are "chip" lights (which means the helicopter thinks there are tiny metal chips in one of its fluids) and "FADEC" lights (which means it thinks something else is wrong with the engine).

(There's probably a little more to all this, but I'm giving you the med-crew version of Helicopter Mechanics 101 here.)

My personal specialty is starter failures: I've had three of those so far in six years. 

Again, nothing dramatic:  When the pilot tries to start the engine, it makes its usual wind-up whine ... then, instead of the roar of the jet engine kicking in ... it just winds down (the same sound it makes when the pilot cools the engine before starting it in warm weather).  Or sometimes it doesn't make any noise at all, except for a clicking sound back up behind our heads somewhere.

And sometimes -- like today --  they don't exactly break down at all; our mechanics just find something that needs fixing during one of their frequent inspections of our ride.

Today (actually yesterday) they found a bad bearing in the rotor head.  I think that's what the pilot said this morning, anyway.

So no helicopter for us, probably for at least two or three more days.

Usually when one of our helicopters is down for a long time, we get a loaner from Air Methods, the company that supplies our pilots and mechanics.  But when it's just a matter of being without an aircraft for a few days, we turn into a "package crew" for the duration:  When someone needs to be flown out of our hospital, we walk over and package the patient (get report and paperwork, hook 'em up to our equipment, etc.) while our dispatcher sends another aircraft to us to do the actual transport.

It makes for a strange shift:  Just you and your partner, mostly, instead of the two of you, a pilot, and sometimes a mechanic.  All of your medical equipment stacked out in the mechanic's shed.  No scene flights or transports from other hospitals.

And a great big empty helipad where you're used to seeing your helicopter.

It's been a good day, though.  No packages so far.  Time for a long nap, some phone calls, some writing, a little TV watching with my partner.  Even an 8-mile stationary bike ride (in my jeans and t-shirt, since I forgot to bring exercise clothes; "you're such a nerd", my partner said).

My partner likes to play World of Warcraft, so it's been a very productive day for him too, I gather.  He also does mysterious stock-market stuff, and cooks (he used to be a professional cook before he became a nurse).

He shared an interesting theory with me today:  One of his online gaming friends dropped out of sight abruptly over the weekend.  No sign of him since Sunday.  My partner says he's starting to wonder if maybe this guy was playing WoW from a compound in Pakistan ...

True story.

I love my job.  Even when there's no helicopter.

Good night everybody.  Love and hugs from Cottonwood.

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