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Local emergency personnel take Flight for Life training

What do you get when you mix Flight for Life, emergency personnel, and search and rescue canines?

Not what you would immediately think.

A Flight for Life helicopter landed Saturday at the Archuleta County Airport, Stevens Field, for a session in helicopter safety training, held for a number of area emergency entities, including canine units.

“What it is about is to get people to feel comfortable with these machines,” said Mike Legoski, deputy director of emergency management. The training also served to make area emergency teams more comfortable with the flight crews at Flight for Life, personnel they could potentially work with during an incident.

Legoski noted that, while helicopters are capable of great things and are positive tools, they can be dangerous if those near them are not properly trained.

The training covered the basics of how, when (for example, never approach unless the pilot has given the signal), and from what direction to approach a helicopter (never from the back), as well as other pertinent information, such as what constitutes a safe and sufficient landing zone.

The flight crew told participants what is necessary for a landing zone and worked with trainees on communication between the craft and those on the ground to help ensure safe landings.

Discussion of safety aspects of the craft included how to respond to a helicopter crash, and specifics such as how to turn off fuel and electric systems in the craft after getting the flight crew and patients out.

In addition, those who participated in the training were able to earn a flight ticket, Legoski said, by learning how to properly load a helicopter for search and rescue missions.

After earning the flight ticket, Flight for Life will be available to those with the flight tickets to serve as an “elevator” to move the teams to landing zones at a high elevation, and to areas that would normally take a long time to reach by other means. Flight for Life’s helicopters are high-altitude craft, meaning they can fly to sites as high as 14,000 feet in the mountains.

The Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, Upper San Juan Search and Rescue, Colorado Mounted Search and Rescue, and the Dolores Dog Team are the primary agencies that brought the training to Stevens Field, while members of the Pagosa Fire Protection District and Pagosa Springs Emergency Medical Service were invited to attend.

According to Emergency Services Coordinator Drew Peterson, Dolores hosted the same training last year, spurring a number of local entities to bring the training to Pagosa.

The training, which was not open to the public, was provided free of charge by Flight for Life, which is one of several flight and helicopter companies used by Archuleta County emergency teams.

Flight for Life, which began in 1972, was the first hospital-based medical helicopter program in the U.S. The program provides critical care transport in Colorado with four helicopters, three ambulances and two airplanes.

randi@pagosasun.com