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Editorial: MedEvac Flunks Test

HANOVER, Pa. -- Go ahead and count the characters.

"Down" is definitely a four-letter word.

And emergency responders might reasonably consider it profanity, seeing as how on any given day they might answer a call that begins "officer down," "trees down," or "wires down."

A 911 dispatch alerting fire and police about the possibility of a downed helicopter in Adams County undoubtedly evoked a few curses as surely as it quickened some pulses and sent millions of dollars in rescue equipment racing to the point where contact with the aircraft was lost.

But it was all for naught because, like the reassuring TV recording states, it was "only a test" -- an elaborate drill on helicopter recovery executed by STAT MedEvac.

Problem was, nobody bothered to tell 911.

So an exercise meant only to involve STAT MedEvac personnel drew in dozens of other emergency workers who, absent a warning from STAT, had no reason to believe the call wasn't the real thing.

Adams County 911 coordinator Donna Powers clearly was perturbed with the lack of communication that led to the unnecessary emergency response. And rightly so. "It tied up my dispatch center," Powers said.

And while county control didn't go as far as to say other calls for help were neglected because of the helicopter exercise, the practice of sending police and fire crews on a ghost hunt -- which essentially is what happened -- obviously is not a good one.

Hampton Fire Co. President Rodney Heagey noted the financial risk the false alarm brought on by causing millions of dollars in emergency equipment to be placed on the road. But the risk firefighters, medics and police took just to get to the mock scene is at least as big a concern, if not a bigger one.

Most people tend either to overlook or ignore the danger in which they place themselves every time they climb into a vehicle and head down the road. But as this newspaper too frequently reports, safe travels never are guaranteed.

And even though the flashing lights and wailing sirens on their vehicles send out warnings to other motorists, emergency responders probably face a bigger risk on roads, if only because of their urgency to get to a place they can be of help.

While it might sound overly dramatic, we feel it's a blessing the drill didn't end up costing more than the fuel and man hours that were wasted.

STAT MedEvac periodically holds drills similar to the disaster drills fire and emergency personnel run, and that's probably a good thing. You can never be too prepared.

Prior to the drill in Adams, the emergency-helicopter service last held a drill about six or seven months ago near Pittsburgh. In that drill, however, 911 officials were notified ahead of time and knew to hold off on any real emergency dispatches.

STAT MedEvac spokesman Dan Nakles said some of the confusion in Adams probably stems from the fact the drill was the service's first in the middle of the state.

So much for first impressions.

And we hope that in the tragic event a call for a downed helicopter goes out for real in Adams County, the emergency workers listening to the call don't hear it as a cry of "wolf" because of the recent episode.

Heagey's giving into suspicion is likely part of what brought the STAT MedEvac drill to a relatively speedy end. Hearing the chopper went down in the area of Green Ridge Road, he wondered if the call had anything to do with a MedEvac pilot who lives on nearby Browns Dam Road, and he sent a few private individuals to investigate that hunch.

There, they found the pilot -- and the "missing" aircraft.

"It really helps to know who lives around you," Heagey said.

And as far as the drill goes, it would have helped a lot of people to be let in, as they should have, on what was about to happen.

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