"This will be a non-smoking flight," said Dan Meisels. "There will be no snacks served."
Mr. Meisels, director of the UMass Memorial EMS program, was referring to the medical center's new LifeFlight medical helicopter, which was put into service last week, replacing another helicopter.
The helicopter, a 2008 American Eurocopter EC135 T2 Plus, was customized for UMass Memorial with the latest technology available in emergency medicine. The newer model has a compact design, advanced technology, more efficient, 50 percent quieter and will lower maintenance and operation costs.
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"The other helicopter was more of a pickup truck," said Ed Shoemaker, the pilot. "But this is more of a Ferrari."
On a 10-minute flight over Worcester yesterday, sailboats could be seen on the waters of Lake Quinsigamond as the aircraft took off from the UMass Memorial campus.
Sitting next to the pilot, the ride was smoother and quieter than expected. The interior of the aircraft wasn't spacious but officials said it easily accommodated all their emergency medical needs.
The flight looped around Worcester and to the north one could see Mount Wachusett and Mount Monadnock.
Wachusett Reservoir was clearly visible from the air and the size and scope of the new Worcester State Hospital was on display as the helicopter passed over the east side of Worcester.
The blue and white medical helicopter's helipad is on a roof at the emergency and trauma center at UMass Memorial Medical Center - University Campus. Mr. Meisels said the customized air ambulance will enhance the hospital's ability to provide life-saving, pre-hospital care for seriously injured or ill patients throughout New England.
"I can't think of a single hospital we can't get to," Mr. Meisels said.
LifeFlight - the first air ambulance program in the region - began in 1982, and since then, UMass Memorial emergency personnel have cared for more than 26,000 patients across a 130-mile coverage area that stretches from southern Connecticut to New Hampshire and from Boston to Albany.
About half of the calls are for accidents and the remaining flights move critical care patients, including those who need cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery, from one hospital to another.
The average cost for a medically-equipped EC135 helicopter is in the $6 million to $7 million range, depending on interior options.
In addition to its role in patient care, LifeFlight serves as a training tool and is a key component in the University of Massachusetts Medical School's emergency medicine residency program.
"It's actually a draw for the third-year residency program," Mr. Meisels said.
In addition to the pilot, a flight nurse and emergency resident physician are on every LifeFlight
Mr. Shoemaker is one of four pilots who fly the LifeFlight helicopter for UMass; he is employed by Englewood, Colo.-based Air Methods Corp., the largest provider of air medical emergency transportation services in the country.
He said the LifeFlight pilots look for a 100-foot by 100-foot open area with less than a 5-degree slope on a relatively flat surface to land.
"I'm thinking about how I'm getting there," Mr. Shoemaker said. "And if something goes wrong, how I'm getting out of there?"
Local police and fire officials designate landing spots in towns and cities, according to Mr. Shoemaker.
"There's at least five predetermined spots in Douglas," Mr. Shoemaker said. He said pilots are always on the lookout for wires, trees and sign posts so they can steer clear.
The medical center's dispatch center is located just steps from the helicopter's landing pad. When a call comes in, dispatchers obtain medical information while the pilot performs a risk assessment for the potential flight, including a check of weather conditions. LifeFlight and a medical flight team are available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.
"From the time we get a call," Mr. Meisels said. "We can get off the ground in 6 to 10 minutes."
Who decides which patients should be transported in LifeFlight or any medical helicopter?
LifeFlight can accommodate one patient quite comfortably, but could take two patients if necessary, according to Mr. Shoemaker. He said if there is room for a family member, the crew tries to accommodate the request, but there is not always room in the helicopter.
Dr. Marc C. Restuccia, emergency medicine physician at UMass Memorial Medical Center - University Campus and medical director of Worcester EMS and LifeFlight, said his office overlooks the LifeFlight helipad.
"It never gets old," Dr. Restuccia said. "Every time I hear the aircraft coming in or going out, I stop what I'm doing."