September 1, 2015 - Utica, Illinois

Utica Fire Chief Explains Medical Helicopter Transport Criteria

News | Utica Times Story 09-2015On Sunday — for the 12th time this year — Utica firefighters rushed out to Starved Rock State Park to perform a trail/canyon rescue. A 43-year-old Waukegan woman had fallen 40 feet and was saved from falling any farther by a pile a debris collected from a 2014 storm.

Responders used ropes to pull the woman on a stretcher to safety and transferred the accident victim onto an OSF Life Flight helicopter for transport to a Peoria medical facility.

Since that time, questions have arisen on social media wondering why the patient was flown to Peoria only to leave the hospital just a few hours later early Monday morning. What isn't known is if the woman checked herself out or had a doctor's permission to leave.

"What the general public is not aware of is that we do not have trauma center medical facilities in La Salle County," said Utica Fire Chief Ben Brown. "OSF St. Francis in Peoria is a Level 1 trauma center with board-certified physicians available 24/7 who specialize in injury trauma. If you are hurt in a fall, an automobile accident, whatever, St. Francis is the best and closest place to go."

Brown said OSF Life Flight is usually contacted when a patient requires specialized critical care or rapid transport to or from another in-patient hospital unit.

Using this latest incident as an example, Brown explained his department's criteria for deciding when to summon the Life Flight chopper to an accident scene.

"First we try to get to the victim as fast as we can," said Brown. "In Sunday's case, it was approximately 39 minutes from when we got call out to our first physical contact with the person."

That isn't bad response for a call inside Starved Rock, he said. If the accident happened in one of the park's remote canyons, that response time could be much longer.

"As we assess the patient — if the accident was a fall — we also judge how far he or she fell," he said. "If the distance is three times the victim's height or 20 feet or more, calling in the Life Flight helicopter is standard procedure. We also call such transport in for any apparent critical trauma to the victim from a fall or any other kind of accidents. "

Brown said none of his responders force an accident victim into a helicopter or to a local hospital by ambulance. And, just because the patient is responding well and appears unharmed, he said, possible unseen internal injuries can't be ruled out.

"People can refuse our EMT ambulance service any time with a simple signature on one of our medical refusal forms."

"Our No. 1 job in an emergency response is to get the injured person to the best medical treatment as soon as possible," Brown said. "That is what we train for, that is what we do."

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Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 9:12 pm | Updated: 9:13 pm, Tue Aug 18, 2015.
Steve Stout,, 815-431-4082