A Higher Standard of Critical Care

A Higher Standard of Critical Care


From serious illnesses to traumatic accidents, unfortunate circumstances cause a need for immediate quality care and are a reality of daily life. When faced with the imminent and acute need to get to a hospital properly equipped to handle a patient’s life threatening condition, local fire rescue and ambulances are incredibly important. But sometimes, medical transport by air can literally mean the difference between life and death. Polk County is fortunate to have this option, and right in our backyard.

Rocky Mountain Helicopters is one of hundreds of independent partners of Air Methods, maintaining its home base at Bartow Municipal Airport for over 12 years. Air Methods has over 300 bases and 400 helicopters nationwide, and cares for over 100,000 patients on average over a year’s time. Not affiliated with a specific hospital, this Air Methods company provides community-based services, remaining on call 24/7 as they work in Central Florida in Polk, Hardee, Highlands, Osceola, Lake, Sumter, Pasco and Manatee counties.

“We’re a leader in our industry,” said Rick Savage, Clinical Base Supervisor for Rocky Mountain Helicopters, who manages the clinical staff of paramedics and flight nurses. “Our company has built its reputation on being committed to quality and safety.” Air Methods, headquartered in Colorado, voluntarily exceeds Levels 1 and 2 in the FAA Voluntary Safety Management System Program, dedicating tools and staff to manage risk.


The dedication required both by the company and its employees must be stellar to work under stressful conditions. Employing 15 flight staff, the company schedules a crew of 3 for each 24-hour shift that consists of a pilot, paramedic, and flight nurse. “The team remains at the airport and cannot leave under any circumstance,” said Savage. The paramedics and nurses are all critical-care trained with advanced certifications, as the care they provide in the air comes with its own challenges of maintaining safety during flight and providing urgent and necessary care to the patient.

There are a couple of circumstances that provoke a call for air medical transport. “We generally receive two types of calls,” Savage said. “One is a pre-hospital scene flight, when we are requested to report to the site of an event such as an auto crash, acute injury, or a fall from a great height. Polk County Rescue paramedics at the scene make the call as to whether the injuries call for a ‘trauma alert’ and request the dispatch of a helicopter.” In some cases, the injuries encountered require immediate transport to a trauma center, which may be some distance away and can be expedited via helicopter versus ambulance. In others, the location of the incident in relation to any medical care may take too long via ambulance; Air Methods can step in and give the patient the best possible outcome by quick transport while receiving care in the air. Polk County Rescue and Air Methods determine the closest and safest location for a landing zone.


In addition to a pre-hospital scene flight, Air Methods also provides inter-facility flights. An example might be that a patient arrives at the closest hospital only to discover that they must be transferred to a different facility, again for the best possible outcome. Every Polk County hospital, as do facilities outside the county, has a helipad for both safety and easy access.

It’s important to note that the “Golden Hour” is the most critical for a patient, a term representing the first 60 minutes after the onset of the initial injury or acute issue. “It’s within the Golden Hour that we can be most effective,” said Savage. “Rapid transport is proven to save lives and improve outcomes. On the ground, ambulances can have issues avoiding obstacles beyond their control. This is why they make the call, and why this service is important to people who live in, work in and visit Polk County.”

When the call comes in for a flight, the crew leaps quickly into action, taking their helmets as well as medicines and gear already packed and ready to go. “Their goal is to be off the ground as quickly as possible,” said David Duke, Florida Business Development Manager for Air Methods. “Safety comes first – while the pilot is cranking the engine, the paramedic is talking with dispatch and gaining the patient’s valuable medical information as they are preparing for, and are in, flight. If the patient needs to be transported to a trauma center, such as Lakeland Regional Medical Center, the arrangements and communication are taken care of. LRMC has always been a supportive partner here in Polk County.” The helicopter is well-equipped with life-saving equipment to help stabilize a patient while en route to the designated hospital.


The members of the crew, for their part, face their own challenges while in flight. The temperatures can be very hot or cold and lighting is limited. Every patient is different, so the crew is constantly faced with a variety of conditions to treat, as well as ages of those patients, ranging from young children to the elderly. “It’s the challenge that we thrive on,” said paramedic Aaron Schriver, who monitors the police scanner constantly for a heads-up on activity in the area. “We are ready as soon as the call comes in.”

It’s that eagerness to help and detailed knowledge of care that can make the difference, according to Duke. “It’s a rewarding job to know the difference you can make,” said Duke. “LRMC hosts a Trauma Awareness Day each year to give patients and medical personnel the opportunity to come together and visit. The gratitude on the part of the patients is unrelenting, and our personnel are able to see the difference their actions made in providing a positive outcome in people’s lives.”

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