SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
Fairfax County Police Helicopter Division
Northern Virginia police dept uses matched pair of Bell 407s for law enforcement, security, medevac.
By Phil Rose
Fairfax County Police Helicopter Division’s 2 mission enhanced Bell 407s in echelon left formation fly over Fairfax County Parkway in northern Virginia.
Fairfax County lies immediately west of Washington DC in northern Virginia. A largely urban area covering some 400 sq miles, it is home to more than a million people and a center for high-tech and government-related businesses.
Law enforcement is the responsibility of Fairfax County Police Dept (FCPD), which was formed in Jul 1940 at a time when the county was chiefly rural. Postwar business and residential development, associated population growth and the construction of major highways all changed the area’s character dramatically.
For example, today the county has the largest number of registered vehicles and licensed operators in Virginia. Meanwhile, FCPD has grown to be the largest local police department in the state. Fairfax County Police Helicopter Division was launched in 1972 following the gift of an Enstrom F28 from a local businessman.
This program was terminated in 1975. In the early 1980s the Police Dept re-examined the need for a helicopter operation, and eventually acquired 2 Bell 206B JetRangers to relaunch the program. Initially, this was a part-time operation based with Page Avjet IAD (Dulles, Washington DC). The unit relocated to its present site at Fairfax VA in 1985.
For the next 6 years, from 1985– 91, the Helicopter Division ran a 24/7 joint operation (known as “ARIES”) with Fairfax Hospital using a 206B JetRanger and 3 Bell 206L LongRangers.
Then, in 1997, the department traded in the JetRanger and one LongRanger for a Bell 407. Four years later, in Apr 2001, it traded in its last LongRanger and procured a second 407. Missions Law enforcement missions constitute the majority of the 3000-plus missions flown by the Helicopter Division each year.
The unit typically flies 2 patrols per 12-hr shift. As in any police department with a rotary-wing component, the division supports ground patrols as they investigate robberies, suspicious events and burglaries. Other typical missions include helping to locate missing persons, monitoring public gatherings and assisting in capturing fugitives.
FCPD has a civil disturbance unit (officers with special training who can be called out as needed) and trained dive teams. Helicopter Division members train regularly with tactical teams in case use of force from the air is ever called for. So far, it has not been. With its trained paramedics, the unit can serve as an advanced-level provider at scene (ie, the “hot zone”).
Medevac operations run at around 10% of total unit missions. Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Service responds to serious incidents—those involving injury and/or trauma—and the unit determines the need for medevac. Most accident scene evacuations are to Inova Fairfax Hospital, which is a Level 1 trauma center.
Helicopter Division members—a mixture of pilots, FOs/paramedics and mechanics—at unit headquarters in Fairfax VA. Total complement is 22. Between 1991 and 1997, the FCPD fleet consisted of a JetRanger and 2 LongRangers.
The unit also transports some trauma patients from Mount Vernon and Fair Oaks Hospitals to Fairfax Hospital or other specialized facilities. Children and burn victims are flown to facilities in Washington DC. Even including the requisite 2-min (daytime) response and startup time, says Inabinet, a 407 can be anywhere in Fairfax County in 8 min.
Given that traffic can be an issue in some parts of the county, the unit saves numerous lives each year. Like many other law enforcement agencies, FCPD is active in the life of the community. Public relations activity includes participating in citizen advisory committees, organizing photo sessions and arranging school visits. Schedules for these activities are booked long in advance. Organization Helicopter Division unit commander 1st Lieut Wayne Inabinet has served 25 years with FCPD.
Formerly the assistant commander at Fair Oaks district station, he has commanded the helicopter unit since mid-2006. Unit strength is normally 22, says Inabinet. This figure includes himself, 6 pilots, 11 flight officer (FO)/ paramedics, 2 mechanics and 2 part-time medical directors. Generally, 5 or 6 officers are on station during the week (per shift), including the unit commander and a mechanic.
On weekends the usual staffing is a pilot and 2 FOs. This is also a typical mission crew, although some missions require only 1 FO. In the past, recalls Inabinet, FCPD would train selected officers. Today, pilots joining the Helicopter Division are expected to have previous rotary-wing experience. All unit FOs are sworn law enforcement officers and nationally certified paramedics who have spent at least a year in EMT school and undergone 10 weeks of helicopter field training.
They are required to have 2 years’ experience as junior paramedics before being considered fully operational. At any given time, 2 Helicopter Division members are in paramedic training. All of this represents “a tremendous investment of time.” Not a pilot himself, Inabinet flies with crews as much as possible. He describes his job as commander as “keeping the place running as far as administration, equipment and parts,” as well as ensuring that the unit remains fully operational and that all training tasks are accomplished.
“I bring 27 years’ law enforcement experience to help make their jobs easier ... and enable them to focus on their jobs. My job is to support them, keep the unit growing ... and expand our mission.”