SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
Fairfax County Police Helicopter Division
Northern Virginia police dept uses matched pair of Bell 407s for law enforcement, security, medevac.
Mechanic Jeff Young examines the main drive shaft of one of the unit’s Bell 407 helicopters.
Nearly all maintenance is carried out in-house, although engine overhaul and upgrade work is performed by Keystone and Paradigm. Young specializes in gearbox and transmission work. He calls the Bell 407 "reliable, predictable and very easy to work on," adding that he has seen "a lot of product improvement at Bell."
He says that some components, such as radios and monitors, go back to the manufacturers, and avionics work is normally done by Capital Aviation HEF (Manassas VA).
Medical Dir Bill Hauda and Senior Medical Dir Craig DeAtley provide medical oversight for the paramedic team under chief paramedic Sgt Mark Smith. Specifically, they oversee training and testing, protocols, treatments and medical equipment.
Both are volunteers and put in 10-15 hrs per week with the Helicopter Division. Hauda's full-time job is as a doctor at Inova Fairfax, while DeAtley is a physician's assistant at Washington Hospital Center. "We do mostly trauma-based scene response rather than interhospital transfers," explains Hauda. "We can take care of chest trauma-basically, we take the trauma center to the scene."
Senior Paramedic Tammy Russell: “This is an incredible and unique opportunity—we have a really good gig here.” Maintenance is intensive, as it is for any helicopter operation, and keeping accurate count of flight hours and cycles is vitally important.
For DeAtley it's a pleasure to be "working with the best police department in the Capital Region and one of the elite in the US." He adds, "And we get to fly-which both of us love."
Paramedics have to maintain a suite of qualifications-basic trauma life support (BTLS), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), pediatric advanced life support (PALS)-as well as renewing their law enforcement qualifications every 2 years through the Dept of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
Senior Paramedic Tammy Russell has been with the unit for 3 years. She trained in-post, attending EMT school for 4 weeks at the Fire Academy, then George Washington Paramedic School and NOVA Community College in Springfield VA. Paramedics must fly for 2 years with the unit before they can make senior rank.
Russell says that she flies most often on criminal and rescue missions, with paramedical work making up only around 10% of all missions. "At heart I'm a police person," she admits, "but the more highly trained I am as a paramedic, the more useful I can be to our officers."
Fairfax County Chief of Police Col David Rohrer joined the agency in Dec 1980 as a patrol officer. A former SWAT team leader, he became Chief of Police in Jul 2004.
Rohrer describes the Helicopter Division as "an incredible asset"-one that "really enhances our mission to protect and serve our community." Since day one, he says, the unit has been self-motivated. As he notes with some understatement, "It's hard work doing this job-the police work, the injuries, the trauma." Rohrer recalls the fatal shooting of 2 police officers-Detective Vicky Armel and Officer Michael Garbarino-at Sully police station on May 8, 2006. "The community outpouring was unbelievable," he says.
Meanwhile, the department maintained its mission in the aftermath of the killings. "Like other security units, they believe in their mission." Rohrer beams. "And they do the medevacs-that's the priority. I'm just really proud of them."