FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office TraumaStar flies S76A++
Joint MCSO/County Fire Rescue unit serves Florida Keys providing HEMS and airborne law enforcement protection.
MCSO currently operates the TraumaStar S76 and a Beechcraft King Air A200 from MTH. Aircraft previously operated by the unit include (L–R) Bell UH1, Bell OH58 and Cessna 404.
Chief Pilot Bob Inscoe, a former check airman at Braniff and US Airways, as well as a military helicopter standards/evaluation pilot, spearheaded the predesignated site project. Since acquiring its S76, the Aviation Division has grown to 6 pilots, 3 maintenance technicians and 16 flight medics and nurses.
Safety culture is woven through the whole organization. County Air Medical Services Chief Susie Martenson is the leader of TraumaStar’s flight medics and nurses. She calls today’s TraumaStar “a dedicated group of people passionate about taking care of our neighbors and visitors to the Keys.”
All TraumaStar team members are accomplished and experienced professionals. TraumaStar flies with 2 medical staffers from Monroe County Fire Rescue aboard every flight—a flight paramedic and a flight nurse.
Flight Medic Casey Kyburz, a 15-year veteran of EMS work, sums it up: “The medics bring on-scene and patient stabilization skills to the table, while the nurses bring continuity-of-care knowledge to the program, and that is particularly important due to our longer transport times.”
County paramedics who wish to apply for qualification as a flight medic must have a minimum of 3 years’ experience “on the truck” before being considered. In practice, most have far more. Nurses must have at least 5 years’ ER experience and be certified as a paramedic to be considered for a position.
All 6 pilots working at MCSO are high-time flyers, the majority with prior military service. Since at present the Sheriff’s Aviation Division is focused primarily on HEMS duties, pilots are not yet required to be sworn deputies, although 2 are.
Bateman aims to certify all pilots as reserve deputies, at a minimum, by sending them to the police academy as part of their in-service training. Pilots not yet qualified as first responders will soon be afforded that training too.
Minimum pilot qualifications to be considered for a position are 1500 hrs rotorcraft PIC. Once selected to join MCSO, pilots attend initial qualification training on the S76 at FlightSafety Intl (FSI)’s facility at PBI (Intl West Palm Beach FL).
Recurrent training—a 5-day course which includes classroom and simulator training—is programmed at 6-month intervals and is also at FSI PBI. Three of the 6 pilots are currently qualified on the King Air 200 which MCSO operates for staff and prisoner transport—these pilots also attend training at FSI.
The MCSO contract with FSI provides “full-service client” status allowing Aviation Division pilots unlimited access to training with FSI. Chief Pilot Inscoe manages both initial and recurrent training for the pilots and serves as a check airman on the Part 135 certificate.
Pilots are scheduled to man the TraumaStar aircraft on 12-hr shifts, 7 days on, 7 days off. Duty days begin at 0730 or 1930 and start with a briefing from the outgoing crew, a check of the day’s expected weather, preflight inspection of the helicopter and an extensive briefing with the medical crew that includes a risk assessment for operations during the shift.
Undersheriff Rick Ramsay is responsible for the Sheriff’s Aviation Division and was a key figure in launching TraumaStar HEMS.
While on duty pilots accomplish a variety of tasks including program development, ongoing training and committee project work. During their shift they listen to the radio for hints of impending trauma alerts which are officially called by ground responders, but follow strict protocols that allow the TraumaStar crews some advance warning.
Normally a helicopter crew is expected to launch within 4 minutes of a case being elevated to trauma alert status, but proactive monitoring of the fire rescue dispatch frequencies will often prompt the crew to pull the helicopter from the hangar and ready it for departure.
This often allows TraumaStar to be overhead, on scene, before the firefighters on the ground have fully secured the LZ. Helicopter crews respond to an average of around 20 calls per month. This equates to 75–100 hrs of flying annually, or more if also qualified on the King Air.
Pilots flying for TraumaStar like the work schedule, which allows some to live elsewhere in Florida and commute in for their 7 days on duty. (Apart from anything else, living in the Florida Keys is expensive.)
Pilot salaries range from the low $60,000s to high $80,000s including overtime. In addition, they accrue 16 hrs per month compensated vacation, enjoy full insurance benefits and are provided with a county car or transportation allowance.
Turnover is close to zero due to the positive working conditions and the most senior pilot, Gary “Ski” Baginski, has been with MCSO for over 10 years.
Responsibility for maintaining the Sheriff’s aircraft lies with Dir of Maintenance Tom O’Dea. He was recruited from Palm Beach County’s TraumaHawk program in 2006 to assist in the acquisition of the S76 and establish a Part 135 maintenance program for Monroe County.
Dir of Aviation Brooks Bateman is a seasoned law enforcement pilot with extensive flight ops training and management experience.
Most maintenance is accomplished inhouse, with all inspections and major component changes accomplished at the MCSO hangar by O’Dea and 2 mechanics, one of whom is an avionics technician.
When necessary for large jobs, O’Dea will hire contract mechanics to assist in the work. “We have one helo and no backup, so downtime is critical” says O’Dea, who managed to minimize downtime in 2008 and have an operational readiness of 95% for all missions.
According to O’Dea, MCSO does not stock “a lot of high-dollar parts.” Instead, he says, “We keep items on the shelf that could potentially keep us on the ground.”
Parts inventory is in the neighborhood of $150,000 and engines and gearboxes are supported with “power by the hour” programs from Turbomeca and Sikorsky. MCSO staff say support from both engine and airframe manufacturers is excellent.