Broward County Sheriff’s Office provides multimission capability in south Florida

Av unit supports agency’s air, land and marine divisions.

(L–R) Sheriff Al Lamberti, Aviation Unit Dir of Ops Sgt Dale Owens and Unit Coordinator Christine Ponticelli at the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Helistop.

Edison joined BSO 10 years ago as a technician after working on the S76 and S92 programs with Sikorsky. He was key to the unit acquiring Part 135 certification in 2003, developing the maintenance programs required to support commercial operation. Most inspections on unit aircraft are accomplished inhouse, with major overhaul of engines provided by Pratt & Whitney or Turbomeca.

Rotor blade overhaul is provided by American Eurocopter. Edison maintains roughly $750,000 in parts inventory to support the BSO fleet and has a “proactive regime” that works to ensure 100% aircraft availability, with 2 helicopters available for service at all times. According to Edison, the EC135s are the favorite of the mechanics and pilots alike.

The EC135 has reduced manpower requirements for maintenance tasks—like the 100-hr inspection that Edison can “accomplish in one day, versus 4–5 days on the EC130.” Edison also likes the ability to configure the EC­135 quickly for multimission work. The BSO Aviation Unit provides service to all cities in the county and transports patients primarily to one of the 3 trauma centers—Broward General Medical Center, North Broward Medical Center and Memorial Regional Hospital.

When needed for special cases, BSO’s helicopters routinely fly patients to the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center at the Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. Supervisors on road patrol are generally the ones who initiate LE calls for service. Usually pilots can expect to fly about 2 hrs per shift, with 4 hrs of flight time being “a lot,” according to Owens.

Normally, 1 pilot is scheduled for duty with 2 flight medics—at night, 3 pilots are scheduled, allowing for a dedicated police aircraft with 2 LE pilots during the peak demand overnight. A 2nd aircraft is then available to respond to EMS calls with a pilot and 2 medics aboard. Capt Michael Kane, one of the Aviation Unit supervisory personnel from the Dept of Fire Rescue, describes his responsibilities as “the best job in the world—few are lucky enough to be part of it.”

Because the job is so coveted, BSO flight medics are well tenured, with 18–20 years’ average service. When they first join the unit, 3–6 months are required for their training to fully qualify them as flight medics and law enforcement observers. Flight Medic Richard George describes the mix of medical staff as a good cross-section “with a mix of young and old—calm and experienced, young and aggressive.”

Once in the unit, most stay in, sacrificing promotion to remain in aviation. Generally, a helicopter is dispatched for EMS calls when ground transport would exceed 20 min, extrac­tion of the victim takes longer than usual or the area is not easily accessed by ground units. Once called, average response time after launch is 4–6 min, with a planned maximum of 10 min on the ground at the scene to load the patient.

George explains that, once on board, “one medic will focus on the airway—from the neck up for a serious trauma—while the other will monitor vitals, medication and communication with the hospital.” In the most extreme cases, both flight medics can become involved in performing CPR and pass the communication duties to the pilot.

The helicopters are equipped in much the same way as the trucks on the ground—“just more compact,” as Flight Medic George says. Unique to the helicopters is that they carry paralytics that allow flight medics to perform life-saving airway procedures in flight when necessary. According to Kane, the Aviation Unit is the only part of BSO to carry this medication.

When not performing medical duties, the flight medics assist in LE work. They are trained to operate all the onboard LE equipment and are skilled at NVG operations. Kane adds, “Every call we get is a hot incident,” meaning that the medics will either be called on to do EMS work or run the moving maps, the FLIR or communicate with LE dispatchers. This requires good CRM discipline among the pilots and crew.

Flying for BSO

Chief Pilot Brian Miller (L) and Deputy/Pilot Carl Spear at FXE. Miller oversees unit organization and flight training in addition to flying patrols.

Pilot positions at the unit are also prized, with some pilots having served over 20 years in the Aviation Unit alone, plus additional time in other divisions of the Sheriff’s Office. Ponticelli notes, “We prefer road officers who are pilot qualified—then we can train them to fly ‘our’ way.”

Owens adds, “We look for pilots who are passionate about flying, have a personality that will mix well and have sound basic flying skills.” To groom interested BSO deputies for possible future positions within the unit, Owens created a pilot apprentice program.

This provides 2 weeks of structured orientation for current deputies and allows those interested to fly with the unit on their own time. When positions become available, the “apprentices” are given preference in hiring. If a large enough pool of qualified applicants is not available within the 5800-member BSO, the Aviation Unit will consider outside candidates.

Once hired, pilots attend initial qualification training on a single aircraft type. American Eurocopter provides onsite training to BSO and uses department aircraft with Eurocopter instructors for the flight portion of the course. Initial qualification courses on the remaining 2 aircraft types are spaced over several months.

New-hire pilots will then build time flying with one of the unit’s 3 CFIs and complete their Part 135 check in each aircraft. Eurocopter also conducts recurrent training on site on each of the 3 variants. Annual check rides are re­quired for each with Owens.

Once a deputy/pilot is fully qualified, he or she joins the schedule rotation, which is generally five 8-hr shifts per week, although some 10-hr shifts are assigned for overlap. Because of Part 135 duty-time limitations, the pilots do not share the same 24-hr schedule with the flight medics.

Typically a pilot will report for duty, check the planned mission board, get debriefed by the outgoing crew and check the status of the aircraft to determine which ship will be the primary aircraft for the shift.

Planning for eventual EMS missions requires development of a “dispatch sheet” and weight and balance for expected flights. Generally, BSO will dispatch with 70% fuel load for planned missions and include 2 flight medics in the calculations.

All pilots assigned to BSO have ancillary duties that may include statistical monitoring, equipment maintenance management or coordination of directed patrols (such as seaport security flights), building maintenance management or instructor pilot work. Chief Pilot Miller, a 20-year BSO veteran, is responsible for overall unit organization and pilot training.

Job satisfaction among pilots is high, and compensation packages include take-home vehicles, “ample vacation and sick time,” additional pay for holidays and a “robust” retirement program. Deputy/pilot pay starts in the mid-$40K range, with most of the staff averaging approximately $70K per year.


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