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Emergency Response 2002 Conference Report

Click on photos for larger image and additional photos.

Rotor & Wing's Emergnency Response 2002 Rotor & Wing's Emergency Response 2002 conference was held December 11-13, 2002 in Jacksonville, Florida. This year saw some changes in this helo-centric conference as Rotor & Wing attempted to expand it from purely search and rescue, its past focus, to "emergency response," a catch-all description designed to cover a larger audience including EMS and law enforcement, and hopefully to encourage more participants to attend. There was considerably increased focus on homeland security in the presentations and panel discussions, pandering to this latest buzzword, but the exhibitors were still mostly focused on SAR. In the end, we're not so sure they succeeded in their aim, but changes such as this can take a couple years to catch on, so we'll withhold final judgement. All we can say is that they have a long way to go.

Sixteen months after September 11th the expected windfall of funding for more of everything, or even anything at all, has yet to manifest itself down in the trenches to the degree that was hoped. While some exhibitors and attendees we spoke with had seen some funds trickle in, for the most part they were all still waiting.

Sergei Sikorsky, son of aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky, was the opening keynote speaker. He provided an entertaining history of aviation with a focus on his father's aviation developments and exploits, from his inspiration as a youth through modern day Sikorsky Aircraft and the changes helicopters have wrought in lifesaving.

For the first time at the conference there was a static display of helicopters. The Erickson S-64 Aircrane Helitanker was on display outside in the cordoned-off parking lot.

Demonstrations and extracurricular activities included the Erickson Aircrane Helitanker and a tour of U.S. Coast Guard Group Mayport facilities with a helicopter rescue demo. Your faithful scribe managed to miss both being otherwise involved and having seen both previously, so no photos. A third demonstration of Helicopter-Small Boat MEDEVAC and Downed Pilot Rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard was canceled due to a mechanical issue with the helo.

Click here and here and here for photos from our the last visit to Mayport
Click here for the Erickson S-64 Aircrane Helitanker

Brian Horner of Learn To Return Training Systems instructs a student in the poolTwenty nine attendees from four countries participated in an Aircraft Underwater Escape training and certification program that was presented by Learn to Return (LTR) Training Systems. LTR's president and chief instructor, Brian Horner, was there with lead instructor Scott Nish. After an hour classroom introduction to the subject, students gathered at the rooftop pool of the Omni Hotel for the fun stuff using LTR's portable simulators. The pool's very cloudy water only added to the realism. The students we spoke with were all enthusiastic about their experience and many rated it as the high point of the conference.

At Thursday evening's awards dinner the crew of Austin, Texas-based STAR Flight: Kevin McDonald, pilot; Jim Allday, clinical manager; Chris Jones-Piercy, flight nurse; and James Esquivel, flight nurse, received the 2002 Rotor & Wing Heroism Award. The aircrew was selected for their extraordinary effort performing three separate harrowing multi-person swiftwater rescues in the aftermath of torrential rains on November 15 that resulted in severe flooding in the Austin area.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the survivors they rescued, Sharon Zambrzycki, a 55-year-old grandmother. It was pretty obvious from our brief conversation at least part of the reason why she survived and two others who were swept away at the same time did not. She had a tremendous will to survive and she simply didn't give up, even after the first set of rescuers failed to reach her, themselves becoming victims of the rushing water and requiring rescue by the STAR Flight crew. For more details, read the article "The Thin Blue Line" by Rotor & Wing editor John Persinos.

New Gear

We had considerable discussions with the emergency beacon manufacturers about the approval of 406 MHz PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) in the U.S. The very circumspect responses that some companies made to queries about future plans leads us to believe that some are already planning new products for release in time for, or shortly after, the July activation date, but nobody was willing to officially acknowledge anything. A few of the mil-spec oriented beacon manufacturers were also feeling us out about our expectations of the market for these beacons, obviously giving some consideration to entering the fray.

I didn't find a lot of new gear on display that captured my attention, but here are a few odds and ends of interest.

ACR Electronics Rescue Laser / Strobe protoypeACR Electronics was showing prototypes of a combined Firefly2 strobe and a laser signaling device similar in concept to the Greatland Laser Rescue Laser Flare. The two prototypes on display were labeled as "DragonFly" and "LaserFlash." No matter what they call it, it has potential by combining a non-active signaling device, the strobe, with the active laser.

The combined device is packed into the standard Firefly2 case. In ACR's prototype, there are two separate laser beams that are aligned to produce a single line that's twice as bright. You can see in the photos the two lenses for the lasers in the clear top of the strobe. Few technical details were available and representatives weren't sure how the total output would compare to existing devices. They were quick to claim that their mechanisms do not infringe on Greatland Laser's patents.

UPDATE February 27, 2003: Greatland Laser has advised they have received a patent on using their laser signaling technology (a laser line as a signaling device) in combination with strobes, LEDs, flashlights, GPSes, cell phones, VHF trancievers, etc. As such, they believe that ACR would be in violation of their patent if they brought this device to market. Greatland laser was not able to provide a patent number. UPDATE March 22, 2003: In response, ACR has provided a copy of a letter sent to Greatland Laser that states in part, "ACR values and respects the intellectual property rights of third parties" and that they believe that Greatland Laser's "assertions of unethical conduct by ACR to third parties are entirely unfounded and defamatory." UPDATE March 27, 2003: Greatland Laser has responded in an email to ETS that it "made no 'assertions of unethical conduct by ACR.' And Greatland apologizes publicly for any misunderstandings. Greatland Laser recognizes that the laser technology would indeed enhance the effectiveness of any signal/safety product and would consider a licensing opportunity to qualified manufacturers."

Operation is similar to the DoubleFly; activate the slide switch once for the strobe, twice for the laser. They would not commit to any availability or price, in fact they stressed no production decision had yet been made.

ACR also showed yet another iteration of the Firefly2 with a blue tinted clear case, part of their "DiveResc-Q" line of SCUBA products. Aside from looking very cool with its innards showing, the clear case actually has a small practical advantage, making it easy to visibly confirm that the o-ring on the battery door has a good seal. It also allows you to see if there is a leak, perhaps in time to do something about it. But, mostly, it sure does look cool; functionally it operates the same as the standard unit. Available, along with similar clear bodied versions of the C-Light and Firefly Plus lights, at a dive shop near you.

McMurdo Pains Wessex L6 Lifejacket LightMcMurdo Pains Wessex had a sample of their new L6 Lifejacket Light. This flashing white incandescent light is similar in size and shape to the ACR Rapidfire series, but meets the SOLAS 98 standards and the latest IMO requirements.

McMurdo claims 2-mile visibility and the battery will last a minimum of 8 hours. From their literature: The L6 has a storage life of 5 years using a non-hazmat Lithium Manganese Dioxide battery and can withstand storage temperatures ranging from -22 degrees F (-30 degrees C) to +150 degrees F (+65 degrees C). The L6 will operate in conditions ranging from 30 degrees F (-1 degree C) to 90 degrees F (+32 degrees C). The L6 measures 2.5 inches (65mm) long, 2 inches (50mm) wide and 1.5 inches (40mm) high, and weighs 2.5 oz (70g).

Mike Mitchell of Zephyr International was showing the prototype of his "AxelCut" emergency cable cutter. It was developed as an alternative to conventional bolt cutter type cable cutters and explosive powered single-shot cutters such as Breeze-Eastern's firearm style Clipper 5.

AxelCut hoist cable cutterDesigned to be used with one hand, the head incorporates a hook that makes it easy to snag the cable which is automatically drawn into the cutter. Bracing the end of the cutter on your person, a single pull on the sliding handle with one hand cleanly severs the cable. We tried the unit a number of time and found it worked just as advertised with virtually no effort. Using it is intuitive and simple.

The two-handed cable cutters commonly carried in rescue helicopters are just plain dangerous to use and only marginally effective. While it works just fine, the expense, logistical and training issues with the Clipper 5 are definite drawbacks. The AxelCut appears to address all these issues; an affordable solution that looks like it'll work. Sounds to us like Mike has a potential winner.

Production units will incorporate a protective cover over the cable and pulley mechanism that operates the actual cutter blade when you pull on the handle. Final weight is expected to be about two pounds (under 1 Kg). Retail price for single units is set at $1995.

The Emergency BandageWe had our first opportunity to handle the Israeli developed trauma bandage/wound dressing that's been a hot topic of late and starting to show up more widely in first aid and wilderness medical catalogs. Performance Systems is marketing the product in the U.S. for Israeli developer and producer First Care Products and they had a booth demonstrating what they are calling "The Emergency Bandage." (Talk about an uninspired name...) Commonly referred to as the "Israeli Bandage," it has been in use by the military, including U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, for a number of years, but has only recently been making inroads into mainstream use with U.S. medical services. It is an alternative to the mil-spec Traumedic bandage we have used in our personal kits for years and the BloodStopper bandage commonly found in civilian use.

The bandage is available in four and six inch wide sizes for military use. There is also a lighter duty 4-inch version for civilian use that costs about half. All are vacuum packed. It incorporates the usual sort of non-stick trauma pad affixed to an elastic dressing. Glued to the bandage over the center of the trauma pad is a plastic device, they call it a "pressure bar," that is primarily used to apply direct pressure to the wound to stop bleeding. At the end of the dressing is a plastic bar that is used to clip onto the wrap to secure it all in place. The bandage can also be used as a tourniquet, if necessary.

Click here for a sequence of instructional photos that shows the application to a wound on the arm.

The plastic pressure bridge adds some bulk, but the vacuum packing helps compensate some. Application is a cinch and very quick even with a single hand in many cases, much easier than other such bandages we've used. We like products designed to be easily used single-handed. We hope to get some real world feedback from our medical consultants and we'll report back the results, but our initial impression is favorable. We wouldn't replace all the trauma bandages in our kit with this, but it certainly has a place.

The Rotor & Wing Emergency Response 2003 conference will be held in Long Beach, California, November 18-20, 2003.

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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
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First Published: December 24, 2002
Revision: 03 March 22, 2003
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