Emergency responders look to the skies in Wagener

Bill Bengtson, Aiken Standard, S.C.

Apr. 28—WAGENER — Emergency responders tend to rely on fire trucks, ambulances and patrol cars in doing their duty, but another type of vehicle joins the situation occasionally in the Wagener area, and local firemen got a refresher course on the topic this month.

Helicopter emergency medical services got intense attention April 20 and again April 24, with a LifeNet South Carolina crew from Orangeburg visiting to show some of the techniques and tools involved in their line of lifesaving work, when high speed and high-tech gear are essential.

An A-Star chopper was part of the mix, landing in the field behind the fire station.

"We try and do this training annually, for all the counties we service, just to get out, because they change staff," said flight nurse Shawn Griffin, who led the class.

"Safety's paramount, so the biggest thing is safety ... around the helicopter, and then after that, utilization — when to call us, why to call us, how to call us, and ... putting us on standby early," said Griffin, an Air Force veteran.

Griffin touched on such topics as how to communicate with an incoming crew, how to mark a landing zone and how to make the most of time when a few minutes can make the difference between life and death.

"We've got a lot of new firefighters, so we want to get them familiar with it," said fireman Eric Middleton, representing Wagener. He noted that helicopter technology changes, so a refresher course can be helpful.

On hand for about two hours were volunteers representing Wagener, Salley, Hollow Creek and New Holland.

"It cuts down on patient care. It gets them to the appropriate facility the fastest," such as a hospital with particular expertise in trauma, strokes and heart attacks, said Travis Kennedy, who works for Aiken County as a paramedic and helped arrange the two helicopter visits.

Griffin and his co-workers are based at The Regional Medical Center, in Orangeburg, and they cover Aiken, Orangeburg, Hampton, Bamberg and Allendale counties, with occasional reach into Lexington, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, helping other LifeNet teams when the need arises.

"We are in addition to EMS and fire, so we're part of the team that's there to help care for a patient, by using the fact that we're fast and the tools that we have," Griffin added.