VHS medical field students get a close look at air ambulance

Students at Vilonia High School thinking about a job in the medical field, Monday, had an opportunity to learn about those who work aboard an air ambulance.

VHS medical professions teacher Crissy Lewis and about  30 students in the medial professions classes at VHS watched as a Unity Health air ambulance from Searcy, along with a crew, landed on the band practice field early Monday morning.  Paramedic flight nurse Latricia Maynard stood waiting with the students for the arrival.  Mrs. Maynard’s daughter, Ashley, is a student in the class.  Lewis said Mrs. Maynard arranged for the air ambulance visit.

From launch time to landing, the time from Searcy was 13 minutes. Aboard the chopper was a medical crew including Annette Tatum, registered nurse, Monte Jones, paramedic and Tom Bolls, pilot.

On the ground, they introduced themselves and talked about their particular jobs for about an hour allowing at least two classes to visit.  Students were shown the inside of the helicopter and the equipment carried aboard the “flying hospital.” The team demonstrated loading techniques as well as took turns fielding questions.

Maynard, based in Russelleville, said her team may only average a call or two a day while those in other areas stay extremely busy. While on call, generally 24 to 36 hours at a time, she said she is housed in her “home away from home.”  Maynard said her job is demanding, stressful and emotional but “it’s the best job I could do.”

Medical air teams, she said, work hot days and cold nights, in the rain, sleet and snow and also on weekends and holidays.  We work with people at their worst, she added.  Not everyone, she said, is cut out to work in the medical field. “The medical field is a calling,” she also said. Christmas is the day I tell my kid it is, she offered. We celebrate, she said, around my schedule. On the flip side, she said, “I actually get paid to do what I literally love to do.”

Students had questions about everything from air traffic control, air safety, to fuel capacity. The Unity helicopter, Maynard said, is one of the fastest air medical helicopters in Arkansas designed to carry heavy loads.

A question about the uniforms, Jones said “not only do we look cool,” the uniforms are made of Nomex, a flame retardant material, that allows the uniform to burn away rather than stick to the skin. It was said the uniforms are extremely hot in summer and cold in winter. 

Jones also talked about his route to get into the paramedic field. He started out as a firefighter and the fire department sent him to paramedic school.

“Google is your friend when it comes to careers,” he said. “Each of you can figure out your particular path to get where you want to go.”

The team also talked about the work involved with each call. The flight with the patient, Tatum said, is the quickest part. Afterward, there is a fuel stop and the paperwork takes a couple of hours. As far as the fuel range, it is about 2½ hours before it goes to the reserve tank.

Some of the students particularly had an interest in the role the pilot plays. Bolls said he has been a pilot for 46 plus years. He began his career in the military. He said he generally works 12 hour shifts/14 days on and 14 days off. Recently, he said, he worked his shift and took a cruise on his days off.