OCEAN CITY — Local emergency services have another valuable tool at their disposal as the Maryland State Police (MSP) last week started stationing its Trooper 4 medevac helicopter at the Ocean City Airport on weekends during the summer season.
Earlier this year, MSP Aviation began exploring better ways to deploy its fleet of medevac helicopters around the state in an effort to get the resources to areas where they’re needed the most and cut down on often critical response times. Trooper 4, typically stationed in Salisbury, can get to a crisis in the resort area rather quickly, but a review of the statistics revealed it is needed most often in and around Ocean City during the summer season, according to Lieutenant Walter Kerr of the MSP Aviation Command.
“It’s part of a larger program to deploy our resources where they are likely to be needed the most,” he said. “We picked Ocean City as a starting point because our statistics show a high priority need during the summer. We feel like it could be a good test case.”
Trooper 4 will be stationed at the Ocean City Airport during weekends in the summer. It will be deployed in a variety of ways from transporting medical emergencies, assisting local law enforcement and even assisting with water rescues, all of which are things MSP Aviation already does in the area. The big difference now could be how quickly the helicopter and its crew are able to respond.
“We figure it can save us about 15 minutes including start up time and transportation,” said Kerr. “Fifteen minutes is huge. Fifteen minutes can make a huge difference when somebody is drowning in the ocean or bleeding on the highway.”
While Trooper 4 will continue to be a valuable resource for law enforcement and medevac situations, perhaps the biggest change will be an enhanced partnership with the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP). Already, the OCBP has had extensive training with MSP Aviation on the potential use of Trooper 4 in water rescues, according to OCBP Captain Butch Arbin.
Arbin said he and five other OCBP officers went through six hours of hoist and harness training with MSP Aviation last Saturday off the coast of Assateague.
On Sunday, the same group trained with the MSP on lowering a basket into the water to retrieve victims. On Monday, six more OCBP members got the hoist and harness training from the helicopter and they will also get the basket training.
Twelve OCBP members are now trained in the use of the MSP helicopter and more will follow.
Kerr said the MSP helicopter has always been available for search and rescue missions, but training with the OCBP on real-time rescues could get key personnel to distressed or drowning swimmers more quickly.
“We have the capability of getting there quickly, but we don’t have rescue swimmers,” he said. “That’s what they do. That’s what they’re best at.”
Kerr said getting a trained rescue swimmer over a distressed victim in the water could turn an possible recovery into a rescue.
“We can get them out over the water in a hurry,” he said. “The safety of our personnel and their personnel comes first. We’re comfortable with lowering them into the water if they’re comfortable with being lowered.”
Arbin said having the MSP helicopter close by during the busy summer season is just another resource at the OCBP’s disposal.
“It’s another valuable tool in our tool box,” he said. “It’s a great resource. It’s one you hope you never have to use, but it’s comforting to know it’s there when if you need it.”
Arbin said having Trooper 4 so close could get rescuers over a swimmer much faster than a traditional rescue in many cases.
“We know the ocean and we know the currents,” he said. “If we get a report of a missing swimmer, they can land at the Coast Guard station and we can get one of our guys on there in minutes and be out over the water.”
Arbin said the state police briefed the Beach Patrol on the possibility of stationing Trooper 4 at the Ocean City Airport two weeks ago and had cursory discussions about how it might be best deployed. One day after that briefing, there was a 911 call about two swimmers who went into the ocean at 139th Street and didn’t come out.
“We weren’t on duty yet, obviously, but we had guards nearby working on stands at Gorman Park and they responded to the scene,” he said. “Meanwhile, the State Police helicopter landed at the Coast Guard station and we got one of our guys on there and it went up the beach. It turned out to be a false alarm, but we used the resource and it worked. We had one of our people up there over the water in minutes.”
Arbin said if there is a serious boat or jetski accident on the bay, usually a private boat nearby is first on the scene and then the Coast Guard or Natural Resources Police respond. The victim or victims is then transported to a rescue boat, which takes the victim or victims to the nearest dock for a waiting ambulance, all of which takes a lot of time.
“Deploying the state police helicopter to the scene could cut out a lot of those time-consuming steps,” he said. “There could be times when we could take a victim right out of the water.”