Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fairfax County Police Aviation Unit Important for Rescue

 Fairfax County Police Aviation Unit Important for Rescue, Pursuit
Once the Fairfax County Police aviation is dispatched to an emergency, one of the two Bell 407 helicopters can be airborne in two minutes. From their base in Fairfax, they can get to the furthest edge of the county in seven minutes--tops.

“When you’re going 120 knots, you get there pretty fast,” said Andrew Edgerton, a civilian pilot in the unit. “Everybody turns it on when it becomes go time.”

Fairfax County police has had a full-time aviation unit since 1982, said unit Commander Andy Hill. The unit is composed of six pilots (two sworn officers and four civilian), 10 flight officers who serve as EMTs and operate the helicopter’s cameras, a mechanic and a commander. Unit members are paid regular police salaries. The unit flies between one and two regular patrols daily and sometimes get called for medivac missions several times a day. In 2010, the unit airlifted 92 patients to hospitals, Hill said. From Jan. 1 through Feb. 10, the unit has flown 135 missions. In 2010, the unit flew 1,204 missions.

Since he was a child, Edgerton said he wanted to fly helicopters. For the last six-months Edgerton has served as one of the four civilian pilots in the unit.

“When you’re first learning to fly, it’s humbling,” Edgerton said. “It’s as close as you can get to a magic carpet.”

All FCPD pilots have to have a minimum of 1,000 hours of flight time before they can apply for the position, Hill said. They must also have a night flying rating, he said. Individuals wanting to serve as flight crew members are sworn police officers who apply internally.

Officer Jon Kaminski has been a flight crew member in the unit for the last three years, serving eight years total with the department. Flight crew members must complete a two-year emergency medicine program at Northern Virginia Community College before they can begin flying on missions. On each flight, there is a pilot and two crew members.

“Most of the calls we go on are high priority calls,” Kaminski said. “We have everything an ambulance has on board.”

The two Bell 407 helicopters have been equipped with life saving machines, medicines, spotlights and a special camera that can read a license plate from the air if they’re involved in an aerial pursuit. The two helicopters were purchased for just over $1 million each without all of the specialized equipment, one in 1996 and the other in 2000, Hill said.

Keeping the helicopters airborne is the responsibility of mechanic Jeff Young. Preventative maintenance is done after every 50-hours of flight time and a complete check is done on each helicopter after 300 hours of flight time, Young said. More than 600 hours of flight time requires more in depth maintenance, he said.

Kaminski said the helicopters do have some restrictions they can fly in. Severe inclement weather can ground the helicopters he said and in some cases with larger patients, the unit may not be able to transport them. In order to go up at night especially, you have to be able to see three miles ahead, Kaminski said. If the weather gets bad, they have to be able to get 1,000 feet off the ground and they can’t go up in freezing rain, he said.

“We work like cops and live like firemen.






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