A while ago I wrote this article for AirMed and Rescue Magazine. Having little knowledge of aircraft and air ambulances (or HEMS – Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) beforehand, I made sure I did plenty of research before interviewing the chief pilot of Amsterdam’s air ambulance service about how they get started up and ready to fly missions so quickly.
Frans Fuhrmann, chief pilot for ANWB Medical Air Assistance Amsterdam, was recently met with some scepticism when he revealed that his organisation’s crews achieve average start-up times of two to three minutes in daylight and eight minutes at night. Other HEMS professionals writing on the EMS Flight Crew Facebook page cited average start-up times of around 10 minutes, and some worried about the safety of getting airborne just two minutes after a call is accepted.
But safety, Fuhrmann explains, is at the heart of all of the crews’ procedures. He says: “Speed is not a goal, it’s a result and it can only be achieved by putting safety first.”
ANWB is the HEMS operator for the Netherlands. A team of 38 pilots flies 24/7 emergency missions from four stations (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Groningen and Volkel) with each station covering about a quarter of the northern-European country. Its fleet consists of five Airbus H135 helicopters (two T2s, two T2+s and a P2+) for HEMS and two Airbus H145 helicopters for patient transport. The second H145 is based on Leeuwarden air base in the north of the country to provide patient transport from the nearby Dutch islands.
All in the prep
So how do the crews achieve such remarkable speeds? Largely with meticulous preparation and an effective distribution of tasks. “Our crews work in two shifts; they start at 06:30 or 18:30 hrs. The crew – a pilot, a HEMS crew member (HCM) and a doctor – do the flight preparations (weather, NOTAMs, technical status, crew briefing and pre-flight). At 07:00 or 19:00 hrs, the new crew takes over and sets the helicopter ‘hot’, meaning that they do all of the interior checks and pre-starting checklists,” Fuhrmann explains.