A policeman in a fluorescent orange jacket stands on the asphalt forecourt of an industrial building in Amriswil, Canton Thurgau. He looks up at the blue sky and stretches both arms upwards, forming a “Y” shape. The sign stands for “Yes – I need help”. The whirring sound of the rotor blade announces the arrival of Rega 7. Shortly afterwards, the red rescue helicopter from the St. Gallen base can be seen approaching its destination at great speed. With the signal, the policeman indicates to the pilot a possible landing site.
Landing in Amriswil
Sitting in the cockpit is pilot Dominik Tanner, with paramedic Christian Manser to his left. “Assisting police officer at 11 o’clock – looks like enough room to land,” says Manser. Both are highly concentrated. Tanner flies a right turn over the accident site, which can easily be identified from a distance thanks to the police cars and the ambulance. During the turn, the helicopter tilts to the right and the view of the scene on the ground becomes clearly visible. For the crew, this is an important moment. On the one hand, it gives them the opportunity to identify potential obstacles and dangers around the place that the police officer has chosen as a landing site. Are there any power lines or cables nearby? Are there any objects, such as awnings or tarpaulins, that the downwash of the helicopter could blow away during landing? On the other, the view from above can also provide information about the circumstances of the accident, as emergency flight physician Jessica Fieber, sitting in the back of the cabin, explains. “Where is the patient? Are there any signs of possible injuries? The first impression from the air is very important, which is why I always look out of the window during the approach.”
Taking over the patient in the ambulance
After landing, the crew work in a swift and focused manner. Jessica Fieber takes the medical backpack out of the rescue helicopter and makes her way to the ambulance. Inside the vehicle, two paramedics and an emergency doctor are already attending to the seriously injured patient, a six-year-old girl named Delilah. Jessica Fieber makes contact with the patient by asking her simple questions, while her colleagues inform her about the measures that have already been taken, including the medication given. The suspected diagnosis: a broken hip and possible internal injuries. “It’s important that I see the patient’s condition for myself. After all, I’m responsible from the moment I take charge of the patient to when I hand them over to the doctors at the hospital.” The emergency services had called out Rega so that the young patient could be flown to the Children’s Hospital in St. Gallen as quickly and gently as possible.
Preparing for the flight to hospital
Meanwhile, Dominik Tanner and Christian Manser are making all the other preparations for the flight to the hospital. Tanner informs the Rega Operations Centre by phone of the destination hospital and the estimated time of arrival, and passes on the patient’s personal details so that the flight coordinator can register her at the hospital. Manser prepares the stretcher trolley from the helicopter. Shortly afterwards, the Rega crew, police officers and paramedics all help to transfer the girl onto the Rega stretcher. Each procedure is perfectly coordinated – everyone knows what to do.
Everyone works together
Whether the ground-based ambulance service, the police, the fire service or – in winter – the piste rescue service: all the operation partners work closely together to help the patient as quickly and effectively as possible. The Rega crew is part of the rescue chain, which begins with the first responder and ends after the patient has been handed over at the hospital. “Of key importance for working together efficiently is that the tasks are clearly distributed and that everyone also knows what everyone else is doing,” explains Dominik Tanner. During missions in built-up areas, like the one for Delilah, the police, for example, are a great help. “They look for a suitable landing site, close off the road, and then guide us down to land. We are in contact by radio and so can communicate with each other at any time,” says Tanner. Having additional operation partners on site always means more helping hands. Thus it often happens that the local firefighters or police officers help to carry a patient to the helicopter if it has had to land a little further away.
To ensure that the collaboration between Rega crews and their operation partners functions smoothly, Rega invests a great deal of time and effort in joint training. Responsible for this is its Partner Training department. The professional experience of the Rega crew members also helps to ensure good teamwork between the various emergency organisations. Paramedic Christian Manser, for example, worked for the ambulance service for many years before he joined Rega: “I know from my own experience what is important to the ground-based rescue services and what equipment they have at their disposal. That helps me in our daily collaboration.”
A stroke of luck in the face of adversity
In Amriswil, the rotor blades of the Rega helicopter start to turn. The policeman in the high-visibility jacket ensures that no one approaches the helicopter as it takes off. In the cabin, Jessica Fieber gently places a Rega helicopter soft toy on the young patient’s chest and points to the rotors: “Look, now they’re starting to turn,” she says. The little girl’s father sits next to her. Delilah is calm and lies comfortably and well wrapped up on the red vacuum mattress. After a short flight, Jessica Fieber hands the young girl over to the waiting doctors at the Children’s Hospital in St. Gallen. She quickly summarises what has happened, what the suspected diagnosis is and what medication has been administered. Then she says goodbye to Delilah and wishes her all the best. Later it turns out that the little girl had been lucky: although she has to stay in hospital for several weeks with a broken hip, the large school satchel on her back and her thick jacket had probably protected her somewhat and thus prevented more severe internal injuries.