Mercy lands medical helicopter in Webster City

WEBSTER CITY – Public safety officials from across Iowa had the opportunity Thursday to get an up-close look at an important tool first responders have available to both transport patients and aid law enforcement.

The Mercy One Air Ambulance, a medical helicopter based at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, was at Van Diest Medical Center in Webster City, where about 50 public safety officials from various agencies learned about its history and what it responds to in a free training session hosted by the Hamilton County Peace Officers Association.

Jeff Johnston, a Mercy One flight nurse, said the service has been around since 1986. The helicopter Mercy uses today has been in operation since 2010.

Johnston said the helicopter responds to a variety of calls.

“Patient transfers account for about 65 percent of our calls,” he said. “We do adult, pediatric and neonatal transfers.”

Mercy One will also fly women who are experiencing problems with pregnancy, but only if the birth is not imminent.

“If an imminent birth does happen before we arrive, we want them to be examined at the hospital they’re at,” Johnston said.

Other emergencies Mercy One responds to include what Johnston called “scene flights” to serious accidents. The helicopter is also used in search-and-rescue missions, but there are only certain circumstances in which they will respond to those calls.

“We don’t take requests to fly over lakes,” he said. “That takes us out of our service area and we’re unable to respond to other calls. But if you don’t know if it’s something we’ll respond to, just call us and make the request.”

When Mercy One responds to emergencies, Johnston said there is information the crew needs to know about a patient, including whether it’s a male or female, a general idea of the problem and the weight of the patient. Johnston said the weight needs to be known because the helicopter has a weight limit.

“We have a 7,000-pound gross weight limit,” he said. “That means the most we can carry is someone who weighs between 400 and 500 pounds.”

A patient’s weight also impacts whether or not they can be loaded onto the helicopter.

“We might not be able to safely put someone that heavy on a stretcher,” he said.

According to Johnston, the helicopter can land on pavement, grass, gravel, and in farm fields. The lights on Mercy One enables it to land without additionally lighting the landing zone.

Recently, emergency personnel have started wearing night vision goggles to help them see when they’re flying in the dark.

The helicopter isn’t flown in certain weather, including fog, thunderstorms, heavy rain and snow, and constant wind at 60 miles per hour.

After the presentation, those in the class also had the opportunity to see Mercy One up close. Two people’s names were drawn to fly in Mercy One.

Debra Kasperbauer, a certified medical assistant at the Manning Regional Healthcare Clinic, in Manning, was one of the people whose name was chosen.

“It’s on my bucket list,” Kasperbauer said about flying in a helicopter. “I’ve never done it before.”

She was looking forward to flying in Mercy One.

“I’ve been in health care for 42 years, but I’ve never been involved with this side of the medical field,” she said.

In addition to Des Moines, Mercy One has two other helicopters that are located in Knoxville and Clarinda.