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Medical helicopter station opens at Potsdam airport

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POTSDAM — St. Lawrence County welcomed the arrival of medical helicopter service at the official opening Thursday of Air Methods’ LifeNet of New York station at Potsdam Municipal Airport.

The north country’s need for medical helicopters has been alleviated by two new LifeNet stations opening this year; the station at Watertown International Airport near Dexter opened in June.

According to Air Methods Regional Vice President David M. Poulsen, the choice to bring service to Potsdam was an easy one.

Local leaders “knew what they needed, and they knew the answers to our questions, so it was an easy match,” Mr. Poulsen said.

The helicopters have been operating out of Potsdam since Oct. 1, but Thursday’s ribbon-cutting marked the ceremonial start for the fee-for-service business here. Village Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis and Administrator David H. Fenton welcomed the helicopter and its crew to the region.

The Potsdam station will employ 14 full-time staff members: four pilots, four paramedics, four registered nurses and two mechanics. Some employees are on loan from other stations at the moment, as LifeNet recruits and trains new full-time staff.

The local staff expects to respond to about 20 calls a month. The Potsdam and Watertown stations will back each other up in case of multiple emergencies.

Helicopters respond to emergency scenes such as car crashes or travel to area hospitals to fly critically injured patients to trauma centers such as Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, or Fletcher Allen Health Care, Burlington, Vt.

The job is stressful, but rewarding, said flight paramedic Lanny A. Miglioraro. “It’s ever-changing every day. You never know what you’re going to get,” he said.

Every flight has a team of three: the pilot, a nurse and a paramedic.

Even before the crew gets off the ground, there are important decisions to be made. The Potsdam station has made two flights so far, but has had to turn down several other requests because of weather conditions unsafe for flying.

“The weather is the ultimate factor in what we do,” said Jesse A. Edwards, the lead pilot at the Potsdam station.

Mr. Edwards took the job as a LifeNet pilot after finishing his time with the Army at Fort Drum. “It gave me a chance to keep flying,” he said.

The pressure is high when patients’ lives are on the line.

“We’ve seen some of the worst, most critically injured patients,” said Mr. Miglioraro, who has worked as a paramedic for 22 years.

Sometimes, despite best efforts, a patient doesn’t survive the trip to the hospital. But many do, with crucial time saved thanks to the speed provided by medical helicopters. This is what makes the job worthwhile, Mr. Miglioraro said.

“There’s always that positive feeling,” he said.

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