The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, the Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, Virginia Tech Athletics sports medicine, Virginia Tech police, and Carillon Clinic Life-Guard helicopter emergency medical services came together in a high-stakes exercise on July 12, setting a new standard for emergency medical care during football games. The event, which simulated an injured athlete on Worsham Field, proved to be a showcase of teamwork and preparation.
Practice makes perfect
Under the blazing sun, the agencies involved demonstrated a seamless choreography of skills as they practiced the landing of a medevac helicopter and the transfer of a patient from the field. This lifelike drill provided an opportunity for each agency to identify operational deficiencies before facing an actual incident, reaffirming the community’s commitment to optimal emergency response.
“We are only as good as the partners we have and the practice we are able to perform,” said Mike Goforth, associate athletics director for sports medicine. “We are blessed to have great partners across the institution and throughout our community that provide us with valuable resources and services. The ability to get together and practice these skills are invaluable to our ability to handle these injuries and potential crises.”
A symphony of collaboration
During the training, each agency was assigned responsibilities mirroring those in a real-life incident. The Virginia Tech Rescue Squad organized and facilitated the helicopter landing, Blacksburg rescue provided expert patient care on the field and smooth transport to the landing zone, and Virginia Tech Athletics played a pivotal role in ensuring the athlete’s welfare. This intricate dance of agencies allowed for the identification of operational and patient care deficiencies, fine-tuning their life-saving capabilities.
Jacob Wierer, chief of the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, highlighted the significance of Carilion Clinic’s Life-Guard helicopter in the exercise. “The participation of Life-Guard allowed us to practice establishing a landing zone and communicating with the aircraft,” he said. “It provided us with a chance to perfect the medical handoff to the HEMS [hospital emergency medical services] crew, and Virginia Tech Athletics could assess the aircraft’s size limitations — a critical aspect for timely and safe athlete transportation.”
The Life-Guard service provides timely care for potential spine injuries to athletes. With the nearest level 1 trauma center located in Roanoke, transportation by flight offers the best chance for positive outcomes. Conducting this training with the actual helicopter and athletes of varying sizes presented a genuine test for the agencies, ensuring they are fully prepared to handle any situation.
“The overall girth or length of a patient plays a huge role in this process, so training with the actual helicopter and athletes of a particular size gives us the most accurate training possible,” said Goforth.
A blueprint for preparedness
Beyond refining interagency communication and operational compatibility, this training exercise extended its benefits to other community events, high school athletic gatherings, and emergency care scenarios. By fostering content expertise and emphasizing teamwork, the agencies demonstrated unparalleled precision and dedication to their craft.
“This exercise allowed the multiple agencies involved to exercise our operational procedures together,” said Wierer. “It builds relationships for the future and streamlines interagency communication for football HEMS operations, ensuring the safety and well-being of our campus and the entire Blacksburg community.”
A community’s safety at heart
“I think people would be so surprised to know all the processes that are in place to provide safety throughout our campus and the community and the level of collaboration to ensure adequate resources for whatever emergency/crisis that may occur,” Goforth said.
The exercise concluded with the helicopter landing and patient care transfer being executed flawlessly, marking a significant achievement. This paves the way for increasingly intricate upcoming exercises, raising the standard for community emergency preparedness and care.
– Stephanie Overton