Its crews have performed about 22,000 missions, transporting accident victims, severely ill individuals and others in distress to hospitals across the region. Mercy Flight Western New York is one of the nation’s few remaining air transport medical units that is completely nonprofit.
Douglas H. Baker has been president of Mercy Flight for 32 years. Dennis Crandall is the organization’s chief pilot and has performed thousands of transports over the past two decades.
Baker and Crandall sat with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to talk about Mercy Flight. Here is a summary of key issues in an interview that is part of the “In Focus” series; watch the full interview above.
Meyer: Doug, you started here in 1981 when the organization was first founded. What is the biggest change you’ve seen?
Baker: The biggest change we’ve seen is the type of aircraft we fly and certainly the severity of the patients that we transport. That’s changed drastically. That’s probably the most outstanding thing over the years. There are patients we fly today that we never would have even considered trying (to fly) 30 years ago or 32 years ago.
Meyer: Is that because of the technology advances?
Baker: It’s because of the technology advances. It’s because of the training of the paramedics and the flight nurses. It’s also essential today because many of the outlying hospitals have either closed or discontinued a lot of services. They don’t have the in-house capability to take care of patients. So consequently, we’re transporting patients with much more serious problems than we were 32 years ago.
Meyer: I was wondering if population shifts or changes in travel patterns also changed the mission.
Baker: Everything has changed a little bit. When we started we didn’t have an aircraft stationed in Olean, and we didn’t have one stationed in Batavia. So that’s changed the whole situation. Especially the aircraft in Olean, because they very often go down into the Pennsylvania area.
Meyer: It’s amazing the diversity of missions that (Mercy Flight) has had. We all know about the car crashes and the ATV accidents. But you’ve also (responded to) an elderly woman falling down a steep embankment in her backyard, explosions in industrial plants. Dennis, you’ve been flying for over 20 years here. Are they any incidents that really stick in your mind?
Crandall: Certainly the kids feel close to home. I’ve got kids at home ... So you certainly hate to see the kids being involved in accidents and incidents. As flight crew members, we have to somewhat distance ourselves from that to make sure that ... the flight itself is a safe flight. Safety is paramount.
Meyer: How has the role of the pilot changed over the last couple of decades?
Crandall: The air space has gotten more complicated. The rules, the regulations, the amount of training involved. There are training requirements that come down from the federal authorities and have increased. So it’s certainly more complicated. But again, here at Mercy Flight, we want to make sure we adhere to the highest safety standards.