20 years of faithful service

On 1 January 2008, the mobile emergency medical service (SAMU) of the Loire department (the 42nd department in France), which is attached to the University Hospital of Saint-Etienne in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, celebrated 20 years of helicopter operations. These operations began with the Ecureuil helicopters operated by Helicap. Then, on 1 July 1997, the EC135 took over.

© SAMU 42
Cliquer pour agrandir
The mobile emergency medical service of the 42nd French department (SAMU 42) performed 8,500 missions with its Ecureuil helicopters, notching up, 900 flight hours. So far, the EC135s have performed 9,300 missions and 5,800 flight hours, clearly showing the steady increase in the range and influence of these helicopters.

Interview with Dr Guy François Jomain, consultant anaesthetist.

Was the switch from the Ecureuil to the EC135 a significant change?
Guy François Jomain: Yes. We started using an aircraft that was bigger and better adapted to the task at hand. The four-seat configuration can accommodate crew and medical team, and the fourth seat can also be used for an extra nurse or paramedic. The ambulance area, which is independent of the cockpit, has a specific and ergonomic layout. We were the first mobile emergency medical service in France to use the EC135.

For which type of EMS missions do you use helicopters?
G. F. J.: 98% of our flights are in response to emergencies and our activities are equally divided between two types of mission. The first type of mission is to provide a primary response at the actual scene of the accident or medical emergency. In four-fifths of these cases we administer medicine, while the remaining fifth of this time is equally divided between paediatric transport and trauma surgery. We have to land in built-up areas, beside rivers or in the middle of the road. Our second type of mission is to provide transport between hospitals, as part of healthcare transfers and networks in the fields of cardiology, neurology, neurosurgery, traumatology, paediatrics, neonatology, obstetrics and gynaecology.

Are you satisfied with the maintenance and support that you receive?
G. F. J.: Yes, we’re very satisfied. The maintenance periods do not interfere with our services because SAF/Helicap organises them very well, and also provides replacements for the grounded helicopters during these periods. In terms of support, we had set a maximum limit of four to five hours for any unavailability, but this is very rarely exceeded or even reached.

How do you rate the EC135?
G. F. J.:
This is a high-performance helicopter. We are one of the mobile emergency medical services that operate effectively thanks to these aircraft. The helicopter unquestionably saves lives. It also transforms the work of the medical teams, provides a comfortable transport environment and ensures, through its promptness and reliability, that healthcare channels involving several teams run smoothly. We operate in the second largest region of France, which has areas of high urban density and numerous rural and hilly areas. We work with a network of four university hospitals in the Auvergne region and dozens of hospital-based or private practices. The helicopter allows us to spin a veritable spider’s web of medical cover that lets nobody escape its care and protection. It provides an incomparable means of response.