Volusia sheriff's helicopters patrol, rush injured to hospital
By Patricio G. Balona
“We get to see a lot from up here,” said Miller, a paramedic, as the Volusia County Sheriff's Office helicopter rose from the DeLand Municipal Airport.
At 500 feet, pilot Brooks increased speed to 149 mph, simulating the transportation of a trauma patient to Halifax Health Medical Center. The green-and-white flying machine, known to law enforcement officers as Air One, headed east over the Tomoka Correctional Institution and Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium. Seven minutes later, the helicopter landed at the helipad atop Halifax Health Medical Center and sat for 90 seconds — the time it takes to unload trauma patients and take them downstairs to the trauma center.
Daytona Beach police were looking for a suspicious car. Brooks radioed that he and Miller were headed to the area to help. The chopper banked right and then left and in less than a minute the black Acura came into view at School Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Brooks radioed its location as Miller quickly activated the controls of the camera to take a closer look at the car and its license plate. The crew switched channels to talk with ground patrols and quickly led marked units to the parking lot where the car had stopped. The chopper hovered above until Daytona Beach police said all was clear.
“That's what we do when we are on patrol,” Brooks said. “We assist other agencies with whatever they are working on.”
EYES ON CRIME
Brooks, one of four pilots, and Miller, one of four paramedics with the Sheriff's Office, fly routing patrols — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — over areas where statistics show high criminal activity, said Capt. Eric Dietrich, commander of the Sheriff's Office Special Services Division.
The Bell 407 helicopter, powered by a 750 shafted horse power engine, is one of three in the fleet. One is assigned to the day shift, another to the night shift. One is always in reserve and goes into service when a helicopter needs maintenance service that can take eight hours to a month. The helicopters are serviced at 50-hour intervals, said mechanic and aircraft maintenance supervisor, Neil Ridout.
Purchased in 2008, 2009, and 2010, half of the $5.9 million cost of all three was paid by Halifax Health Medical Center.
The Sheriff's Office and Halifax have a partnership and under the agreement the Sheriff's Office staffs and flies for the regional trauma network that includes Halifax. The Sheriff's Office is among the few local governments in the country with the authority to operate under a Federal Aviation Administration certificate that permits Halifax to receive compensation from trauma patients flown to its facility, said Gary Davidson, sheriff's spokesman.
“It is these patient fees that help defray the acquisition cost of the helicopters and keep the fiscal impact to taxpayers at a minimum,” Davidson said.
LIVE Saving FLIGHTS
Medical calls take priority when helicopters are on patrol, but they also are used for search and rescue; aerial surveillance and narcotics interdiction missions; to assess crowd and traffic conditions during special events; and a variety of other jobs, like conducting manatee counts and assessing environmental damage such as beach erosion following major storms, Davidson said.
They are also used to fight fires, as they can carry both 110-gallon and 200-gallon buckets for fire suppression, Dietrich said.
In their daily patrols, the crew of Air One has found stolen cars dumped in retention ponds, fast-moving suspicious cars, sharks on the shallow waters off the beach and even marijuana plants in the woods near State Road 44 and Interstate 95. The crew has also tailed bank robbers and other criminals fleeing from Volusia.
“One time we followed a fleeing car all the way to Pine Hills (near Orlando),” Miller said. “It was the longest air pursuit I have been on.”
And criminals who have been caught with the help of the aircrew have a nickname for the chopper, Brooks said.
“When they get to jail they have said they could not get way from the 'Ghetto Hawk,'” Brooks said, chuckling.
Brooks coasted along the beach on the way to New Smyrna Beach, crossing over Mosquito Lagoon before heading to a retention pond near State Road 44 and Interstate 4
where they helped capture two burglars on Sept. 6.
“This is the retention pond where one suspect jumped in and swam across to go into that swamp,” Brooks said.
The burglars had gotten away from DeLand police after breaking into a gas station and escaped with several cartons of cigarettes and cigars. The car crashed into a guardrail on Interstate 4 and the occupants ran into the woods. Air One came to the aid of foot patrols and helped capture the suspects. The chopper crew also had to make a water drop of a different sort from fighting fires.
“We retrieved water, portable batteries and a GPS tracking device,” Brooks said, as the helicopter slowly descended to its helipad at the DeLand airport after a 75-minute patrol. “We relocated the K-9 team and hovered over and dropped the water and other items to them.”
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
Non-emergency dispatch numbers: DeLand 386-943-8276 Daytona Beach 386-239-8276 New Smyrna Beach 386-409-8276 Osteen 407-323-0151