CHATHAM TOWNSHIP, NJ - Chatham residents don't usually bat an eye when they see things fly onto the Chatham High School (CHS) field---at least, normal things, like baseballs and frisbees. But when a helicopter suddenly closed down over the school's neighborhood treetops and rooftops and made a vertical descent onto the Chatham High School field on Sunday, April 18, people took notice.
The myriad of emergency vehicles parked near the field also drew attention as members of the Chatham Emergency Squad, Chatham Township Fire Department, Chatham Borough Fire department, and Chatham Township Police Department, as well as the Green Village Fire Chief, gathered at the CHS "emergency landing zone" for an emergency evacuation drill coordinated by the Chatham Emergency Squad. The program was conducted by NorthSTAR (Northern Shock-Trauma Air Rescue), which is staffed by The University Hospital Emergency Medical Services.
NorthSTAR's medevac helicopters are piloted and maintained by the New Jersey State Police Aviation Unit, and a Flight Paramedic and Flight Nurse provide advanced life support care while in air transit to specialty centers. NorthSTAR trains Fire Departments, Emergency Medicine Departments, and Police Departments all around the state of New Jersey.
Marty Sechehay, Captain of the Chatham Emergency Squad, said of the program, "The idea was to practice and drill on the skills needed to safely transfer care of a critically injured patient to NorthSTAR who is then able to transport the patient on an expedited basis to the appropriate trauma center." He explained that air evacuation might be warranted if, for example, Morristown Memorial Hospital was full, or roads to a hospital were heavily trafficked or closed.
During the drill, a fire truck was called out on a real emergency. Pete Glogolich, Chatham Borough Fire Chief, said, "We were just here as observers originally, and the Township was responsible for coordinating, but at the last minute they went to a "dryer" fire and we shuffled. But that's okay, that's what this is for. We can change our course of action in a second."
According to Tim Brown, Flight Nurse at NorthSTAR, the training program began with a lecture at the Chatham Emergency Squad building, followed by a medevac drill at CHS. He stated, "We had two fake patients to practice loading the helicopter."
Sechehay added, "It was excellent. Everyone appreciated it and we all learned something."
As the drill came to an end, observers watched as the helicopter ascended. "I wonder if it will take the roof off that house?" one onlooker mused, as it momentarily teetered in the direction of an adjacent home.
But NorthSTAR zoomed off leaving the rooftop intact---and, leaving the local emergency teams prepared.