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Dragon Interview: David Wright, Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance

Published on: 24 Sep, 2015
Updated on: 27 Sep, 2015
Operational Clinical Lead David Wright, also a Critical Care Paramedic

Air ambulance crew member operational clinical lead David Wright is also a critical care paramedic

After The Guildford Dragon NEWS covered an air ambulance sortie in Shalford in July we thought it would be good to find out a bit more about this life saving service. Operational clinical lead David Wright kindly stepped up to answer our questions…

When did the Air Ambulance service start in Surrey? Where is it based and how many aircraft are there?

The charity was established in Kent in 1989 to provide an air ambulance service for the people of the county. In 2005, it launched a fundraising appeal to extend its operational area to include Surrey and Sussex and in June 2007 launched a second helicopter which is now based at Redhill Aerodrome.

Air ambulance logoHow long have you been a crew member with the service? How many members of a crew are there?

I have been a crew member for five years, working as a paramedic alongside a doctor, pilot and first officer at the Redhill base. We work closely as a team to bring treatments normally carried out in the emergency room, to the scene of an accident or medical emergency. Our sister helicopter flies from a base in Marden, Kent with crew consisting of a pilot, doctor and paramedic.

Where do the pilots receive their training?

Our chief pilots come from a military background and have many thousands of hours of flying experience in different theatres of operation. The first officers have generally been instructors within the civilian environment.

Is there always a crew on call?

The aircraft at Redhill is available 24-hours a day, 365-days a year, while the aircraft at Marden flies during daylight hours only. At night, the crew at Redhill fly with the assistance of night vision goggles. The Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance is the only one of its kind in the country to fly 24-hours a day.

Who decides whether an air ambulance should be deployed rather than an ordinary one?

Our paramedics currently work alongside ambulance dispatchers in the emergency operations centres based at Banstead or Coxheath, Kent. They are constantly scanning the 999 calls coming in across Surrey, Sussex and Kent for calls where the specialist skills of the air ambulance team can compliment the care provided by ambulance based paramedics.

How many missions does the service fly on average each day.

The service responds to more than 2,500 emergency calls a year, so on average each of our aircraft attends 2-3 emergencies per 12-hour shift.

The casualty is taken to the waiting air-ambulance.

A casualty from a road accident in Shalford in July 2015 is taken to the waiting air-ambulance.

What kind of aircraft do you use? Why was that model selected? 

The service currently operates two MD-902 aircraft. These are ideal for air ambulance work as they have a unique “NOTAR” system, meaning they have no tail rotor. Shortly, the Redhill aircraft will be replaced by a brand new Augusta Westland AW-169 which will be the first of this type of aircraft to fly in the UK as an air ambulance.

The AW 169 helipcopter soon to be introduced to the Kent, Surrey & Sussex fleet of aircraft.

The AW 169 helipcopter soon to be introduced to the Kent, Surrey & Sussex fleet of aircraft.

Who funds the service? 

The charity relies almost entirely upon the generosity of the public to fund the service. Every penny of the approximately £6.5 million we seek to raise each year to keep the lifesaving helicopters in our skies every day of the year comes from individuals, groups, businesses, companies and clubs from all over Kent, Surrey & Sussex.

Which hospitals are casualties in Surrey likely to be flown to? Do all hospitals have helicopter pads?

We fly our patients to a number of hospitals throughout the region, predominantly the Major Trauma Centres at St. George’s (Tooting, London), King’s College (London), Royal Sussex (Brighton) and Southampton. We also have the ability to fly to many of the trauma units throughout the South East. St George’s and Southampton have helipads, whilst others have landing sites based nearby. Shortly another helipad will become operational at King’s College.

The Kent, Surrey and Sussex air ambulance takes off.

The Kent, Surrey and Sussex air ambulance takes off. Crew advice is to stand well clear of air ambulances when they are taking off and landing and the rotor blades are turning.

What should members of the public do if an air ambulance lands near them?

Our skilled pilots will try to land the medical team as close as possible to the scene of an emergency, but always ensuring the safety of members of the public, their property and the aircraft. If you see the aircraft landing, always stand well clear and at the perimeter of the landing area.

If you have any pets with you, please keep them under control and never approach the aircraft as turning rotor blades are dangerous. Once the aircraft is fully shut down and the pilots have indicated it is safe to do so, they will be more than happy to show you around.

If you would like to make a donation to the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance please click here.

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