Canadian military adds medical technicians to air force helicopter crews

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - People injured in Canada's hinterlands and survivors of disasters like the Haitian earthquake have another reason to be thankful for air force rescue: medical technicians are being added to flight crews.
The war in Afghanistan and the deployment of an air wing to Kandahar have prompted the military to train some of its helicopter crews and medics in air casualty evacuation.
The air force chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Andres DesChamps, said it is an important skill set that will be kept up even after Canada withdraws its forces from Afghanistan in 2011.
"It augments our capacity," DesChamps said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
In the early phases of the war, Canadian troops wounded on the battlefield relied on U.S. Blackhawk helicopters for evacuation back to NATO's multi-national hospital at Kandahar Airfield.
A Defence Department review in 2006 recommended the air force develop is own air ambulance capability. But it was only realized in late 2008 with Ottawa's deployment of CH-146 Griffon helicopters and CH-47D Chinooks to Kandahar.
NATO maintains a pool of helicopters and crews for casualty support and Canadians added to that, transporting not only Canadian soldiers, but Americans, British and Dutch troops wounded in action.
The medics will not be asked to perform some of the more dangerous assignments that search-and-rescue technicians conduct, but they will be on hand once a casualty is aboard. Search-and-rescue technicians are already qualified in emergency first aid, but the medics focus more on immediate life-saving care.
Ten medics were part of the initial training program and the air force hopes to run as many as 40 per year through the course.
Most of the new technicians are deployed overseas, but some are slated for duty at next month's Olympics, adding to civilian capacity.
Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, the commander of Joint Task Force Games in Vancouver, said the primary role of the med techs will be to treat potential Canadian Forces casualties, but they will be available for other assignments.
"If we're needed, if our capabilities are needed to save life, we will be there," he said.
It is also a skill set that could be crucial in future humanitarian relief missions, such as the one ongoing in Haiti.
Helicopters were first used by the U.S. military to evacuate casualties during the Korean War, but it wasn't until the conflict in Vietnam that the system was refined and developed.
Specially-trained medical corpsmen were brought on board and researchers noted an increase in the survivablility of soldiers. The success prompted authorities to experiment with the use of paramedics on civilian air ambulances in the States.
Americans were not the sole pioneers in this field. The province of Saskatchewan started using fixed-wing aircraft as air ambulances shortly after the Second World War to service remote communities, and the practice continues.

Organizations: NATO, Canadian Press, Defence Department Canadian Forces

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Canada, Afghanistan Kandahar Vancouver Haiti U.S. Vietnam Saskatchewan

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