Salcha Soldiers with the Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment on Fort Wainwright also known as ‘Arctic Dustoff’ are the only 24/7 staffed medevac crew in the interior of Alaska -- and because of that, they will rescue civilians in need when requested by the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.
Medevac crew members preparing the helicopter for flight on Fort Wainwright. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)
“It’s a fun, challenging job. We get to work in a difficult environment up here. It brings lots of challenges, but it’s fun and rewarding,” said Sergeant First Class Daniel Sherwin, flight paramedic with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment.
Just last week they responded to Toklat to help someone having heart trouble. “There was a patient that was out at a remote cabin and was having some health issues. It was about a 45 minute flight. We were able to fly out, get her out of her cabin, get her stabilized on the ground and moved to the aircraft, and brought her to FMH where they took good care of her,” said Sherwin.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Deblaey, maintenance test pilot with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, says there can be challenges in responding to rescues in remote areas. “A lot of the times when we go to these places that are a little bit further away, you know you’re not going to have radio communications with anybody back here. It is usually a very snowy landing out there because they are not used to having these big aircraft landing. All the people are very hospitable. We got a snowmobile ride from them last week to the cabin because it’s quite a hike... but everybody that we’re going to rescue is very appreciative of the help, so it makes it a lot easier,” said Deblaey.
The crew's primary mission is to support the military training lands. “Anytime there's training exercises over at Greely, particularly if there is higher risk involved with the exercise, they’ll request us to be on standby and we will potentially have a crew down at Fort Greely that can quickly respond,” said Sherwin.
Sherwin says they live in crew quarters in the hangar and do 48 and 72-hour shifts. He says it’s a roll of the dice as to how many calls they receive. “We might go weeks, potentially a month or more with no calls... and then we could have several in a week. So it’s really hit and miss but we’re ready all the time,” said Sherwin.
Deblaey says flying in Alaska is very different from flying in the Lower 48. “We have to deal with... like right now it’s -34 -- we’re restricted to the things we’re able to do as far as how long we can fly. Flying around here is absolutely beautiful, it never gets old seeing the mountains in the background. The medevac mission here is different from what I did in Louisiana but very rewarding I would say,” said Deblaey.
When you are flying in extreme cold, Deblaey says it’s noticeable in the way the helicopter operates. “Like any other machine... your car doesn’t want to start right away... we don’t have that issue but it does feel a little bit more sluggish. The heaters aren’t quite as good as we would like but still able to get the job done,” said Deblaey.
Sherwin says being a paramedic in the air brings some extra challenges. “We potentially have our patients for a more extended period of time. We could have our patients for a couple hours for a longer flight here and we are limited to what we can bring with us and fit in the cabin. So we’re a little confined for space in there, but we do the best with what we can,” said Sherwin.
When asked what their favorite part of the job is, Deblaey says, “Dad’s throwing you the keys to a multimillion dollar aircraft with all the freedom in the world out here to see everything that Alaska has to offer. It makes for a very rewarding day when you get to go out and save somebody.”
“Just getting to help people is fun. I love aviation, so getting to work in helicopters and go on flights is fun, and helping out people who are in a tough spot is really rewarding,” said Sherwin.
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