JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — Soldiers assigned to the United States Army Air Ambulance Detachment (USAAAD) “Yakima Dustoff,” 16th Combat Aviation Brigade performed multiple aeromedical evacuations of civilians, in various locations in Washington over the weekend. Two teams from performed four life-saving aeromedical evacuations on July 17 and 18.
“This was the first time we ever had four missions within 24 hours,” said Capt. Ryan Fiore, an aviation officer assigned to Yakima Dustoff and a Highlands Ranch, Colo., native. “Even though they were all unique missions, the concepts were all the same.”
The unit is based out of Yakima Training Center in the south-central Washington. USAAAD operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide short-notice, all-weather, high-altitude aeromedical evacuation support for thousands of service members training at Yakima Training Center each year.
Additionally, the detachment works with the Yakima County Sheriff's Department and civilian volunteers to provide search and rescue coverage in the nearby mountain and natural areas.
Fiore said the unit is closely tied in to the emergency response authorities, the state emergency operations center, and the counties where the emergencies occur.
“The best training is that we get the interaction with the different agencies and we know these people,” said Fiore. “We go through the motions of the missions we are sent out to do.”
At approximately 4 p.m. on July 17, the first mission came in from the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, requesting assistance for a 64-year-old hiker who sustained a potential head injury on the south side of Mt. Adams.
Within 10 minutes of mission approval, DUSTOFF 1 suited up and swiftly responded to the call. The flight crew ascended to 9,400 feet, navigating through steep, rocky terrain to locate the injured hiker. After assessing the area where the patient was located, the team was able to land without using the hoist.
“Our main goal is to make sure we get to the patients in a timely manner all while ensuring the safety of our team members,” said Sgt. Cody Bayne, the team’s crew chief and a Scottsbluff, Neb., native.
Upon their arrival to Mount Adams, the crew stabilized, secured, and transported the patient to Yakima Valley Memorial without incident.
The second mission occurred on at 11:40 a.m. on July 18 in the vicinity of Bumping Lake where a 57-year-old hiker with heart issues was experiencing dehydration.
“We were fortunate enough that he was near a little lake,” said Fiore. “We were able to squeeze the helicopter between trees so the medic could go out to the patient and bring him back.”
The team reached the patient in approximately 37 minutes from the time the mission was approved. They were able to swiftly stabilize, secure, and transport the patient to Yakima Valley Memorial without incident.
"In order to maintain the golden-hour standard and achieve the highest rate of survival, we have to prepare for wheels up at a moment’s notice." said Sgt. Brendan Silkey, a flight medic assigned to Yakima Dustoff and a Hubbardston, Mass., native. "Once the call came in, we immediately began in-flight preparations to provide lifesaving care.”
At 2:26 p.m., four minutes after returning from the mission near Bumping Lake, the crew received their third mission request from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center for a 31-year-old hiker who sustained a knee injury on a hiking trail in The Enchantments near Leavenworth.
The injured hiker was 10 miles from any road and in a location where ground support was not available, so the team regrouped and set out on another critical mission. With nowhere to land the helicopter, Silkey hoisted down 50 feet to the patient.
After stabilizing the patient, Silky hoisted the patient into the helicopter. She was then transported to Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery where an ambulance waited to transfer her to Central Washington Hospital.
The final mission came shortly before shift change while the crew was returning from the Leavenworth. After assembling a backup crew, Fiore and a new team responded to a dirt bike accident at Sunrise Peak, east of Mount Saint Helens, where 54-year-old male suffered a collar bone fracture.
The crew were able to land at the point of injury to pick up the patient. He was assessed, stabilized, and transport to Yakima Valley Memorial.
The company, whose motto is “To Save a Life,” prides itself on their quick response capability as well as their ability to provide the best care possible on every mission they are called to.
“Our unit does a really good job at training our mission tasks,” said Foire “We also have a really good experience base with real-world missions.”
Between both crews, there were only two Soldiers who were experiencing the Yakima Dustoff mission for the first time.
“Being a part of this team is what I signed up for and I have a passion for helping people,” said Staff Sgt. Adrian Trujillo, a critical care flight medic and Mission Viejo, Calif., native. “My past training helped me stay calm in the stressful situations and provide care patients need.”
The life-saving aeromedical evacuation is a collaborative effort. As a detachment with 31 personnel and four aircrafts, every member of the team is vital to Yakima Dustoff.
“We executed all four missions with all internal assets,” said Fiore. “We relied heavily on our training and experience to accomplish the tasks that we were given.”