WATCH: ‘Everyone comes home’ motto for CareFlight after 40 years of service

CareFlight transported its first patient by air around 65 miles from St. Marys to Miami Valley Hospital in 1983, helping the person get quick medical attention.

Forty years later, the emergency medical transportation program continues these important airlifts, delivering more than 73,000 patients to area hospitals in that time.

CareFlight completed 254 flights during its first year of service with one aircraft. Since then, it has expanded to do five times that amount with more than 1,400 patient flights a year.

“When we first started back in 1983, it started with one aircraft. It was a single engine small airframe,” said Brian Bates, CareFlight outreach manager and flight nurse.

Now, CareFlight has four Dauphin helicopters based at four locations across the region, including at Miami Valley Hospital, in Warren and Darke counties, and in Urbana. Those dual engine helicopters reach speeds of 170 miles per hour and are also used by the U.S. Coast Guard, Bates said. For example, CareFlight can fly 20 minutes to Columbus from Dayton or fly an hour to Cleveland, the latter of which would be more than a three hour drive.

“It’s very fast, very reliable,” Bates said. “You’re really using the helicopter to transport patients to save time. (If you) shave off 60 seconds in a flight or a couple minutes, it can really make the difference between life and death for some patients.”

CareFlight serves more than 450 agencies in 17 counties. In addition to its helicopters, CareFlight’s medical intensive care ground service includes five ground mobile intensive care units based at hospitals across the region. CareFlight also employs a team of more than 100 people.

“We are very highly trained. We have huge support from the system, from Premier Health, that support us in our mission and in everything we do,” Bates said.

Approximately 60% of CareFlight’s transports are from hospital to hospital, and the other 40% are to the scene of a crash or accident where a fire or EMS department had requested them. The number of patient flights CareFlight does each day varies, and Bates said that number seems to synchronize with the seasons. The more people outside, the more their services are needed.

“We are entering what we call trauma season right now,” Bates said. They respond to a range of serious accidents involving cars, ATVs, or fireworks. They often don’t know all of the details of the incident when they first get a request from a fire department or EMS to respond to a scene. Before responding, CareFlight first has to determine whether or not it can fly, depending on weather and air conditions.

“We have to contend with hot, cold, darkness, and really even the unknown,” Bates said. CareFlight’s crew also works in sync with local fire and EMS already at the scene of an accident.

“It’s like we’re one team,” Bates said.

Then while they are flying patients back to the hospital, the flight nurses are also administering care to patients.

The experience of what it’s like when a call comes in and they get ready to fly to the scene of an accident is hard to put into words, Bates said.

“You immediately get that adrenaline rush. Someone needs you,” Bates said.

Some patients and those experiences stick with the CareFlight team, and for Bates, he recalled a flight where they responded to a pediatric patient. It was early in his career, and the accident involved a young boy who had been trying to help with a family bonfire. The boy threw gasoline on the fire, which led to the boy accidentally burning over 90% of his body.

“This kid was an innocent boy,” Bates said. “I thought to myself, this is not a good situation. This is going to be a struggle.” The flight nurses had to place an air tube in the patient to help him breathe because of the swelling from the injuries. They flew to Cincinnati Children’s because of the relationship the hospital had with Shriners Children’s Ohio, which has since moved to the Dayton Children’s Hospital campus.

“Many surgeries later, a patient reunion later, he is back to playing sports. He’s in high school now. He’s actually one of the spokespersons for the Shriners golf tournament,” Bates said.

In the 1990s, CareFlight kicked off one of its most well-known outreach programs, the Drive Smart program, which first started in 1993. CareFlight organizes approximately 20-30 mock crashes each year, rotating schools every two or three years to promote safe and sober driving to teens around Homecoming and Prom seasons.

“It’s a very rewarding program,” Bates said. “If you can just get through to one student, it’s worth it.”

They often get through to more than just one student, though, frequently hearing back from students and faculty about how impactful those mock crashes can be for their schools.

Many people in the community also have their own experiences with CareFlight in one way or another, either with a family member or friend that CareFlight transported or inspired to get into the profession, Bates said. When Bates is out in the community wearing the CareFlight logo, someone will have a story about CareFlight.

“It’s very humbling to see the support from the community and how we’ve changed their lives or impacted their lives,” Bates said. “Hearing those stories is really a motivating factor to keep doing what we’re doing.”

CareFlight through the years

During the 1980s, CareFlight went from being able to transport one patient at a time to two patients when it upgraded its aircraft, also going from top speeds of 140 miles per hour to 170.

In the 1990s, CareFlight kicked off one of its most well-known outreach programs, the Drive Smart program, which first started in 1993

Also in the 1990s, CareFlight began operating its mobile intensive care units, getting its first one in 1997, constructing a new maintenance hangar at Moraine Air Park in 1998, and added its second helicopter located at Moraine Air Park.

In the 2000s, CareFlight’s offices relocated to the newly constructed area on the seventh floor of Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, where a second helipad is also added. In 2005, CareFlight adds a third helicopter, located in Urbana. Then in 2006 and 2007, CareFlight adds its second and third mobile intensive care units.

In 2010, in addition to a new paint scheme, CareFlight also incorporated night vision goggles.

In 2013, CareFlight celebrated 30 years of flight with more than 30,000 flights completed. Also that year, Miami Valley Hospital Jamestown Emergency Center opened.

In 2015, CareFlight added two more mobile intensive care units.

In 2018, Miami Valley Hospital Austin Boulevard Emergency Center opened.

In 2019, CareFlight completes more than 40,000 flights.

In 2020, CareFlight added a fourth helicopter base at the Darke County Airport.

In 2022, Miami Valley Hospital Beavercreek Emergency Center opened. CareFlight also became the first in the state to carry blood on each aircraft.

About the Author