CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – As the dawn broke over Buffalo Niagara International Airport Thursday morning, an incoming shift of Mercy Flight employees was gearing up to take some life-saving flights.
Mercy Flight, Western New York’s only local not-for-profit emergency air medical transport provider, has flown more than 30,000 missions over the years. It also provides ground medical transport and supporting services.
“We do a lot of inter-facility transfers, and it’s about 50/50 what we call on-scenes or 9-1-1 scene calls where accidents happen,” explained flight paramedic Jeff Abbott.
Abbott, who joined Mercy Flight in 2013, says the emergency and non-emergency missions are only possible because of the teamwork of the ground crews, dispatchers, and the medics, nurses, and pilots in the air.
Although money is the last thing most people are thinking about when they need Mercy Flight’s emergency services, it is worth noting that much of the care is covered by insurance, and the organization has measures in place to help patients who need financial help. Mercy Flight provides all of its services regardless of a patient’s insurance status or ability to pay.
For the providers, giving that life-saving care is a calling, and they love what they do.
“It’s an adrenaline thing I think for most EMS providers,” Abbott said. “And it’s cool to fly in a helicopter.”
Mercy Flight allowed our News 4 crew to tag along for a short flight around Buffalo Thursday morning to give us a taste of what they do.
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While the views from the helicopter are beautiful, it’s clear there are some major challenges to providing patient care in that space.
“These are high acuity patients, either trauma or medical patients,” Abbott pointed out. “And there’s the whole dynamic of being in the air, which isn’t just another vehicle. We have to worry about other aircraft, mechanical issues, speed.”
“There’s some physiology with some of the things we do in our interventions at altitude that we have to keep an eye on,” he added.
Some days, the Mercy Flight crews can’t fly at all. Their flights are dependent on the weather, which can be rough this time of year especially.
But, when they’re not flying, they are training on high-tech equipment, including a training mannequin that breathes, blinks, and more. It is the closest to working on a real patient that medics can get without practicing procedures on a real human.
“You’re in good hands,” Abbott assured Western New Yorkers. “We love what we do; we’re here for the community.”
And, when the call comes in for their help, the whole Mercy Flight crew is there, ready to take to the skies to save lives when minutes matter.