The Soldiers and Airmen of the Arizona National Guard are always prepared to bring their unique skills and experience to assist anyone throughout Arizona, no matter what the mission is. And in doing so, they have continued to forge and strengthen bonds with the citizens of the state and with local, county, state and federal authorities.
With the stand-up of Task Force Badge in April, the newest mission for Arizona Guardsmen became providing support to requests for assistance from County and Law Enforcement agencies. In Maricopa County, Arizona National Guard medics partnered with Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Air Support Division crews to perform search and rescue operations.
“We’re providing supplemental medical treatment for their flight missions,” said Sgt. Lance Mills, 996th Area Support Medical Company, Task Force Badge, Arizona Army National Guard. “Our primary role here is to provide primary medical attention to anyone who calls out the aviation unit for any sort of medical needs or any emergency response.”
The brutal heat, rough terrain and vast size of the county means that the crews of the MCSO Air Support Division have a daunting task finding, providing medical care, and bringing to safety people who fall victim to any of these dangers.
“In Maricopa County, cause it’s so big, most of our calls are search and rescue,” explains Deputy Rich Dickner, Pilot and Systems Officer, Air Support Division, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. “We have guys who go out into the Superstitions [Mountains] and say ‘If I’m not out in a week, call somebody,’ so we have absolutely no information, to day hikers from out of state and the heat creeps up on them and they run out of water.”
One such rescue just outside of Gila Bend, Ariz. in late May was particularly harrowing.
“We got a call-out from a 9-11 only phone,” explained Mills. “The disadvantage to that type of a phone is that it also does not enable the GPS coordinates. So we were only able to ping off of the tower, which gave us a 20-mile radius on our search area.”
Luckily, they were able to locate the person relatively quickly from the air.
“And we saw a late 20’s, early 30’s male,” recounted Mills. “No shirt on, just pants, waving a stick at us from underneath a mesquite tree, signaling us for help.”
Once the person was located the crew had to determine what the best course of action would be to proceed.
Each rescue has to be determined as the crew arrives and assesses the terrain and conditions, said Dickner. Whenever possible, a landing rescue is the preferred choice.
The rough terrain of Maricopa County sometimes makes landing an impossibility for the pilot. However, Dickner was able to find a spot to safely land the helicopter. Mills would make contact with, and begin evaluating the condition of the distressed individual.
“He was able to communicate fairly well,’ said Mills. “But, he had fairly significant heat exhaustion symptoms. He had stopped sweating, he was extremely hot to the touch.”
Mills determined the condition of the victim required immediate treatment and transport to an ambulance where he could be quickly taken to a medical facility.
“We immediately put some ice packs on him, gave him some water, and a packet of oral rehydration salts,” said Mills. “We moved him to the helicopter as rapidly as possible. We initiated the flight because I felt at the time that the most important thing for that patient was to rapidly get him to a permanent medical facility.”
The patient was moved to the helicopter on a rigid backboard and secured in the helicopter. Dickner quickly lifted off, flying to an ambulance waiting at Gila Bend. As they flew, Mills continued treating the patient.
While in flight we gave the patient saline and other fluids through an IV, said Mills. His body absorbed those quickly and he was aware the entire flight.
Dickner landed at a helipad in Gila Bend and the patient was transferred to a waiting ambulance for transport to a medical facility. As the vehicle sped away, the members of the crew began inspecting the helicopter and preparing to fly back to their base in Phoenix. As they readied to leave, they saw the ambulance hurrying back.
While we were inspecting the helicopter for our flight back to base, the ambulance returned because the patient had gone unresponsive, said Mills. So I was able to assist with the transition from the ground ambulance to a civilian medical transport. Ultimately, he was flown in stable condition to a medical facility.
With the patient on his way to a medical facility and the mission accomplished, the crew returned to its home base where it would prepare to go out and do it again when called.
For Dickner, the addition of Mills, and the skills he brings as both a medic in the AZNG and as a firefighter and medic for the City of Prescott Fire Department, has strengthened the ability of his crew to conduct search and rescue missions throughout the county.
“My particular situation with Sgt. Mills worked out Awesome,” said Dickner. “His civilian job has complimented his rescue abilities. And we threw him right into it. The rescues, he’s just a great asset. His paramedic skills, it’s worked out really well with us.”
The respect shown by the deputies of the MCSO Air Support Division toward Mills is mutual.
“Man, these guys are just rock-solid,” said Mills. “I love working with them”
The successful partnership between the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Aviation Support Division, and medics from the Arizona National Guard illustrates the good that can come when agencies cooperate for the betterment of the community. And for Sgt. Mills, this partnership has also provided him the ability to serve his state in yet another way.
“You know, it’s just really good to fill another role to serve the community of Arizona,” said Mills. “I mean, I love my state. That’s why I’m a Guardsman. I love the state of Arizona. This is like one of the greatest places in the world to live, you know? And I’m lucky enough to be here. It’s just a really rewarding feeling being able to serve in this kind of a capacity.”