It is not uncommon to have available one or more helicopter resources to assist in emergency response and patient support roles these days, but it was not always so.
Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) was born in Victoria in 1970 when a Bell Jetranger became the “Angel of Mercy” as the centre piece of the Peninsula Ambulance Service. The Jetranger provided an increasingly needed fast response and recovery means of airlifting critical patients to hospital, however it had limited range.
It was not until 1981 that the Latrobe Valley Ambulance Service introduced “Helimed 1”. This was a catalyst for government and Ambulance to consider the logistics of introducing a statewide ambulance helicopter service. In 1983 a government enquiry considered the most cost effective options to provide a helicopter service for Victorians, focusing on the retrieval of time critical patients.
The most logical solution at the time was to expand the then fledgling Victoria Police helicopter fleet of a single Aerospatiale A365C1 Dauphine from one to three.
The fleet consisted of a shared police/ambulance helicopter with priority for critical patient ambulance jobs (VH-PVA), a dedicated police operations helicopter (VH-PVF and a spare machine for coverage when either of the other helicopters were unavailable
In 2001 two AS365N3 helicopters were purchased to replace the older machines and these have continued to provide excellent service to the Victorian and sometimes interstate public.
With the ever increasing demand for HEMS services Ambulance Victoria contracted Australian Helicopters to provide Bell 412 aircraft to supplement the Victoria Police HEMS 1 helicopter, with helicopters located at Latrobe Valley (HEMS 2), Bendigo (HEMS 3) and Warnambool (HEMS 4).
An additional helicopter was used for Adult Retrieval, Paediatric Emergency Transport Services (PETS) and Neonatal Emergency Transport Services (NETS).
In 2016 Ambulance Victoria signed a 10-year contract with Australian Helicopters (Babcock Mission Critical Services Australiasia) for the lease of 5 Augusta AW139 helicopters.
Helicopters are normally stationed at Essendon Airport, Latrobe Valley, Bendigo and Warnambool, with a fifth machine available as a spare to maintain service continuity in the event that any other helicopter is not available.
The AW139 is a larger and faster helicopter with increased carrying capacity and range, adding a very positive increase in HEMS capability for all Victorians.
A typical emergency management configuration may consist of two stretcher positions, seating for up to 15 people but normally 5 or 6, dual oxygen and medical systems, nite sun 30 million candle power search light, 90m rescue hoist, state of the art communication systems allowing for multiple frequency/band capabilities for intra and inter-agency communications and a neonatal humidicrib, as required.
Welcome to the next age of HEMS capability in Victoria.
A special thanks to vkthreepi and MJS (Tiny) for the use of his aviation photographs.