U opens new rooftop helipad

Construction on a new Univerity Hospital helicopter landing pad was completed last week, allowing emergency personnel to quickly rescue and transfer patients in critical condition to emergency rooms.

The landing pad, usually referred to as a helipad, has been kept near U housing for the past year during a three-phase construction project at the hospital. The new helipad is on the top level of the four-story parking structure, with quick and easy access to emergency rooms.

Not only is the helipad in a closer location, but its design is unique with snow-melting capabilities and fuel services right from the roof. AirMed personnel, teams of nurses, paramedics and pilots will be able to pull hoses from various locations in the ground and refuel the helicopters.

Electrical connections underneath the helipad allow the helicopter to be “plugged in” between flights to charge up. This makes the engines start quicker, giving AirMed crews more time to rescue patients.

The helipad is also able to support three military UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

“After Katrina, people wanted to make sure we were prepared for worst case scenarios — this helipad is structurally designed to withstand mass quantities in case of mass casualty or hospital evacuation,” said Susan Anderson, designer for Facilities and Engineering, which designed the U’s helipad.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday, Lorris Betz, senior Vice President for health sciences, welcomed AirMed personnel home and congratulated them on national and international awards for their life-saving trauma services.

“We have one of the top flight programs in the country and recently won the International Program of the Year Award from the Association of AirMedical services,” said David Entwistle, CEO of U Hospitals and Clinics.

“We’re really excited to be on such a state-of-the-art helipad, especially after all the difficulties our staff has gone through,” said Brian Simpson, interim program manager for the AirMed Department.

Transporting patients from the old helipad to the emergency room took 10 to 12 minutes, but with the new pad, it will probably take five minutes, Simpson said.

Vaughn and Jennifer Kinder, who were saved four years ago when AirMed landed on the top of a ridge to rescue them from a plane crash, were proud to be at the ceremony and help cut the ribbon.

“This allows for more miraculous events to save people’s lives,” Jennifer Kinder said.

With tears in his eyes, Vaughn Kinder looked at his wife and said, “This great group of people saved the most important person in my life.”

The helipad also had pictures to honor the heroic deeds of past pilots and AirMed personnel who died.

Mary Anne Merz and her mother were one of the families awarded memorial plaques for a family member’s bravery.

“My brother Louis died in 1983 trying to fly into fog and land at the U hospital to save a little girl,” Merz said. “I’m happy that they remember him at this ceremony,” she said.

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Jarad Reddekopp

An AirMed helicopter lands with a patient on the old helipad near the residence halls Friday. With the completion of the new helipad, patients will be flown directly to the hospital to help avoid additional transport of trauma patients.