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Paramedic services are a familiar part of most communities, and calling an ambulance is a nearly universal way to receive emergency care, at least in urban areas. For outlying communities, as well as disaster situations and many military operations, emergency medical services more often come by air. A flight paramedic is an emergency medical technician, or EMT, who specializes in transporting ill or injured patients by air. Flight paramedics are responsible for stabilizing patients in the field, treating them while in flight, and ultimately delivering them to a hospital with a full report of injuries and treatments performed.
At a basic level, a flight paramedic is a medical provider with expert training in trauma situations. Flight crews are usually only dispatched to situations of dire emergency. They are called to transport critical patients when driving to a hospital would potentially take longer than the patient, untreated, would survive. It is the job of a flight paramedic to find the injured party or parties at the scene, stabilize them for air travel, load them onto the aircraft, and treat them en route to surgery or more specialized hospital care.
Flight paramedics are often considered among the paramedic elite, as one must have generally clocked many years of field experience before qualifying to join an emergency flight team. Performing medical treatments and procedures in an airplane or helicopter is a slightly different science than in the back of a moving ambulance. While needed procedures are often the same, factors like altitude and air quality can affect how they must be performed.
In order to join a flight team, a paramedic must typically have at least five years of critical-care EMT experience, though the specific requirements vary by jurisdiction. Most of the time, a hopeful flight paramedic must also obtain flight paramedic certification. Certification is typically procured by passing a series of exams geared towards the specifics of the flight trauma experience.
Medical flights are usually dispatched with a staff of medical transportation personnel that includes at least one flight nurse and one flight paramedic, as well as at least one aircraft pilot. The flight paramedic is almost always senior in rank and skill to the nurse, but in most situations they work as a team. In practice, both the nurse and the paramedic act as a flight EMT on the job. The pilot is not usually a medical professional.
There are a host of paramedic careers that center on flight. In rural communities, most all accidents and serious injuries require helicopter or plane transportation, and the EMTs recruited for these posts must be ready and willing to fly. Flight paramedics in urban areas respond to mass-casualty situations when the nearest hospitals are at capacity, and also transport critical patients between hospitals in certain circumstances. Most military medics are also trained and certified as flight paramedics, particularly those stationed in war zones or in more desolate regions of the world.