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For most of us, the words "emergency medical services" conjure images of paramedics, firefighters, and police officers rendering care and transporting patients to the hospital by ambulance. In many parts of the country, however, pilots, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft are equally important components of the emergency medical services (EMS) response structure.

Although helicopter EMS programs provide rapid transport to severely sick and injured individuals, it can be a risky endeavor. This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be conducting hearings on helicopter EMS operations in order to evaluate whether sufficient measures are being taken to ensure the safety of patients and flight crews. The accident rate for helicopter EMS operators is slightly higher than the national average for general aviation flights, and there has been a recent increase in fatal helicopter EMS crashes. One recent crash near Houston, TX claimed the lives of the patient and all three crew members.

In this case, the interests of the investigative body and the subject industry coincide. Helicopter EMS operators want to be as safe as possible in order to avoid losing their colleagues and friends. Patients should also benefit from an increased commitment to safety. Hopefully these hearings will result in a concrete plan to reverse the recent trend in fatal helicopter EMS crashes.

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