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North Memorial Air Care training goes live in Brainerd

It was the worst headache of her life.

Clara Adams, 54, was standing in her kitchen, fell to the floor and was unresponsive. Her husband called 911 and when ambulance personnel found her she was on the floor, eyes open and pupils were unequal. Her right side was weak.

Clara was having symptoms of a stroke.

Clara’s story was not real. It was made up Friday to help eight new flight nurses and paramedics with North Memorial Air Care train for real life scenarios. The training took place at the air care base, located at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.

Dan Johnson, manager of the North Memorial Air Care bases in Minnesota, said this was the first time North Memorial has used this kind of hands-on training, by using its helicopter with the nurses and paramedics.

Five different scenarios were created to help the trainees work with emergency personnel from different agencies, learn how to communicate with the radio, but more importantly to learn their way around a helicopter.

North Memorial has five air care bases in the state. The sites are Brainerd, Bemidji, Redwood Falls, Lakeville and Princeton. Each air care crew consists of a pilot, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic.

Johnson said the flight nurses and paramedics must be trained Emergency Medical Technicians (EMS), before even being considered to be part of the Air Care crew. Paramedics also must have three years of ground ambulance training and nurses must have three years of critical care training.

Flight paramedics and nurses go through six weeks of specific flight instruction, where they learn skills such as flight physiology, crew requirements, survival skills, search and rescue and aircraft safety. During the six weeks, the trainees are evaluated by medical directors in charge of air care.

Johnson said Friday, the flight nurses and paramedics would receive classroom instruction and once their education was complete, they were sent out on real emergency calls. Johnson said North Memorial now wants to incorporate more hands-on training for flight nurses and paramedics to help the organization become even more efficient in helping patients.

“This hands-on training will hopefully help take out any fear they may have,” Johnson said of the trainees being on the helicopter while taking care of a patient. “We are taking all their training and putting them to the test. They are going to see what it’s like to help a real patient on a helicopter, while getting out any nervous butterflies they may have about flying on a helicopter. So when the real call comes they will be ready.”

North Memorial planned five patient scenarios, ones they often see. They used a fake patient and a mannequin, a real helicopter and real emergency staff, with help from Brainerd firefighters and North Memorial’s ground ambulance crew.

Two newly hired Brainerd paid-on-call firefighters were also at the training, so they learned from the experience.

Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said firefighters train once a year with how to handle landing zones, where the helicopter lands at a site to pick up a patient. Stunek said the landing zone training is critical and joining North Memorial Friday was beneficial as it gave the new flight paramedics, nurses and firefighters a chance to learn how to work together in a mock setting. Firefighters directed the pilot on the coordinates of where the patient was to be picked up and the nurses and paramedics had to direct the pilot on which hospital to go to.

Firefighters and air care staff also discussed patient information, medical history and possible treatment plans.

Rahn Findlay, a new paid-on-call firefighter in Brainerd, said taking part of the training was useful as he was able to take in all the information, without “everything being so chaotic.”

“I was able to learn how to approach a helicopter and other skills to help me learn my role better,” Findlay said.

Melissa Mulcahy, a flight nurse stationed at the North Memorial Princeton base, helped with the training.

“This went great,” Mulcahy said of the training. “This was a nice introduction to give them a taste of what they will be doing.

“The training sparked a lot of good questions. Everyone who gets hired is at the top of their game, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. They are not doing anything different than they were before (being a nurse or a paramedic helping a patient). They are now just going to do it in a small, cozy space (the helicopter.)”

“It is an awesome thing,” Mulcahy said of being a flight nurse or paramedic. “They are a very lucky group. There are a lot of people who want to do the job, but they are coveted positions.”

Mulcahy said people who want to be a flight nurse or paramedic must work hard and be dedicated.

North Memorial owns two hospitals in the Twin Cities metro area, including North Memorial Level 1 Medical Center in Robbinsdale, has ground ambulance stations in Brainerd, Brooklyn Center and other cities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Johnson said North Memorial conducts its training in Brainerd because it also has a ground ambulance station. Of the eight trainees, who already have been hired by North Memorial, one will go to Brainerd, three in Redwood Falls and four in Bemidji.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at