Air Ambulance, a Free Service of the Colombian Air Force
By Marian Romero/Diálogo October 21, 2016The National Personnel Recovery Center (CNRP, per its Spanish acronym) of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) saves the lives of hundreds of people who do not have access to specialized medical services, people who suffer from serious conditions or have accidents in the most remote regions of the country on a daily basis. "Colombia is a country with a very distinctive geography. Enormous mountains, vast jungles, and powerful rivers make access to specialized healthcare by the smallest or most isolated communities very complicated, especially during an emergency,” said Colonel Rodrigo Zapata, director of FAC's CNRP and Special Air Operations Directorate, to Diálogo. “Taking into account FAC's extensive capacities and knowledge of the regions, we have made enough elements available to provide excellent quality service to anyone who needs it," he said. The CNRP provides services 24 hours a day, every day of the year throughout Colombia’s national territory. It employs nine top-of-the-line aircraft equipped as intensive care units and a crew of around 100 members, including pilots, copilots, flight attendants, nurses, and doctors specialized in air medicine. Rescue operations are developed from the CNRP in Bogotá. People who have an emergency can go to the mayor's office, any Air Force post or the police to request an air ambulance. If weather conditions permit, and if there are available aircraft close by, the air service can be ready to pick up the patient in less than one hour. Transport and air medical evacuation Air medical evacuation is a method of transporting emergency patients from a remote location to a specialized hospital. This service is mainly used by farmers or soldiers who find themselves in remote areas without access to an adequate medical facility. Cases can range from a soldier that stepped on an anti-personnel mine and lost a limb, to a farmer bitten by a venomous snake. "The conflict situation increased the level of specialization in all kinds of operations and engendered the creation of other capacities like air medical rescue, which has optimized the defense-of-life and security services for Colombians," said Col. Zapata. Managing information and services While FAC is not the only institution in the country to provide air ambulance services, it is the only one that provides services such as free evacuation of emergency patients and medical checkups by specialized FAC doctors to those being transported. "This checkup service is important because, this way, we can gauge how promptly we need to tend to them and how essential the air ambulance is, because in many cases, the patient's condition allows for transport in a commercial airliner. This way, we help manage the resources of the healthcare entities that provide services to patients," said Col. Zapata. Specialized aircraft and crew All crew members have specialized training in aerospace medicine taught by the FAC Aerospace Medicine Center (CEMAE, per its Spanish acronym). According to Lieutenant Colonel Eliana Rincón, CEMAE's Aeromedical Certification section chief, "While the doctors who are in the rescue operations are specialized and know what to do when faced with any emergency situation, conditions in the air are different. Changes in pressure and oxygen are enough to change a patient's normal development, so it is essential for both doctors and nurses to know how to manage a fragile patient at high altitude." The CNRP has six fixed-wing and three rotary-wing aircraft dedicated exclusively to aeromedical evacuation and transport. Among them, three UH-60 helicopters called "Angel Squadron" because they are equipped with rescue cranes that allow for the evacuation of patients while hovering, when landing in the area is impossible. Major Héctor Manosalva, who has 16 years of experience piloting different types of aircraft for FAC, said he also piloted armed helicopters for over 10 years. “The majority of these operations were geared towards restoring public order. The changeover to rescue operations has been a very gratifying experience because I directly support safeguarding the life and physical integrity of Colombians,” he said. “Without our help, people whose health is fragile wouldn't have much chance of surviving," he concluded.