Every time Tom Zuber sits down at the controls of his helicopter, he knows it's a matter of life or death. Tom flies for Lifesaver Air Medical Critical Care Transport's new base in Auburn . "Life or limb…that's the criteria for lift off," Zuber told me during a visit to their new location at the Auburn/Opekika Airport.
Zuber flew choppers in the U.S. Army, mostly Hueys, during his 20-year career. Since then, he's flown air ambulances – rescuing accident victims and transporting critically ill patients. His specially equipped chopper is the fastest way to get a patient to a distant hospital. "From Auburn to Montgomery 23 minutes - 125 miles an hour," he says adding "No traffic lights - no stop signs!"
Tom opened the doors to the modified Bell helicopter to show me the life saving equipment onboard. "We have defibrillators, medicine to paralyze and establish airways...just about the same medicine you would find in an emergency room, he said. "We load the patients with their feet toward to pilot." He agreed with me that it's a little crowded in the single engine chopper….especially when you have a patient, pilot, flight nurse and EMT in a space about the size of the interior of the average SUV. "There's not a lot of room - but we've got enough to do our job," Zuber said.
Lifesaver's goal is to be in the air within five minutes of receiving a call. The pilot, nurse and EMT are stationed about 100 yards from the chopper and can easily be airborne in that time frame. Once they're in the air headed to an accident scene or hospital for a patient transfer, Tom or one of the other three pilots communicates with the hospital...passing along critical information. All the while the specially trained flight nurse and emergency medical technician monitor the patient's vital signs and keeping the patient stable until the flight is over.
The critical care transport serves a 150-square-mile area that covers the greater southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia regions including Montgomery. And, as Tom Zuber put it, "If the chopper's on the ground, we're ready to go...if it's in the air, we're doing our job."