Emergency responder recognition
UNM Hospital held a reception June 3, 2014 to honor those who assisted with the response to a medical helicopter crash on April 9.
Credit: Rebecca Gustaf

Emergency responders, hospital workers and private contractors gathered Tuesday at UNM Hospital to be acknowledged for a cohesive, effective response to a medical helicopter accident at UNM Hospital earlier this spring.

The diverse group has trained extensively over the years, testing its preparation for the unexpected. That training was put to the test April 9, when a PHI Air Medical helicopter crash-landed on the roof of UNM Hospital after it attempted to take off from the hospital's helipad.

No one was seriously injured in the accident, and hospital operations for the most part continued uninterrupted. At a reception Tuesday, UNMH officials commended hospital staff and others in the community who contributed to a successful accident response and recovery.

“We are a community that performs heroic acts everyday as part of our jobs,” said Dr. Michael Richards, executive physician-in-chief for the UNM Health System. “But this was different. We realized just how solid our partnerships are with local EMS professionals and others, and how well prepared we all were to respond as a single, forwarding moving, high-functioning team.”

Individuals and organizations recognized Tuesday included a number of UNM and hospital staffers and units, the Albuquerque Fire Department, the UNM Police Department, the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Managment, the Albuquerque Police Department and New Mexico Department of Health. Several private contractors were also recognized for their work in removing the disabled helicopter from the roof and making repairs to the building. They included Jaynes Corporation, Williamson Restoration, Chavez Grieves Engineering, Mountain States Crane Service and Studio Southwest Architects.

What could have been chaos presented itself as a methodically choreographed response by a UNM Hospital employees, first responders and the contractors, UNMH officials said as they recounted the accident and ensuing response: security personnel pulling the pilot and two crew members from the burning chopper; pediatric unit directors, nurses and staff immediately evacuating patients directly beneath the accident site to other units; structural engineers quickly assessing the integrity of the hospital roof; AFD responding to the fire and leaking fuel on the hospital rooftop;  the helicopter removal operation and the repairs to the hospital roof.

“This was an extraordinary response to an incident none could have predicted,” said Steve McKernan, chief executive officer of the UNM Health System. “This accident, in which thankfully no one was seriously injured, validated all of the time and commitment we’ve dedicated to conducting emergency training and exercises, holding regular emergency committee meetings, hosting mock emergency operations centers and citywide tabletop exercises, and all of the other emergency drills these professionals have committed to over the years. I’m proud to be a part of this organization."