Helicopter Safety

Northwest MedStar is committed to delivering the highest quality of critical care transport, but there are a few things you can do to help save a life. Once you’ve contacted the Communications Center, you will be asked to provide such crucial details as your location, area landmarks, local weather conditions and your patient’s medical information. In addition, you will need to prepare for the arrival of the aircraft and medical team.

Online Landing Zone Training
In addition to the information listed on this page, Northwest MedStar now offers a free online helicopter landing zone training that is helpful for anyone who may need to help guide a Northwest MedStar helicopter into an on-scene landing zone.  This interactive training contains video, audio and quizzes throughout the training as well as an ending test that can be submitted to show that you have passed the training to meet your agency's training requirements.  To view the online training, click here.  

Selecting a Landing Zone
Marking the Landing Zone
Directing the Helicopter
Identifying Your Position
Giving Landing Zone Information
Hazards Around a Helicopter
Safety Issues
Hot Load Training

Selecting a Landing Zone
The landing zone should be clear of any overhead wires or other obstructions, with a clear approach and departure path for the helicopter.

  • The minimum size should be 75 x 75 feet during the day, and 100 x 100 feet at night.
  • The landing zone surface should be relatively smooth and flat, free of any loose debris and obstacles and have a surface slope of six degrees or less. In areas where the surface is not visible (i.e. tall grass.) it’s helpful to have someone walk across the area to be sure it will work.

Marking the Landing Zone
Using flares to mark the landing zone is helpful, but they should be used with caution. Overhead emergency vehicle lights or portable strobes are another easily-seen option 

  • For night landings:
    • Dimmed automobile headlights may be used to mark a landing zone, but be sure to turn them off when the helicopter approaches
    • Turn off flashing white lights or any lights the pilot requests
    • Mark nearby obstacles, such as poles with overhead wires, with spotlights if possible.

Directing the Helicopter
If you have a two-way radio, it may be possible to communicate directly with the Northwest MedStar pilot. The Communications Center will ask you for your frequency and privacy/quiet call tones when you request a transport.

  • When you communicate with the pilot:
    • Use common language
    • Anticipate the direction of arrival
    • Let the pilot know when you first hear the helicopter
    • Tell the pilot when you can see the helicopter

Remember: Just because you can see us, doesn’t mean we can see you! 

clock position image

Identifying Your Position 
There are two methods you can use to help direct the pilot to the landing zone:

  • The Clock Position: Imagine the nose of the helicopter pointing at twelve o’clock. Using the clock position, identify where you are in relation to the nose of the helicopter.
  • Facing the pilot, tell him or her where the helicopter is, relative to where you are. For example, if the aircraft is too far to your left, tell the pilot to veer to his or her left. Once the helicopter is heading straight toward you, tell it to stop.

Continue radio communications with the pilot until he or she says they can see you. Once visual contact is confirmed, give the pilot your landing zone information.

Giving Landing Zone Information  
Identify wind direction and speed, using compass (N,S,E,W) directions –Northwest MedStar will usually land and depart into the wind. You should identify the location of any wires in the area, including:

  • Power and phone lines (usually 20-40 feet high)
  • High tension power lines (may be as high as 150 feet)

You should also tell the pilot about any potential hazards and obstacles in the area, such as bushes, dust, fence posts, livestock, loose snow, rocks or tall trees. Watch for (and remove) any lightweight debris in the area. Be sure to tell the pilot if the landing zone is sloped - and in which direction - if it’s greater than six degrees.

Hazards Around a Helicopter  
Helicopters are a remarkable lifesaving tool. However, it’s important to be aware of certain hazards, especially during take offs and landings.

  • Rotor Wash: A hovering helicopter can generate winds up to 120 mph. The wind chill factor may also be significant.
  • Noise: The sound of a running helicopter can interfere with communication.
  • Tail Rotor: Never walk near the back blades of the helicopter. If possible, assign a tail rotor guard to both sides of the aircraft.
    Remember: If you can’t see the pilot, he or she can’t see you.
  • Main Rotor: Always approach a helicopter from the side or from downhill.


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Safety Issues 

  • Secure any loose clothing or equipment
  • Keep the landing zone free of debris
  • Protect yourself and the patient from the rotor wash winds
  • Consider crowd and traffic control around the landing zone
  • Do not approach the helicopter while the blades are turning
  • Let the Northwest MedStar team come to you
  • Don’t run or smoke within 75 feet of the helicopter
  • Don’t allow any vehicles within 75 feet of the helicopter
  • Do not use the aircraft for a handhold
  • Make sure there are no prohibited items on the patient
  • Maintain visual contact with the pilot

Hot Load Training 

In collaboration with EMS agencies requesting helicopter transport, Northwest MedStar is providing an option for hot loads for appropriate, time-sensitive, critical patients. Safety for our patients, EMS providers and crew is the top priority. The EMS agency on-scene is able to request a hot load once proper training has been completed with NW MedStar. If you’d like to request hot load training for your EMS agency, please visit our contact page and select “request a helicopter safety class.” 

Take a quick look at part of our hot load training