Helicopters have been proving their worth daily in both civilian and military use. One of the most important roles a helicopter fulfills is that of medevac. An airborne ambulance that can get there faster, safer and smoother than by land. The first helicopter medevac was performed during World War 2 in Burma. In April 1944, a U.S. Army Sikorsky YR-4B helicopter rescued 3 wounded troops from Mawlu. The helicopter could only carry one casualty at a time, so had to make repeat journeys to get everyone to safety, but they persevered and got everyone out. After that, the helicopter was the vehicle of choice for fast medevac from combat situations, as well as at home.
After the Sikorsky YR-4B during WWII, a civilian air ambulance service was established in Saskatchewan, Canada. In 1947, the Schaefer Air Service was founded, our first air ambulance service, launched by J. Walter Schaefer. The Korean War saw helicopter medevac come to the fore once more as the U.S. Army used Sikorsky S-51 and Bell H-13 helicopters to perform medevac from the ever-shifting front lines. The terrain was harsh, difficult to traverse and the battle lines were always shifting. Only a helicopter could get in and out in time to offer the casualty any realistic chance of survival.
In 1959, the government launched a program to assess the usefulness of helicopters in medevac situations. Project CARESOM bought three helicopters in 1969 and put them in north, central and southern states to see how effective they were. Once the money ran out, the project folded, but the southern helicopter in Hattiesburg, Louisiana remained. This was the first government civilian air ambulance program. In the same year, Maryland raised money to buy its own Bell Jet Ranger to offer helicopter medevac services to its own state. They bought four Rangers and staffed them with paramedics in what was a hugely successful program.
The Vietnam War saw the same kind of theater as Korea, making the helicopter once more invaluable to troops on the ground. This time, the main airframe in use was the Bell UH-1 Huey, which served from 1959 onwards. The helicopter was so successful that is was still being used until the mid-21st century.
In 1972, Fight For Life Colorado bought an Alouette III helicopter to provide medevac out of St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver. In 1977, the Canadians took medevac one step further. The Ontario Ministry of Health began providing on-site paramedical services, allowing medevac helicopters to provide critical care at the scene. Mercy Flight WNY was founded in 1981 to provide medevac services to New York State. It remained staunchly independent from medical providers and remains one of the largest non-profit medevac organizations in the country.
There are now 200 medevac operators in the country offering fast, effective transport of casualties to medical centers. Helicopters have enabled medics to offer critical care faster than ever before, reducing head injury mortality rates, shortening time from incident to first responder and lowering the overall infection and mortality rates of all affected casualties.