Sky rescue: LifeFlight logs 35 years of saving lives

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It’s hard to imagine emergency medical response without rescue helicopters. But in Western Pennsylvania, this life-saving enterprise took to the skies only 35 years ago.

As reported Tuesday by the Post-Gazette’s Robert Zullo, that’s when Mildred Fincke, a longtime nurse at Allegheny General Hospital and eventually its vice president of nursing, helped launch the idea she’d brought back from a conference in Denver.

After much work, LifeFlight took off in Pittsburgh in 1978 with one helicopter. Now Ms. Fincke, 87, and her co-founders can relish the monumental impact of that once-fledgling program.

Today’s LifeFlight uses five helicopters based in strategic locations around the region. It is staffed by 18 pilots, 43 nurses, a chief flight nurse, seven dispatchers and eight mechanics. With that kind of crew, it’s made more than 70,000 flights, 30 to 40 percent of them in response to traumatic injuries.

(UPMC uses a different helicopter service, STAT MedEvac, which came later and serves a consortium of hospitals stretching from western Ohio to Washington, D.C.)

With so many outstanding medical centers, Pittsburgh has long had a reputation for high-quality health care. But an unsung component in keeping people alive has been LifeFlight and its peers, still going strong after three and a half decades.


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