13-Nov-2013 Source: DRF
The Rescue Control Centre reports: “Unconscious person behind closed door.” A few minutes later, the emergency crew enters the room. The patient is lying on the kitchen floor, and resuscitation is necessary. Suddenly, the emergency physician gets sick, and a few seconds later the rescuers are lying unconscious next to the patient. The heating system is broken, and carbon monoxide (CO) – odourless and invisible – is wafting through the flat. To protect its crews against such situations, DRF Luftrettung has equipped all its helicopters with a CO detector.
Indoor grilling, leaky fireplaces, faulty heating systems – there are many causes of increased CO concentrations in flats. The problem: “The gas is highly toxic and highly flammable, but unnoticeable”, says Lars Greschke, DRF Luftrettung medical coordinator. In addition, the effects of CO poisoning often aren’t felt until later, and the gas doesn’t cause any clear symptoms to boot. This is why people experiencing CO poisoning often feel unwell, like at the beginning of a flu or a gastrointestinal infection. Blackouts and symptoms of paralysis, similar to a stroke, are also possible. Undetected, the toxic gas may lead to unconsciousness and even death.
CO detectors protect emergency crews
DRF Luftrettung has noticed in recent years that its crews are more and more often called to emergencies in which CO plays a role. This is partly due to the fact that people are heating with gas today more often than before. In addition, the flats are better insulated. “But the worse ventilated a room is, the more dangerous it is when there is a CO leak”, says Greschke. In order to protect its employees, DRF Luftrettung has therefore equipped all its HEMS bases with CO detectors. “In general, the helicopter emergency physician carries the device with him, since he usually enters the location first”, said Greschke. If the CO concentration is too high, the device warns the crew. “It vibrates, lights up and beeps”, he says.
Crew safety takes precedence
The small device shows CO concentrations in parts per million (ppm) and warns in two stages – at a concentration of 30 ppm and 60 ppm. “For us, 30 means: there’s something there and we need to open the windows and doors before we can help”, said Greschke. “60 means: we have to get out of here as fast as possible, under certain circumstances even without the patient.” In this case, the rescuers have to wait for the fire department. “Self-protection takes precedence”, says Greschke. “It’s no use to anyone if the emergency physician is lying unconscious next to the patient.”
CO detectors must be checked every morning
To ensure that the emergency workers can rely on the CO detectors, they test them every morning. “There is a test station containing a bottle with CO gas”, explains Greschke. “It allows us to check whether the device gives a warning at an elevated concentration.” If the device doesn’t work, it turns itself off. So far, DRF Luftrettung is satisfied with the equipment. “The 400 Euro we spent per HEMS base is worth it”, says Greschke. “A small investment for maximum safety.”
This year, DRF Luftrettung is celebrating its 40-year anniversary. In 1973, the first red and white rescue helicopter took off on a mission in Stuttgart. Four decades later, DRF Luftrettung helicopters are used at 31 HEMS bases in Germany, Austria and Denmark, eight of them around the clock. Whether rapid emergency services, patient transports between hospitals or air ambulance flights throughout the world – in 2012 alone, the DRF Luftrettung crews took off on 38,748 missions. More information is available at www.drf-luftrettung.de.