Provider Profile: California Highway Patrol’s Air Operations

California Highway Patrol’s Air Operations division’s remit spans a multitude of disciplines, providing medical, law enforcement and search and rescue services
Based in Sacramento, the Office of Air Operations team manages the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Air Operations Program, which provides invaluable services to the public, allied agency partners, and CHP ground units. Aircraft are multi-mission assets, well equipped to work in a number of areas including search and rescue, advanced life support, and law enforcement. The helicopters and airplanes are outfitted with specialised equipment such as rescue hoists, medical gear, and cameras. Over 150 crewmembers fly out of eight air units strategically located throughout the state.
Lieutenant Mike Sedam, Commander, California Highway Patrol Office of Air Operations, has this to say about his team: “Our crews are highly trained professionals that began their careers as patrol officers. They come from all parts of California, are members of the communities they serve, and are consummate professionals who focus on their mission to provide the highest level of safety, service, and security. Their skills allow them to successfully complete a multitude of missions including rescues from rocky cliffs, providing advanced life support to injured parties, and managing complex law enforcement events. Every year our crews prevent tragedies by saving hundreds of lives.”
The California Highway Patrol operates eight Airbus H-125 (E) and seven Eurocopter B3 helicopters. It is currently in the process of upgrading all of the B3s to the H-125 model.  
Shaun Bouyea, Flight Officer/Paramedic with the CHP, explained more about the qualifications needed to join the Air Operations team: “All of our paramedics are CHP Flight Officers and hold the position of Flight Officer/Paramedic. Our Flight Officer/Paramedics are required to be an Officer with the California Highway Patrol for a minimum of two years working as a road CHP Officer prior to applying for a position on a helicopter.” He added: “Our Pilots are EMTs and our Flight Officers are trained to the level of EMT-P or otherwise known as paramedic.”
All of the CHP’s aircraft have a standardised med wall and carry the same equipment that an ambulance does. (see left)
Hoist rescues
The California Highway Patrol carries out many hoist rescues per year. Bouyea told AirMed&Rescue: “All of our pilots are trained by the Chief Pilot in Hoist Operations. The Flight Officers undergo the same training. Each crew member is required to demonstrate proficiency and pass practical along with written examinations. All of our equipment statewide is standardised.”
The CHP is always evaluating and improving its programmes and over the past two years, it brought in a company to take an outside look at some of its operations. Air Rescue Systems was selected as the outside provider, and has been training crews with two-week Hoist and Long Line courses. “These courses have allowed our crews to fine tune the skills they already possessed,” said Bouyea, “but also giving them an overall fresh look at hoist rescues in general from a respected company with worldwide recognition.”
Crowded skies
Not only are the skies in California crowded with other first responder aircraft, they are also crowded with the media aircraft, and more recently, drones. Bouyea said: “We have a memorandum of understanding with the air providers in the state. Aircraft are on the same air-to-air frequency, we have a common air-to-ground frequency, we separate by 500 feet AGL, we orbit the same direction, and have a 180-degree offset in order to maintain visual separation of each other.” 

Sergeant Rich Bookbinder, Pilot for the CHP, spoke to AirMed&Rescue about his role

What is the most challenging part of your role, and what is the most satisfying?
Having been a pilot since 1988 and flying for the CHP since 1998, I would say that the most challenging part of my role has been knowing when to say ‘no’ to a mission. We are all mission driven and want to go and help others; however, sometimes limitations due to weather, the capabilities of the aircraft, or the ability of the pilot or crewmember may cause us to have to turn down a mission. It is always a matter of evaluating risk versus gain. The Coast Guard used to have an unofficial motto that stated: ‘You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back’. Over time, the Coast Guard realised that is not the right way to do business. A more recent Coast Guard leadership document states that a more appropriate motto would be: ‘You have to go out and you have to come back, and you have to bring our resources back because we’ll need them again tomorrow’. This sums up why sometimes the right decision is to not go. The challenging part is to know when to say no. For the most satisfying, see below.
What attracted you to working for CHP’s Air Operations division?
I have always had a love of flying and a desire to help others. Flying for the CHP allows me to combine both. Some of my pilot friends from college went on to become airline pilots. While that type of job allows one to fly regularly, after a while it becomes a mundane job simply flying from point A to point B. Flying for the CHP is always interesting and rewarding with every day offering a different mission and destination. One day we may be doing a hoist rescue off of a cliff followed by a mission to look for armed felony suspects. The next day, we may be following a pursuit and then conduct a search for a missing person. The next day we may be doing drug surveillance followed by a dignitary protection detail. The variety of missions, the beauty of flying over the diverse countryside that California has to offer, the comradery and brotherhood of working with first class people all combine to make flying for the CHP an ideal flying job.