Interview – Brent Tracy, Flight Paramedic at MedX AirOne

Photo of crew - left to right, Mike Sayler (pilot), Brent Tracy (paramedic), Becky Tissue (registered nurse).
Safety first

Brent Tracy spoke to AirMed&Rescue about receiving the Tim Hynes Foundation’s Scholarship award to the Safety Management Training Academy (SMTA), and discussed the challenges and rewards of life as a flight paramedic.

Firstly, congratulations on your new role at MedX AirOne! Could you tell us what your primary responsibilities are here? What are you most looking forward to in the role?

Thank you, I’m excited to be part of the MedX AirOne team. My primary responsibilities are as a Critical Care Paramedic assigned to our rotor wing base at Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca, NV.  MedX AirOne also has bases in Elko and Ely, NevadaWe serve our community as an air ambulance performing interfacility transfers, scene calls and SAR missions. As air medical crew members, we practise and follow strict safety protocols. We are accountable to our team, as well as ourselves.

I’m looking forward to seeking opportunities to improve as a clinician and teammate. Delving deeper into safety management training, I now realise that committing to industry safety best practices is a continuous process.

We’d also like to say congratulations, once again, for receiving the Tim Hynes Foundation’s Scholarship award to the SMTA. You’ve obviously long been a keen advocate for safety! What have been some highlights of the scholarship so far, and how do you think it will help shape the future of your career?

Thank you, it’s been an honour to receive the Tim Hynes Scholarship and serve the Foundation’s mission to bring safety best practices to the air medical industry. Attending the SMTA in Pittsburgh has really opened my eyes to all the necessary components required to roll out an effective Safety Management System. The safety topic presenters at SMTA were all amazing. I would certainly recommend this training to all air medical personnel due to our unique modus operandi. As our host speaker pointed out, ‘we are a niche within a niche’. So, the networking among classmates, as well as the industry experts, has rubbed off on me. It’s my hope that I can have some members of my team at HGH attend this training. I love the dynamics of working as a flight paramedic and hope to continue working on the line for a long time. However, I would certainly consider the right opportunity as a safety officer.

Safety in HEMS operations continues to be an issue that hits the headlines; what more do you think legislators could do to improve the safety of air medical operations?

Operational safety is all our responsibility. In recent years, safety practices and devices have been legislated into existence to mitigate risks in air medical transport, but it’s up to everyone who works in this environment to make sure that safety is first and foremost in every decision.

What originally inspired you to become a flight paramedic?

being in a position to help people potentially having a serious healthcare crisis – potentially the ‘worst day’ in their lives – is extremely rewarding

It was a natural career progression for me. I started as an ocean rescuer with the Cape May, New Jersey Beach Patrol in the late 1980s, which led me to South Florida, where I continued as a full-time ocean rescue officer for Delray Beach Ocean Rescue. That path led me to EMT-B training and eventual training as a firefighter and paramedic. I became a firefighter / paramedic for the Boynton Beach, Florida Fire Rescue Department (BBFR) and was a founding member of the Spec Ops Dive Team. I found the common cause teamwork and camaraderie very satisfying. When I worked for BBFR, we would utilise the Palm Beach County’s Trauma Hawk on scene calls and I was always impressed with their professionalism. All those departments had great cultures and set the stage for my eventual entry into flight medicine. 

After moving to Reno, Nevada, I became interested in air medical operations while working at St Mary’s Regional Medical Center Emergency Department. It was a real gift to work there and learn about definitive care firsthand, as all my prior experience was in the pre-hospital setting. I was very fortunate to be able to combine all my experience and land a position as an air medical clinician.

Lastly, and most importantly, being in a position to help people potentially having a serious healthcare crisis – potentially the ‘worst day’ in their lives – is extremely rewarding.

It’s knowing that we are doing everything with our training and skillset to help our patients and their families have a better day.

HGH Air One

In your role as a flight paramedic, what are the main challenges that you face on a daily basis?

Probably the biggest challenge is to remain vigilant to our potential safety issues and effectively communicate those concerns. In the Summer we usually deal with wild fires, which can certainly affect our operations, as we are a VFR (visual flight rules) programme. During the Winter we deal with more consistent moisture and freezing temperatures. Furthermore, we fly over remote mountainous areas with limited weather reporting, which is another consideration for us to factor in during our pre-flight risk assessment scoring. Our pilots are very experienced and understand the uniqueness of our territory.

Another challenge is being able to maintain an open mindset to adapt and overcome all the small challenges that might occur on any given transport mission. For example, the often-finicky med pump tubing may require troubleshooting, and in such a situation you must reconsider your priorities and ‘triage’ the equipment issue into your patient care plan, all while moving in the direction of your call.

Communicating and getting on the same page as your team is paramount to providing excellent patient care

Communicating and getting on the same page as your team is paramount to providing excellent patient care.

For me, it’s the sum of all the little things. I strive to get ‘upstream’ on the daily details as much as possible and to control what I can. Showing up to work early and rested, having a daily training plan scheduled and potential meal plan in place – these are all the little things that add up, because there are so many variables in our field that are uncontrollable, including the best-laid plans. This is especially important as our average time per request from being dispatched until returning to base is approximately four hours, which is rather long for a rotor wing operation Basically, it’s important to try to maintain an adaptable mindset during all phases of a work shift.

It’s hard to imagine that you have too much spare time, but when you do find yourself with some free time, what do you like to do?

Fortunately, as a remote base, we work a 48-hour shift and then are off for five days. Therefore, it affords me the opportunity to spend quality time with my wife, Kerstin, and our three teenagers. Next month, Kerstin and I are hiking Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park. We live in Reno, close to some fantastic mountain biking trails, and I snowboard in the Winter, so I appreciate all the fun outdoor recreation options nearby.