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)
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.”
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.”