Lois Henry

Tuesday, Aug 13 2013 07:15 PM

LOIS HENRY: Helicopter report long on lame, short on answers

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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    By John Hayes

    Jennings Blake Bennett, right, walks through the forest with a logger where his dad, Jennings Bill Bennett, died in a logging accident in the Tehachapi Mountains on Spetember 23, 2011. Photo courtsey of John Hayes.

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By Lois Henry

Whoever coined the term "good enough for government work" wasn't kidding.

The phrase came to mind several times as I watched Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

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Specifically, I'm talking about how poorly county staffers (by name, those would be County Administrative Officer John Nilon with big assists from Fire Chief Brian Marshall, Sheriff Donny Youngblood and, no doubt, Emergency Medical Services Director Ross Elliott) answered a number of straightforward questions from a citizen about the county's helicopter rescue programs.

John Hayes went before the board in mid-July and asked for crazy stuff like annual reports on the costs, operations, effectiveness and funding for the Fire and Sheriff's department's helicopter rescue programs, among other basic information.

Hayes, of course, is deeply concerned about these issues because his brother-in-law Bill Bennett died in a September 2011 logging accident that involved a hoist rescue by the sheriff's helicopter.

Supervisors had Nilon compile answers to Hayes' questions and deliver the report on Tuesday.

There were a number of stunners in the report. But, for me, one stuck out.

Nilon's report says the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) department is "unqualified" to determine whether the Fire or Sheriff's department has a better method of doing helicopter hoist rescues.

'Scuze me?

EMS is in charge of coordinating how emergency medical responses are handled in Kern County.

Its policies guide the response of public and private emergency workers from the time a call comes until a patient is tucked into a hospital bed.

"It's insulting and laughable," Hayes said of the idea that EMS can't evaluate helicopter rescue policies. Hayes is a retired Kern County battalion chief, so he knows a thing or two about how EMS and emergency protocols work.

Only Supervisor Mike Maggard picked up on that particular nugget of lameness from the report.

"If EMS is not the appropriate part of the county to evaluate the emergency response here, who is?" he asked Nilon.

Nilon tried to suggest the Fire and Sheriff's departments could evaluate their own procedures. Maggard wasn't having it.

"Should we or should we not have some means of independent review of those services?"

Then he mentioned a concept that, in Kern County, there seems to be precious little of: Oversight.

Yes, I agree. Oversight is desperately needed on this helicopter issue. It has been left far too long as a bone for Fire and the Sheriff to squabble over.

A little independent review never hurt anyone.

Which is exactly what supervisors tried to get at back in 2010 when they approved a recommendation by Nilon for the county to do yearly reports on exactly what Hayes was asking for: costs, operations, effectiveness and funding of both helicopter programs.

Those reports have never been done, Nilon acknowledged Tuesday.

Maggard appeared more than a little put out by that, saying that if supervisors -- and by extension the public -- were promised those reports, they should get them.

Nilon said he would work with the fire and sheriff's departments to get that info back to the board in 90 days.

I know some of you are thinking this is no big deal. After all, there are only a couple dozen hoist rescues a year so, what do you care, right?

Wrong. Even though you will more likely win a starring role on Broadway than ever have to be hoisted out of harm's way by a Fire or Sheriff's helicopter, you are paying the freight.

And it's not cheap.

In his 2010 report, Nilon said depending on medical needs, a single hoist rescue could cost in excess of $30,000. Time and materials alone (excluding personnel) cost about $2,500 per rescue.

Add to that the potential cost of a legal pay out if someone is hurt and Fire or the Sheriff's helicopter programs are found to be inadequate and EMS turned a blind eye.

The number of zeros boggles the mind.

Oh, one last thing.

When Hayes first went to the board with his questions on July 16, Youngblood and Marshall tried to dodge him entirely citing "possible pending litigation."

There is no litigation. Not pending nor even possible. The Bennett family does not have an attorney and the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit has long since passed.

The continued attempts by the county to shut Hayes down and not answer basic questions are tiresome.

He, and the rest of us, deserve much better.

 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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