"Quiet" Time in the Civil Wars

One month ago, I left Denver after successfully completing Aircraft Dispatcher training. The trip five Mondays ago to San Jose was interesting and enlightening; more about that below. I then flew the redeye from San Jose to JFK and then a morning flight into Pittsburgh, for about five days with Leslie and the girls, and perhaps a chance to decompress for the first time in a good while. The visit was all of that, and a bit more.

I arrived back in Grand Junction in the wee hours of Nov. 4, and got about 3 hours of sleep before beginning the better part of three days of recording about 160 middle schoolers for the Words program. Post-production begins in earnest this week, with no real end in sight, as we will be recording another large group of kids in December. Despite some at times tenuous logistical and other challenges, this is a lot of fun, and has helped to keep stressful times in their place.

Since returning from Pittsburgh, I’ve been decidedly more reflective about things as they are, and about how they may turn in certain ways in the foreseeable future. I use this term almost laughingly; if, six years ago, I could have foreseen what was going to happen to my family and career, I would not have believed it.

In any case, the written word has been hard to come by of late, and I chalk this up to something that I can’t put my finger on, save that I’ve been more peaceful and quiet than I can remember in a long time. For the most part, it’s been a good thing. I hope that I can hold on to that feeling while I try to bring this electronic journal up to speed, along with managing the process of getting a new job in a tough economy.

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The Air Medical Transport Conference in San Jose was kind of what I expected; many of these trade conferences are somewhat formulaic in their organization and presentation, and the venues are typically some cavernous convention facility that all look painfully similar, save for the unique metropolitan canvas that has been painted around each one.

The differences with this conference, aside from all of the nice helicopters in the exhibit hall, seemed to center around unspoken differences, discomforts, and uncertainties coming from those who ply their trade in the air medical
industry, or who supply hard goods and/or services to it.

Some of the presentations that I attended were straightforward and very informative. An overview of proposed and pending FAA regulation of air medical services operating under Part 135 of the FAA’s rules seemed to be fairly well-received by the numerous attendees present.
Some of the recent NTSB recommendations were discussed at greater length than others, but I came away from the session with what I had traveled in part to hear; that there will be a greater emphasis placed on operational control by the FAA with HEMS operators who have more than 10 aircraft operating. This means the potential for a greater number of people trained as I am to be working as part of the industry.

A presentation on dealing with “difficult” employees was interesting, but in retrospect was somewhat off the mark in my mind. The presenter had plenty of anecdotal information about different situations involving what he perceived as difficult employees, and some of the things he recounted were truly egregious. I thought he needed to more discerning between an employee who causes a specific and significant problem, and an employee who is truly difficult to manage, for whatever reason. Having at times been labeled this myself, I think it has more to do with personal mismanagement of job-related knowledge, pre-conceived notions and/or agendas, combined with just the right amount of attitude.

By far the most interesting session was conducted by Dr. Ira Blumen of the University of Chicago, on HEMS accidents. Dr. Blumen subtitled his presentation “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” to relate his session to the famous 60’s spaghetti western of the same name.

Part of his stated reasoning for this was that the three main characters of the film (played by Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach) were Civil War veterans. He related this to his view of what he called a “civil war” among those engaged in the provision of air medical services. He cited the various business models, both for profit and non-profit, hospital-based and stand-alone, along with numerous organizations of physicians, pilots, nurses, paramedics, and others, some with agendas that may conflict with those of others.

Dr. Blumen and his colleagues have conducted exhaustive data collection and research into accidents involving air medical services. The NTSB and FAA have referenced his research as part of their investigation into the inordinate number of HEMS accidents during 2008. One interesting trend that is being seen is an increase in the use of single-engine aircraft, presumably due to reduced operating costs.

Another impressive part of the conference was the emphasis on safety being promulgated from many different corners. One such effort is the Vision Zero initiative, sponsored by several trade organizations along with AAMS.

I saw a lot of familiar faces, from my days in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. I saw equal measures of people who have been in the business a long time and seemed to be growing weary, and young, healthy, idealistic hard workers who had reached the top of their game and were ready to get busy.

I left San Jose with the impression that the industry was in the midst of systemic change, and while uncomfortable it is inevitable and somewhat necessary if this expensive and critical resource is to remain credible and accessible to those who need it most.

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The underlying theme of systemic change is also making its way known in my personal life as well. While I was in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the month, I proposed to Leslie. She said yes.

Leslie is a strong, intelligent, independent, driven Christian woman that I’ve known for a long time. Those of you who have been here for a while know that she has two daughters. Gianna will turn 17 at the end of the month.

Michaela, who just turned 8, has been fighting cancer for almost 4 years now. There are new developments in her treatment course that are beginning to take shape. I’ll have more about those later.

I have no other words right now other than I know what I feel when I am with Leslie. It is a mixture of calm, peace, and confidence in the face of life challenges for both of us.

As many are much more aware than I am, there are many obstacles to bringing two lives together. Family issues are unfortunately a big part of this. I’m hopeful that the gratitude we all have for being in homes, with ample food and good people both around us and thinking of us from afar, will nurture understanding as this joining of lives and hearts moves toward becoming a reality.

Leslie recommended a good movie that I found in the Redbox and watched yesterday. Not Easily Broken is an excellent story about how life can be good and joyful, even when it’s challenging from more than a few fronts, expected and otherwise. If you’re interested further, grab it up.

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I was out getting a turkey and other things for Thursday’s meal today, and one other thing I did was to take up Ralph D’Andrea’s suggestion from a few days ago, and drop off a 21 lb. turkey at the Salvation Army offices on 4th Street. It will be used to feed the many in our community who are in need of a good meal on Thanksgiving Day.

Good night.

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