BELFAST, Maine — Along with caring for trails, the state’s snowmobile clubs will be taking on the challenge of preparing landing zones for medical helicopters.
Working with LifeFlight of Maine, the Maine Snowmobile Association is creating a statewide network of landing zones at selected sites along the state’s trail system and developing a comprehensive rescue plan for individual clubs.
“It’s one heck of a project,” MSA coastal region vice president Bob LaFontaine said Sunday. “We’ve got a lot of work to do but the clubs are willing to do it. All the clubs are really working hard on this.”
Snowmobiling has long been an important tradition in Maine, and the hundreds of local snowmobile clubs have worked to create a world-class, statewide trail system. Last year, more than 100,000 snowmobilers explored the state’s 13,000 miles of trails. The LifeFlight-MSA project seeks to enhance the safety of all riders.
LaFontaine said the project is two-pronged. First, local snowmobile clubs will work to establish landing zones at appropriate locations along the trail, and second, LifeFlight crew members and local rescue personnel will train snowmobilers on how to report a serious accident and how to set up a landing zone in the event a local rescue is not available.
“By establishing a plan locally, clubs and responders will know what resources are available and how to implement those resources when the need arises,” he said. “LifeFlight will not be needed at every accident, but when they are, this project will help ensure the helicopter can gain direct access to the trail system.”
Under the plan, each local club will locate a few sites along the trail that meet the criteria for a landing zone. Those include a firm, level area 100 feet square clear of power lines and tree branches. LifeFlight will not land on frozen lakes or ponds, LaFontaine said.
Clubs can provide GPS coordinates for those sites for LifeFlight dispatchers and pilots. MedComm, a separate organization that provides communications specialists for LifeFlight and other ground ambulance services, will maintain a database of the trail coordinates as well as panoramic photographs of each landing zone.
A key factor in the project is the involvement of local fire and rescue personnel, many of whom already have been trained in landing zone establishment and safety. They are also an integral part of any rescue plan and likely would be the first to arrive at the scene of most accidents.
Working closely with local rescue providers, LifeFlight will visit snowmobile clubs across the state to give detailed information on how to report a serious accident, establish a code of conduct for trail users, and maintain a safe environment at the landing zones when the helicopter arrives. LaFontaine said clubs would be asked to block traffic on the trails until the injured sledder is removed from an accident scene.
“There are lots of accidents on snowmobile trails and the problem is, ‘How do you get them out?’ On a snowmobile trail, if somebody is hurt it usually is a head injury, and you don’t want to mess with head injuries,” he said. “The whole idea is to get them to the hospital at a fast rate. This project helps those who need help, it helps LifeFlight, it helps medical personnel, and it helps the fire departments.”
For more information on how local snowmobile clubs can schedule communications and ground safety training, contact LaFontaine at email@example.com, or Jon Roebuck at 888-421-4288 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the LifeFlight Foundation at 785-2288.