State launches investigation into Southern Arizona fire chiefPosted: Updated:
For years, there has been a well-established system in Southeastern Arizona for dispatching helicopters, to make sure the nearest to the crash scene gets the call.
But now, because of the story you're about to see - the state has launched an investigation into one Southern Arizona fire chief -- who decided on his own to ignore that protocol.
When a helicopter lands at an accident, you might assume it was the closest. But it's not always.
LifeNet Dispatcher: "I'm just trying to find out why he's requesting two helicopters so far away when I now have a helicopter 4 minutes away from you guys."
In Southeastern Arizona, three companies offer air ambulance services: LifeNet, Air Evac, and Arizona Lifeline.
They've agreed on a process to make sure the closest helicopter responds to an accident.
Local emergency responders contact dispatch center Tucson MEDS, who then sends the closest helicopter company to the accident.
But in a December 5th crash near Whetstone, that protocol was not followed.
Tucson Meds Dispatch: "Did you put in the original request for the helicopters?
Local Dispatch: "No I did not, it was Whetstone command."
Instead of alerting Tucson MEDS dispatch, Whetstone Fire Chief Peter Bidon directly called Arizona Lifeline... an air ambulance company he works for.
It sent two helicopters, each about 50 miles away from the scene.
Then dispatchers from Tucson Meds tried to step in.
Tucson MEDS Dispatch: "We have a much closer helicopter than either of the ones he's launched, sitting in Sierra Vista."
In fact, two helicopters, one from Air Evac and one from LifeNet, were just 10 miles away.
Tucson MEDS Dispatch: "You can't just ask him over the radio if he wants us to launch the closer helicopter out of Sierra Vista and cancel the farthest one away he already requested?"
Local Dispatch: "I'm going to say no."
After they finished another call, LifeNet flew to the scene anyway, arriving before Arizona Lifeline. But Chief Bidon didn't let Lifenet land.
When they arrived minutes later, Arizona Lifeline transported a 16-year-old boy and 74-year-old man to Tucson Medical Center.
This incident raises the question, what's the point of having a dispatch system if not everyone uses it? Chief Bidon's opinion is that it's not worth using a dispatch system if he can't trust it.
"When you call for a helicopter now through MEDS, you go through three different dispatchers," Bidon says.
He believes that compromises accuracy and efficiency. He also isn't happy with the air ambulance company that showed up at the scene first.
"Our trust level with Lifenet right now is zero," Bidon says.
Bidon showed us several complaints he's raised with Lifenet in the past - from rude staff to inaccurate response times - which he says have gone unresolved.
"I'm calling direct until we get this issue fixed," Bidon says.
Bidon says the timing worked out so that the Arizona Lifeline helicopters arrived just as ground crews got the victims cut out of the mangled vehicles.
Bottom line, he says he helped save the life of a 16-year-old boy - decisions he says are made in the patient's best interest. Nothing to do with where he works.
"Yeah I work for Arizona Lifeline. I've been with Arizona Lifeline since 2006. I've never in my life compromised any patient care, any patient outcome, or any incident no matter who it is, because of who I work for."
And next time, he still won't follow the written protocol.
"I think we should do away with this protocol. I think when we utilize an air ambulance, I'm the customer. And if I'm not getting the service they say they'll provide or be there for, then why continue using them?" Bidon says.
Others might ask, why call for a helicopter 50 miles away when you have one that's just 10.
And is it proper for one person to ignore the protocol because of personal issues? That's what the Arizona department of health services will work to find out. The state has the power to strip Bidon of his EMT status.
We plan to stay on top of this story for you.
The good news for 16-year old victim Chad Labanow, he went home Tuesday... after initially going to intensive care in critical condition.