When the Chips Are Down, Helicopters Go Up
By Dan Schwarzbach
If you are in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers, but a helicopter can land and save your life. – Igor Sikorsky
During the recent Helitech International 2017 conference in London, one of the most popular decals collected by attendees visiting the HAI booth expressed this sentiment: “Above All … Helicopters Save Lives.”
It’s certainly one of my favorite slogans for the helicopter industry. Unfortunately, we lately have had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the important ways we contribute to the common good, with communities around the world facing fires, floods, storms, and earthquakes. It seems when ordinary life is disrupted, when things are serious and the chips are down, helicopters go up.
This special issue of ROTOR is devoted to the theme of Helicopters to the Rescue and the role our industry plays in emergency response, protecting lives and property, and helping those affected get back to normal life.
As you may imagine, a major motivation for those who become police officers, firefighters, and search and rescue specialists is often a desire to help others, especially those in need of rescue from some sort of adverse situation. I know it was for me and many of the fine individuals I’ve had the privilege to work with in public safety aviation.
To be able to perform that assistance from a helicopter is icing on the cake! We can swoop in like white knights aboard our trusty helicopter steeds and provide hope and safety to those in need, delivering services and supplies or carrying them out of harm’s way.
During times of crisis, helicopters provide many services in addition to providing lifesaving medical attention and transport to the injured. They provide safe and efficient passage for workers to and from offshore petroleum platforms, ensuring minimal downtime and, therefore, minimal impact on the production of materials on which modern life depends.
Helicopters also provide transport and situational awareness to those involved in emergency management. They assist with the most efficient and effective placement of resources to speed recovery, and they provide a platform from which to perform critical infrastructure checks and repairs.
For me, saving lives means not only providing emergency care or removing someone from immediate danger, but ensuring that normalcy and quality of life are restored as soon as possible. By this definition, helicopters save lives every day in all parts of the world. We play a role in not only keeping the lights on and your neighborhood safe, but also in putting produce in your supermarket basket and gasoline in your car.
In responding to the hurricanes that recently stuck several Caribbean islands as well as Puerto Rico, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, including my hometown of Houston, our industry has once again illustrated its significant role in restoring and maintaining the quality of life for those affected by natural disasters. Law enforcement, firefighters, the Coast Guard and National Guard, emergency medical services, oil and gas, utilities, and many others used helicopters in one way or another to assist those whose lives were disrupted. Government and general aviation operators worked together for the common good.
In the pages that follow, you will read stories regarding the roles helicopters played in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as fighting U.S. wildfires and helping New Zealand residents cope with a 2016 earthquake. We talked to operators who service the offshore petroleum platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and those who keep the U.S. electrical grid operating, both in regular and extraordinary conditions.
Helicopters will continue to play a role in the recovery of these areas, a role that in many cases, only we can fill. Our industry is an essential part of the U.S. emergency response infrastructure. And like any infrastructure, we need the support of the FAA and our lawmakers to ensure that we will be ready when the time comes.
During my 37 years as a police officer with the Houston Police Department, I have been blessed with many opportunities to make a difference. I know from firsthand experience that it is extremely satisfying to play a role in improving someone’s situation. There truly is no greater reward.
No matter our mission, our industry provides us the opportunity to positively affect the lives of many people on a daily basis. Whether we fly helicopters, crew them, maintain them, or support them with supplies and services, we should all be proud to be a part of this industry. Because when the chips are down, we go up.
Dan Schwarzbach is the current chairman of HAI’s Board of Directors, a senior police officer for the Houston Police Department, and the executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.