ROSEBORO — Helicopter pilot Jon Berge maneuvered over the town Saturday as the sound of rotors chopped through the sky.
Below, he sees fire trucks and his destination — a large piece of concrete with two big crosses. As he gets closer to the ground, a crowd of people look up toward the clouds eagerly awaiting the touchdown. The culmination of all the work occurred Saturday when it landed, a first for Roseboro’s helipad project.
“Seeing the helicopter on the ground means it was all worth while,” said Roseboro Fire Chief Lee Coleman said.
Roseboro celebrated the newly opened helipad area with flight professionals associated with UNC Health Care. The purpose is to better serve residents throughout the town and Sampson County through emergency situations. Berge, a pilot from Air Methods, a company providing the service to UNC, mentioned how it’ll provide more convenience to medical professionals.
“It takes a burden of the local fire department of having to set up a (landing zone) in the middle of the road some place, where they may have hazards that they haven’t seen such as wires and small cell phone towers,” Berge said. “Here, we know everything is good and takes the burden off, so we can focus on the patient care and transporting the patient.”
The helicopter he flew, a Bell 429, is a new to the health care system and is different than other models. With more advanced equipment, the upgrade is a little bigger and has more speed and power. It also has more space for critical care patients and loads from the side, which makes it easier.
“This is the first time all of these first responders are seeing this style of helicopter,” Coleman said. “This is what we’re going to be seeing in the future coming to us.”
After the landing, a dedication was held near a monument for the helipad. Coleman honored several individuals who played a part in the project, including Bobby Owen, who Coleman called the brainchild of the helipad. Owen, a former fire chief, served the department from 2005 through 2014. Before retirement, Owen initiated fundraisers such as bike rides, barbecues and concerts. During his remarks, he said a lot of people not listed on the monument donated time and money for it.
“It’s takes a lot of money to get something like this going and a lot of people with good hearts and people who just love their community,” Owen said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
A smaller monument was unveiled below the main one in honor of Owen.
“I think this is going to be a great thing for our community and I hope one day that I will never need it,” Owen said while drawing a few laughs from the crowd. “If somebody needs it, maybe, it’ll save a life. That’s what it’s all about.”
While talking about the history of the monument, he did not want to take a lot of credit for the project, an idea that was sparked because of the upcoming four-lane N.C. 24. Owen said that is going to create more business and vehicles traveling at higher rates of speed.
“We felt like we could use a helipad,” Owen said about the fire department project presented to commissioners several years ago.
The cost of the project was more than $30,000 and included work from volunteers and town commissioner Cary Holland, who spent many hours building the helipad area and coordinating other efforts with people involved.
“It’s all for one purpose, the community came together to save one life. That’s what we did this for,” Coleman said. “If we save one life, then it was all worth while.”
Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Bennett said it’s a first for the town and the project took a while to get started.
“We’re so happy for everybody that got involved and this is what you see,” he said. “We appreciate all of the help that we got from everybody.”
Thomas Jackson, a captain for the Sampson County Emergency Management Services (EMS), assists with airlifting trauma and cardiac patients to receive treatments. Jackson said the helipad is a fantastic amenity to have. He recalled times when only military helicopters were around to assist.
“You had to go through an act of Congress to get them to come,” Jackson said. “They had to get clearance through all of their commanding officers to get them to come.”
During incidents such as car wrecks, aircrafts such as the Bell are a big benefit to EMS workers.
“We’re surrounded with helicopters around us and Sampson County is in a good location for several helicopter services,” Jackson said. “We make that phone call and we have a helicopter here in a little while.”
Before the takeoff, Flight Nurse Teresa Blanton and flight paramedics showed emergency personnel and residents different parts of aircraft. She was impressed with the turnout and said it shows how communities come together to save lives.
“They worked really hard on this and a lot of people have donated their time and money,” Blanton said. “If it just saves one life, it’s definitely worth it. It helps protect us too. It keeps the helicopter safe because it’s a good landing zone for us. They definitely looked out for everyone with this.”
For Blanton and other medical professionals it’s essential to get injured patients to comprehensive trauma centers in a rapid time period.
“We can come here and land and take the patient from the paramedic and they can be at the UNC Trauma Center in no time, so it’s definitely helpful,” Blanton said. “They’ve done a wonderful job and it shows strong community support.”
Flight Paramedic Jerry Barlow was also thankful for participation in the community event.
“This is phenomenal,” Barlow said about the celebration and the helipad. “I don’t know of any other community that has ever done this. This is away and above the call of duty. This is, by far, the top in the state.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.