The Bell 206 makes its slow, calculated decent onto the field adjacent to Fourth Street and Highway 67, and the rotor blades shove a blast of dirt out for 360 degrees. Some of the Young County volunteer firefighters close enough to the landing sight get covered in it.

The chopping blades slow as the three-person crew from Air Evac Lifeteam exit the helicopter and signal to the volunteers that it’s safe to approach. This was just a practice run, but unfortunately the need for air ambulance extraction in emergency situations has increased in Young County over the last month or so, said volunteer firefighter Bobby Hadderton, who also has 22 years under his belt with Graham EMS.

Hadderton said that he’s used to an average of one to two incidents requiring air ambulances per week. Lately, it’s been more like three. About 30 minutes before the aircraft landed in northwest Graham, volunteer firefighters from all over Young County met Monday at the Salt Creek station on Oak Street and Highway 67. They were learning how to successfully navigate a helicopter to specific coordinates from a ground position, an exercise that emulates a common emergency practice in Young County and throughout the country.

The landing zone training class was led by Penelope Bangs of Air Evac LifeTeam, an air ambulance company that has locations in Mineral Wells and Wichita Falls. Because of Air Evac’s close proximity, its services are used frequently in emergency situations in Young County.

There are other air ambulance companies in Fort Worth and Denton, such as CareFlite and PHI, but Air Evac remains the most utilized in the area. A video presentation from Air Evac informed the volunteers at the Salt Creek station in Graham that accident and trauma victims in rural areas are twice as likely as victims in urban areas to die en route to emergency care. This has everything to do with distance, and is also why air ambulances are crucial to areas like Young County, which encompass roughly 900 square miles but less than 20,000 people.

By comparison, Dallas County spreads out across 871 square miles and has a population of about 2.5 million. Also illuminating the need for an established and practiced air ambulance system in rural areas is the fact that while the DFW metroplex boasts over 134 hospitals, Young County has only two, Hamilton and GRMC.

Read the entire story in this weekend's Graham Leader.