Guardian Air, an emergency flight transportation service, will be celebrating its 25th year of service in Flagstaff this August.
Owned by Northern Arizona HealthCare, Guardian Air is one of several transport companies in Northern Arizona. However, Wade Patten, program director and flight nurse, says it is the only hospital-based emergency service in the state of Arizona.
Coconino County is one of the largest in the country, so Patten says it is challenging to serve patients in vast rural areas. “We have to have aircraft available where they’re needed. There are a lot of logistics in maintaining a base here, so that’s why we’re so spread out,” he said.
Guardian has helicopters in Flagstaff, Cottonwood, Winslow and Kingman. It has a fixed-wing airplane based out of Show Low. “A lot of these places have no services. A lot of the hospitals may be 100 miles away and they may have a small clinic. So, we provide critical care to those folks who might not have that opportunity when they’re going to a basic clinic or hospital,” Patten added.
Each flight team usually consists of a flightregistered nurse who can take care of three specialties, a pilot, and a respiratory therapist or paramedic. They are all certified to provide care in the air. And their jobs are stressful – doctors usually do not call for Guardian Air unless the patient is in grave condition.
“There is a tremendous number of mini- mum competencies that you have to [have] to take care of these people. We have to be able to handle all of these people. We require nurses to have a minimum of four years of experience in an intensive care unit (ICU). Many have experience in both adult and pediatric ICU,” Patten said.
Jill Swope is a flight nurse with Guardian. She has several years of experience working in rural areas of Alaska. She loves her job. “There are so many different aspects of this job. There are so many people that make a difference in my life and hopefully, I make a difference in theirs. We do maternal and cardiac care, and we learn something new every day,” she said.
Plus, the crew says the personal payoffs can be huge.
“Last night, we were flying back from Phoenix and we were over the Mogollon Rim, and I had my night goggles on. I thought, ‘how many people have this view from their office?’” she said. Editor's Note: Guardian Air Celebrates the 25th anniversary landmark with a picnic this month, paying tribute to the many EMS workers in the area, as well as the Guardian Air employees from throughout the years.