It's a rare occurrence indeed when a Maryland State Police Medevac lands in the middle of Bel Air, but that's exactly what happened around noon Monday, when one of the sleek helicopters touched down in the middle of Shamrock Park.
That was a rousing start to the week for 32 children participating in the Bel Air Police Department's Youth Camp, who had an opportunity to see the helicopter up close and personal.
As the Medevac gently landed, most of the campers stood on the stage of the park's William A. Humbert Amphitheater, some waving amid the noise and updrafts from the rotors.
Once the rotors had stopped, the children and some parents with phones and cameras, as well as a few passersby, made a beeline for the helicopter.
The five-man crew, which included pilots and trooper medics, spent about one hour talking with the children and adults about the various missions the AgustaWestland AW139 aircraft is used for, the helicopter's capabilities, their jobs as pilots and medics and what type of training and education is required.
"Kids are really a good audience," Senior Tpr. John Peach, a trooper flight paramedic, said later. "They're very open about things, very innocent and they ask a lot of really good questions."
Officer Rick Krause of the BAPD, who is the camp director, said the summer camp lasts for two weeks, and Monday was the beginning of the second week-long session. He said the camp, which is open to children ages 10 to 14, is sponsored by the Bel Air Police Explorer Post 9010, and the Explorers serve as camp counselors. Families are charged $40 per child to participate.
Krause said the helicopter visit was designed to get the campers "rocking and rolling, and then the next couple of days, it's a mini-police academy."
He said they will learn a variety of police skills, including weapons training, how to handcuff a suspect, how to search people, vehicles and buildings, conduct a crime scene investigation. They will also be able to play sports such as dodge ball, and do push-ups as a disciplinary measure.
"We get strong as we get corrected," Krause said.
Krause noted the children do not train with real firearms and ammunition, but they use "inert" rubber weapons.
"We teach the kids all police procedures," he said.
Bel Air Police officers, along with members of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, cleared a landing zone in the park.
Peach sat in the body of the helicopter, where he gave an overview of what the Medevacs and its crews do, and then he and his fellow crew members answered questions from the anxious campers seated in front of him.
Some of the questions included how many people can ride – five and how much does it cost to ride in a medical emergency – no charge, according to Peach.
He explained some of the equipment, including high powered cameras, one which he said could see people on the ground smoking cigarettes when the helicopter was deployed in Baltimore during the recent riots.
One camper asked Peach why he carries a knife among his gear, and he said the knife is needed in case he needs to quickly cut away any safety tethers.
"We're always tethered in," Peach said. "If we're not belted into the seat, then we have a tether."
Pilot Mike Andres explained the properties of physics that allow a helicopter's rotors to get the aircraft off the ground.
Andres said people commonly use the word "blades" to describe the rotors, but he said they are actually wings, with a design similar to an airplane's wings.
"Our wings spin, and that creates lift," he said.
State Police helicopters have four main missions, including law enforcement and criminal pursuit, search and rescue, homeland security and medical evacuations, according to Peach. He said they also assist state fire marshals in their investigations.
Andres said his crew, which is based at Martin State Airport in Baltimore County, has the call sign Trooper 1. They respond to incidents in Cecil, Harford, Kent and Baltimore counties, as well as parts of Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's counties.
Peach and fellow trooper medic Lt. Patrick King talked about the medical incidents they respond to, such as traffic accidents.
"In this region, you do get some farming injuries and some equestrian accidents," King said.
One adult in the crowd noted he had been injured in a farming accident during the late 1980s and was airlifted to the hospital.
In response to another audience question, Peach said trooper medics typically secure a patient who has had a traumatic injury, but their main mission is to get a victim to the hospital as quickly as possible, rather than provide medical treatment at the scene or in flight.
"[Patients] need what they term, 'cold steel and bright lights,' in other words, a surgical intervention," he said. "The big thing for us is time; time, in trauma, is lives."
Andres said State Police pilots are typically civilians who have several thousand hours of flight time before they come to the agency, rather than sworn troopers who would improve their flying skills on the job.
He said 2,000 hours is the minimum flight time for a pilot, and most have an average of at least 5,000 flight hours. Many pilots are former military – Andres said he is a retired Coast Guard pilot.
He said the pilot in charge on Monday's flight, Todd Hysan, is a retired Marine Corps pilot.
Andres told the audience that math and engineering skills are critical when flying a helicopter.
"It all involves computers, engineering and math," he said.
Peach said many trooper medics have prior experience as paramedics – he has been with the State Police since 2001, and he spent four-and-a half years before that as a paramedic with the Baltimore County Fire Department.
He said medics must also complete six months of training at the State Police academy.
"Medics are troopers first," he said.