To the Rescue

The sudden and tragic deaths of six friends in air ambulances changed the career path of Alexandra Farnsworth, BSN, RN, CFRN, CTRN, CEN, EMT-P, flight medic/registered nurse and rescue specialist at Priority 1 Air Rescue, Oahu, Hawaii.

The accidents occurred while the crews were aboard fixed-wing air ambulances, one on Jan. 31, 2004, on the island of Hawaii and March 8, 2006, in Kahului, Maui.

Both accidents occurred during flights when the crews were on their way to pick up patients for transport to Honolulu. No patients or family members were onboard either aircraft at the time of the accidents.

Each accident took the lives of three crew members and Farnsworth’s good friends, including her best friend, Marlena Yomes.

Today, in honor of her deceased friends, Farnsworth not only rescues fellow Hawaiians in dire straits, but also instructs other rescuers in flight safety and encourages them to be advocates for change.

“I love doing what I can to help people in need, but I also feel passionate about doing all I can as an instructor to empower others to be active participants in learning how to improve safety issues so needed in our industry,” she says.

TO THE RESCUE: Combining the clinical skills of a nurse with the courage and training of a rescue specialist is all in a day’s work for flight medic/RN, Alexandra Farnsworth, BSN, RN, CFRN, CTRN, CEN, EMT-P.

Air Calvary

In addition to being a flight medic/RN, Farnsworth is also a systems (hoist) operator at Priority 1 Air Rescue, a helicopter search and rescue company.

Farnsworth and fellow Priority 1 staff rescue injured people wherever they are, be it stranded on a barrier island, a mountain side 6,000 feet above sea level or just about anywhere else other ground and/or fixed-wing air ambulances can’t access.

In addition to her clinical skills, Farnsworth’s role as a rescue specialist requires hydraulic hoist lift operator know-how and the right way to position her body as she’s dropped down to an injured person on the ground.

In this systems operator role, she handles the hoist by hooking herself to the safety strap device. Then, while positioned on the helicopter’s skid, she leans out to direct the pilots as they approach the accident scene.

Once on the ground, Farnsworth performs a physical assessment and prepares the victim/patient for the lift up and into the helicopter.

Passion for Safety

Farnsworth’s initial career goal was to become an RN, but she was discouraged by the number of prerequisite courses required, the wait-time to enter a nursing program, the expense of tuition and the number of years it would take to complete her degree.

“At the time I was a self-supporting, single Mom with two small children paying a home mortgage. I knew I had to change career direction because nursing required many expectations that I couldn’t meet,” she says.

A short time later, Farnsworth happened to come across an advertisement for an EMT course and decided to act on it.

After completing her courses and passing a qualifying examination she was hired by a traditional ambulance company with the expectation that she would take the next career step to become a paramedic.

Meeting her EMT requirement in a timely manner Farnsworth took a job with a fixed-wing air ambulance transport company, and that’s when she met her soon-to-be best friend, Marlena.

SAFETY FIRST: In honor of friends who died in two air ambulance accidents, Alexandra Farnsworth has made flight safety advocacy a primary career goal.

“When I first met Marlena Yomes, I was a new paramedic and Marlena was an experienced and well-respected paramedic, and a self-confident and outspoken woman,” Farnsworth says. “Marlena didn’t mince words when she told you how it was, and I felt so intimidated I decided to keep under her radar.”

Several years later the pair began to have the same work schedules and eventually a strong friendship formed.

“Marlena was everything I wasn’t but wanted to be, and she helped me get out of my shell,” Farnsworth says. “Throughout our friendship she encouraged me to follow my career goals.”

Although she’s enjoyed performing her paramedic job duties, Farnsworth once again began looking at nursing as her next career move.

“I knew I had to move on because the paramedic career is hard on the body, and I couldn’t seem myself doing this job as I got older,” she says. “Besides, RNs in Hawaii make [good] money, and I was tired of working overtime to keep my financial house in order.”

This time around she completed her nursing studies, passed state boards and earned her nursing degree prepared to accept the responsibilities entailed in nursing’s larger scope of practice.

“To me, my nursing degree makes me a better paramedic because now I have a larger knowledge base,” Farnsworth says.

PRACTICING IN PARADISE: Farnsworth (left), a flight medic/RN, rescue specialist and systems (hoist) operator for a helicopter search and rescue company in Hawaii, participates in a recent training session.

Needed Change

After Marlena’s death, Farnsworth says she found working at the same company difficult and accepted a position as Chief Flight Nurse with Air Med Hawaii, another fixed-wing air ambulance transport company.

“At the time of Marlena’s death, she and I were working for a fixed-wing air ambulance company where she helped me to grow into my role as chief flight nurse throgh her loyal support.”

Memories of her late best friend soon proved overwhelming, however.

“While working there I was very unhappy because every day was like reliving Marlena’s death all over again, and I was filled with grief and feelings of helplessness. I was angry that Marlena died and I just couldn’t get over it.”

Aware her mother was experiencing a difficult emotional time, Farnsworth’s daughter suggested she needed a career change.

“I’d thought about expanding my career choices to include EMS work aboard a helicopter,” she says, “so when the chance to work for PIAR came about I took it.”

As she moves toward her goal of becoming a nurse practitioner Farnsworth knows she doesn’t want to give up flying and plans to stay involved with EMS services while being an advocate for better air safety practices.

“I enjoy my work, and I know I’m making a difference by keeping safety as a primary concern,” she says, “And I’m happy and proud to report that PIAR 1 embraces and encourages a culture of safety.

“Whatever I choose to do, I know Marlena will always be with me as my friend, sounding board and advisor, and when I have questions I ask her for her insights and get the feeling she’s listening because I get the answers I need,” Farnsworth concludes. “I’ve grown into the person and professional I am today due, in part, to her friendship. Marlena was a special person and I’ll never forget her.”

Joan Fox Rose is a contributor to ADVANCE.

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