Flagler bridge closing may put Trauma Hawk into use more

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Emergency managers are scrambling to deal with the impact of the pending Flagler bridge closing.

One plan includes pressing a rescue helicopter into more service, but some question what affect that will have on the service Trauma Hawk provides to Palm Beach County.

Steve Ciavola is one of those people.

A cane helps him get around now because six years ago a drunk driver hit him while on his motorcycle.

"I was awake for the whole thing," he said. "Lost my leg, shattered the other leg and broke some bones in my neck and back."

That's better than losing his life, he said.

He thanks the Health Care District of Palm Beach County who operates the Trauma Hawk Aeromedical helicopter that saved him after the crash.

The same type of medical helicopter the Town of Palm Beach is expecting to use more of once the Flagler bridge closes.

"Well I guess it's good for the island," Caviola said. "But I don't know what it's going to do for everyone else you know."

Currently the Town of Palm Beach transports approximately ten people each year by Trauma Hawk.

The town predicts the number will jump to 25 times a month when the bridge closes.

"It's going to be based on traffic conditions and patient severity and location of incident that's our current estimate," Palm Beach Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Darrel Donatto said.

Trauma Hawk's two helicopters transport about 50 patients a month countywide.

When the bridge closes the usage could jump up to 75 a month, based on Palm Beach Fire Rescue's calculations.

"They're very confident that they'll be able to handle the additional load," Deputy Chief Donatto said.

Ciavola still worries.

"Some days it's going to be easy some days it's going to be hard.  You just never know," Ciavola added. "I know they'll step up to the plate because they're good, but  I think it will make the system less efficient. Hopefully we don't lose anybody because of it."

The Health Care District of Palm Beach County said the extra use of Trauma Hawk won't cost the taxpayers any extra money.

Patients individually cover the cost of using the service with their health care insurance.

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