Helicopter Landing Zones: Setup & Safety

David C. Delisio explains how crews operaing at emergency scenes can safely and effectively establish helicopter landing zones.


Your engine company has been dispatched to a serious motor vehicle accident. Once on scene, fire personnel begin the extrication of victims from the vehicle. On-scene EMS personnel begin treating the victims and they quickly determine that one patient needs helicopter transport to the nearest...


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Your engine company has been dispatched to a serious motor vehicle accident. Once on scene, fire personnel begin the extrication of victims from the vehicle. On-scene EMS personnel begin treating the victims and they quickly determine that one patient needs helicopter transport to the nearest Level One trauma center. The on-scene commander requests a medevac helicopter. Within minutes, a multimillion-dollar aircraft with whirling main rotor blades and nearly invisible spinning tail rotor blades will be landing nearby to transport the patient to the hospital.

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Photo by Bill Green
Maryland State Police Trooper 3 makes its final approach to an accident scene in Carroll County. The landing zone has been established on the roadway, in front of the accident.

In this article, I provide general information about setting up a landing zone and precautions to take around a helicopter. My goal is to prevent a firefighter or EMS provider from becoming an additional patient at the accident scene. Also, in the unlikely event of a helicopter landing accident, this information may assist fire personnel in the rescue of the helicopter flight crew.

Helicopters are uniquely capable aircraft. The ability to hover and takeoff and landing vertically allows the helicopter to perform a variety of missions - airborne firefighting, law enforcement, offshore oil rig support, logging, military troop transport and resupply, crop spraying, and corporate transport just to name a few. The greatest mission that the helicopter performs, however, is the saving of human lives.

Since World War II, when the first practical helicopters were produced, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved by the helicopter. Today, throughout the country, more and more local fire companies are being dispatched to secure landing zones for medevac helicopters. Safety for the firefighters and the aircraft flight crew is the highest priority. For all the lives the helicopter has saved, the aircraft is a dangerous machine.

Safe Landing Zone

While the helicopter is enroute, a landing zone must be selected and prepared. The helicopter flight crew that serves your area should have instructed your personnel in what they need for a safe landing zone; if not, contact them.

Here are 11 general guidelines for setting up the landing zone:

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