By Margie Wuebker
Four colorful helicopters swooped down from a cloud-strewn sky Saturday and landed noisily at the Mercer County Banner Fair.
"I see chopper," 2-year-old Zachary Zwiebel said as a red and gray CareFlight helicopter landed. It was part of the fourth annual Public Safety Show but the first time so many Careflight choppers have been on display at the same time.
Zachary tried to move forward in the double stroller where younger brother Lucas slept peacefully through all the hoopla. However, a body cast beginning at the waist and encasing his right leg as well as part of the left hindered a closer look.
Christi Zwiebel of Coldwater bent down and assured the curious youngster they would get a closer look.
"That's our CareFlight," she told the youngster who nodded in agreement. "Mommy, Lucas and you all rode on that helicopter." The Zwiebels were among hundreds of people who visited the show featuring firetrucks, rescue units, law enforcement cruisers and other public safety vehicles serving Mercer Countians.
Most spectators took advantage of a rare opportunity to view all ambulances, helicopters and firetrucks but the Zwiebels headed straight for CareFlight.
Flight nurse Linda Greenberg greeted visitors and handed the now quiet 2-year-old a helicopter sticker before adding, "Looks like you got a big boo-boo."
Christi explained CareFlight was no stranger to their family. Zachary stared at the helicopter but said nothing. Perhaps he remembered all the excitement surrounding a July 19 fall at a nearby farm. He slipped away from his dad and made it to the second lowest rung of a grain bin ladder before the mishap occurred.
Initially, it appeared the only injury was to an eye that swelled and turned blue. An emergency room physician at Mercer County Community Hospital subsequently delivered unexpected news -- the boy's leg was broken near the hip and other injuries (a broken skull and suspected liver damage) necessitated immediate transfer aboard CareFlight to Children's Medical Center in Dayton.
"A lot of people never experience CareFlight," the young mother said. "But our family needed it twice within five months.
On March 5, the helicopter carried another precious load as Christi went into labor with Lucas seven weeks ahead of schedule. This time the destination was the aircraft's home base, Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.
Crews accompanying the other helicopters -- Samaritan from Parkview Memorial Hospital in Fort Wayne, Ind., Promedica Air from Findlay, and Lutheran Air, also of Fort Wayne -- say stories with happy endings like the Zwiebels' occur frequently due to quick intervention.
The helicopters, which function as aerial emergency rooms, travel between 135 to 175 miles per hour. That equates to an 18- to 25-minute trip to and from Mercer County. Promedica, the smallest aircraft, can carry one adult patient or possibly two children. The others will accommodate two adults or two children and one adult.
The typical crew includes an experienced pilot, a registered nurse and a certified paramedic. Two registered nurses ride aboard each of Miami Valley's two CareFlight helicopters.
Lutheran Air's light blue, yellow and white craft is the newest in terms of service to the area. Since May 12, it has made 75 flights and received 112 requests.
"Wear your bicycle helmets, look both ways when crossing streets and don't drink and drive," Greenberg told a group of 4-H girls visiting the chopper. "That way the only time we'll meet is here at the fair."
Monte Diegel, 911 administrator with the Mercer County Sheriff's Office, paced the dusty track encircling the infield like a nervous father-to-be as the expected aircraft approached. He along with spectators of all ages peered skyward as the telltale whine increased in intensity.
"We've never had four helicopters on the ground at the same time here in Mercer County," Diegel said ecstatically. "Three is the most and we are certainly hoping for five today. This is just awesome."
The fifth helicopter never arrived during the afternoon. The LifeFlight and its Bluffton-based crew were called into service for a medical emergency.,
Sheriff Jeff Grey credits Diegel with suggesting a public safety event at the fair. The first occurred in 2001 and the number of spectators continues to grow with each passing year.
"This event gives youngsters and adults the opportunity to see everything from fire trucks to police cruisers to helicopters up close and personal," Grey said.