First Responders: Brooks Dillahunty, Flight for Life

    Meet Brooks Dillahunty, flight paramedic for Flight for Life Colorado. One of five portraits of first responders and Colorado Springs local heroes.

    First responders: Brooks Dillahunty, Flight for Life medic with helicopter
    Photo by Aaron Anderson.

    Meet a handful of first responders, representatives of the thousands in our community who give their best when the worst comes calling.

    BROOKS DILLAHUNTY
    Flight Paramedic
    Flight for Life Colorado

    ON THE JOB: Since 2010

    BACKGROUND: Started with Emergency Medical Services in 2002. Joined Flight for Life in 2010, because, he says, “I’ve always been an aviation nut.”

    ON HIS JOB: “It depends on the day. We could transport someone out of the country or to another state. … There are times when you land on a mountain and hike several miles to a patient. There are times your shift begins at 6 in the morning and you don’t go home until 10 in the morning. We joke that we never miss an opportunity for a meal or a bathroom break because you never know when you’ll get one again. And we’re obsessed with watching the weather. We can be working in a well air-conditioned hospital or at the top of Pikes Peak with a 70-degree difference in temperature, and you have to dress for both.”

    ON THE CHALLENGES: “The first year — and I think most flight paramedics would echo the same feeling — you feel overwhelmed. You deal with the sickest of the sickest patients. And we’re automatically expected to be expert on almost anything, from a very obscure, weird congenital illness with children to who knows.”

    ON NEGATIVE OUTCOMES: “There are cases that for some reason get to you. All of us have problems when bad things happen to kids. Sometimes it’s weird, though: Someone looks like a relative or a friend of yours, and there’s some sort of connection. Those can really be tough. Everyone has ways of dealing with that.”

    ON THE TRADE-OFF: “The nice part is you witness a lot of miracles and nice events, and you help people. The flip side of the card is you see how tragic and fragile the world can be.”

    First responders: Brooks Dillahunty, Flight for Life medicON COPING: “On really critical patients, sometimes you default to muscle memory. You’re treating the injury instead of, this is a mom or a dad or a kid. It’s a car accident, and I know how to treat that. Or a gunshot wound. You do what you can to stabilize the situation. You can only do that for so long. Eventually the day is done, you relax and reconnect. It’s tough. It also changes your emotional reactions in everyday life with friends and family. People are quick to judge, ‘Oh, you’re callous.’ When you see stuff day to day, it changes how you react to it.”

    ON A PROUD MOMENT: “Last summer we responded to a helicopter crash. And it was in a really remote area. Again, it was one of those situations that we were the first to respond. It was also pretty soon after a crash in our program. You probably heard of that last year. This was a couple months after that. That obviously played an emotional part. And we were responding to a helicopter crash, which is our own worst nightmare.
    We found a field that was about 2 or 3 miles away [from the crash]. It was just me and my partner. We thought, We can sit around and wait for other resources or go to the scene. We made the decision based on what we’d want if that was us. We ended up hiking there, really just bushwhacking, in about 45 minutes — with a ton of gear. … It was one of those call days when my shift started at 6 a.m., and then we had to hike out at night to another LZ (landing zone). I don’t think I got home until 1 in the morning. There’s the risk of exposure, dehydration. The initial adrenaline hit gets you through. You don’t feel the pain. You don’t feel tired. Then it wears off and “Oh my God, I’m sore, and I don’t remember hitting my leg.” All those guys [the patients] did really well, and we heard that they attributed it to our intervention.”

    —T.D. Mobley-Martinez. Photography by Aaron Anderson.

    Read all five portraits of first responders. Watch the behind the scenes video. See different photographs in the Spring 2016 print issue.

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