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Middleton man in charge of helipad construction airlifted from site 18 years later

Ron Brown holds photos of a helicopter on the helipad at Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Middleton. The photos were part of a package during the official opening of the helipad on Oct. 22, 2000. Brown was in charge of building the pad and 18 years later it played a part in saving his life.
Ron Brown holds photos of a helicopter on the helipad at Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Middleton. The photos were part of a package during the official opening of the helipad on Oct. 22, 2000. Brown was in charge of building the pad and 18 years later it played a part in saving his life. - Lawrence Powell

'I got to use my helicopter pad'

MIDDLETON, N.S. - When 81-year-old Ron Brown was fighting for his life aboard a LifeFlight helicopter in the wee hours of Sept. 15, all he could think about was the time Middleton Police Chief Ken Cook made a presentation to the Lions Club asking if they would help build a helipad at Soldiers Memorial Hospital.

All the service clubs in the area were willing to help, but it was the Lions who led the project and Brown was the guy in charge with local surveyor Derik DeWolfe, the eventual on-site supervisor.

Police, fire, EHS, and the local MLA’s office had formed a committee and went out to local service groups. The Lions put Brown’s name forward and he became chairman of the committee to build the helipad.

 “We looked at it at the time as a two-hour trip to Halifax by ambulance as opposed to 26 minutes in the air,” said Brown. “That was quite a selling feature.”

Heart attack

The community jumped in with both feet, saving many lives over the years – including Brown’s.

“On September the 15th of 2018 I had a heart attack and called 911 and the ambulance came here, did some work on me, picked me up and took me to the Soldiers Memorial Hospital,” Brown said during an interview at his home. “And pretty soon the doctor came out and said, ‘you’re going to Halifax and you’re going to fly.’ So I got to use my helicopter pad.”

That 26-minute selling feature all those years ago had Brown’s committee and service clubs pushing for funds, volunteers, and in-kind help.

“We were begging for funds. We had to buy special reinforcing stuff, and we had to buy lights and so on … but we had to have volunteers too. The community just got behind us. There’s no other way of putting it,” said Brown.

Parking lot

Brown said settling down on a proper pad is what pilots prefer.

“They were landing in the parking lot of the hospital here,” Brown explained. “When they put a call in for the helicopter, this is where Chief Cook got into it. He would come to the hospital and try and find out who owned these cars and if he could get the keys to them and get the cars moved to see if the helicopter could land.”

Cook said the fire department would have a truck on the scene for safety reasons and his officers would have to stay on site until the patient was stabilized and able to be loaded onto the chopper. He said that could be a few minutes or as long as five hours.

Health system

“The other side of this coin is the health system,” Brown said. “I made a phone call at approximately at 3:30 on a Saturday morning and was picked up, taken to the hospital, sent to Halifax, had two stents installed, and was back in my room in the Infirmary by 3:30 that afternoon. This all happened within 12 hours. You’ve got to think that somewhere along the way the health service is not quite as bad as it’s made out to be.”

Cook said getting the helicopter pad built was a highlight of his career as Middleton PD chief. That it saved his friend Ron Brown’s life, well, that was good too.

“It just goes to show the importance of such a helipad requirement at our hospital,” Cook said. While support was high back 18 years ago, Cook did hear some criticism, people asking why have a helicopter pad if the hospital is downsizing?

“My attitude was that was all the more reason to have it,” Cook said. “The government, seeing us building that helipad, we weren’t giving them the OK to downsize.”

Cook sees the helipad as even more important now.

“We used to have two surgeons in Soldiers,” Cook said. “Now we don’t have any. And to me, as a resident of this area, I want to know that I have very quick access to health services. Having the helipad there certainly helps to provide that.”

Boy airlifted

Neither Brown nor Cook had to wait long for the Soldiers Memorial Hospital helipad to be used.

“I remember the first air flight in there,” said Cook. “It was a young child. He might have been five or six years old. He was a very severe diabetic and on this particular day the first flight in was for that young child.”

Did you know?

Donations to the helipad are accepted. Cheques can be made out to the Soldiers Memorial Helipad Fund.

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