Willard Emergency Landing: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday October 08, 2004

As reported in Tuesday’s Fire Log in the Planet, revelers at Willard Park last Saturday afternoon were ordered to vacate by Berkeley police. As they cleared the park, they looked up at the sky to see: not a bird, not a plane, but a MedEvac helicopter touching-down on the park’s grassy knoll. 

Little did they know that on the rarest of occasions the popular park at Hillegass Avenue and Derby Street doubles as helicopter pad for Alta Bates Hospital just a few short blocks away. 

On Saturday the emergency involved an Alta Bates patient diagnosed with an abdominal aneurysm who needed emergency surgery at Stanford Medical Center. 

“An aneurysm is like a delicate balloon that could rupture at any time,” said Acting Fire Chief David Orth, explaining that a bumpy ride in an ambulance could have been life threatening for the patient. 

“Even traveling to Children’s Hospital was probably too far,” he added. Unlike Alta Bates, Children’s Hospital has a helicopter pad. 

Orth said the fire department dispatches a helicopter about once a month though he couldn’t remember the last time Alta Bates requested one. 

Typically, he said, the fire department dispatches a helicopter in response to an accident. 

The decision to use Willard Park as a helicopter pad Saturday was made jointly between the fire department and the hospital, Orth said. The park is one of several open spaces in the city designated as makeshift helicopter pads. The list includes, among other locations, the Berkeley High School football field, Tilden Park and a section of the Berkeley Marina. 

Alta Bates spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp said it was the first time in her 23 years at the hospital she could recall Alta Bates using the park as a landing zone.  

She said the air-transfer was necessary because Stanford was the only hospital in the area with a surgeon on call qualified to perform the surgery. 

She did not have an update on the patient’s medical condition following the surgery.?