If you’ve ever been life-flighted in a helicopter, driven by ambulance or wheeled down the hall in a hospital gurney, say a word of thanks to Air Methods’ Allen C. Wolfe Jr. for your safe transportation.

An industry leader, Wolfe has won the Association of Air Medical Services’ Marriott-Carlson Lifetime Achievement Award for innovations that improved the transportation of patients and the safety of their treatment when they are most vulnerable.

The award comes as Wolfe—who is Air Methods’ director of clinical education—and two fellow editors release a new edition of a book known as the bible of air transport, outlining safe procedures for moving sick and injured patients.

The Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association has published “Air Transport: Principles & Practice,” edited by Reneé Semonin Holleran, Michael E. Frakes and Wolfe. Nine other Air Methods experts, including Eric Bauer, clinical education manager; Patricia Corbett, director of clinical risk management; Dave Olvera, clinical education manager; Kelly Edwards, flight paramedic; Luke Gasowski, clinical base supervisor; Teresa Greenwood, flight nurse; Jonathan D. Gryniuk, regional safety director; Ray Hummel, flight nurse; and Chap Poggemeyer contributed to the book, underscoring the company’s influence as an industry leader.

“What matters is that each one of these patients needs to be cared for safely,” Wolfe says. “They need to be treated like individuals. We see people at their worst hour. What the book does is give guidance to how you treat these patients medically, psychologically and for safety.”

The award recognizes an individual who has contributed significantly to the overall enhancement, development, leadership or promotion of emergency medical transport. Wolfe—who helped establish 11 Air Methods clinical training centers nationwide—is recognized throughout the industry for his achievements.

Enhancing training for clinicians

Dr. David Stuhlmiller, Air Methods’ chief medical officer, said he had heard of Wolfe years before they met because of Wolfe’s reputation in the field. Wolfe pushed Air Methods to begin training clinical staff on human patient simulations— lifelike medical mannequins—rather than the static mannequins it had been using, Stuhlmiller says.

“The staff is able to train, make mistakes and learn from mistakes, rather than make those mistakes on a person,” Wolfe says.

Wolfe oversaw the creation of the 11 regional training centers, rather than just one at the Denver headquarters, and persuaded company leaders to buy 50 simulations for those centers. This was a major expense for a private organization that doesn’t receive the state or federal grants that make these training mannequins affordable for top hospitals and universities.

“His ability to convince air methods leadership that it was worth the money to spend on such sophisticated equipment is just typical Allen,” Stuhlmiller says. “He wouldn’t stand for less than ideal clinical education and training.”

Wolfe also initiated a requirement that all new clinical employees must train on cadavers, Stuhlmiller says. Clinical employees sometimes must cut into the body to insert a tube between the ribs or into a windpipe, or they must drill through the skin into a bone to administer a medication.

Some people freeze up when they first do it, Stuhlmiller says. Cadaver training ensures they will be able to carry out the procedure.

“You don’t want to have to do it for the first time on a real human being,” Stuhlmiller says.

Color-coded transport

In 2009, Wolfe also developed a color-coding system for transporting patients who are on Ventricular Assist Device devices, which helps the heart function.

Such patients often register no pulse. Wolfe’s system warns paramedics and emergency room staff not to begin CPR, which should not be undertaken unless a patient is in complete cardiac arrest. The system became a nationwide best practice.

Wolfe initiated, in patient transportation, the use of checklists for procedures such as inserting a breathing tube down a patient’s throat. Checklists are commonplace among pilots and in hospitals, and they result in greater safety and accuracy.

“We want go through the right steps and do the right things so that we get it right the first time,” Wolfe says. “Air Methods is one of the leaders in the country in air medical transport when it comes to first-attempt success.”

Wolfe has been a nurse for 34 years, starting out in Washington, D.C., before he became Air Methods’ clinical director. He headed the company’s 60 bases in the western United States before assuming his current job in 2012.

Wolfe has served on numerous boards and committees and is a past president of the Air Surface Transport Nurses Association. He also writes test questions for certification exams.

“When people think of Allen, they think of clinical excellence,” says Patricia Corbett, Air Methods’ clinical risk management director, “because Allen has always been somebody in our industry who holds people to very high standards.”

Corbett, who contributed a chapter to “Air Transport,” praises Wolfe’s charisma in the classroom, saying he can be lighthearted while taking his subject seriously.

Responding to the 9/11 attack

A career in medical transport is filled with pivotal events. Asked to recall one, Wolfe tells of responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon when he was working at a hospital in Washington, D.C. The hijacked plane roared low over his townhouse in Arlington, Virginia, that morning, and he hit the deck.

“It was so close to the ground that my neighbors and I could see the faces of people in the windows as it went over the house and over the golf course,” Wolfe says. “And it went toward Washington. Then in the distance I could see black smoke.”

When the news media reported that the plane had hit the Pentagon, he raced to the hospital where he was a clinical specialist and chief flight nurse. He knew his team would be receiving victims of the terror attack.

His hospital treated nine of the most critically-injured patients, all of them badly burned and some smelling of jet fuel. Eight survived.

“A lot of those people that came in, I took care of,” Wolfe says.

Others at Air Methods are convinced more great things lie ahead for Wolfe.

“We’re so proud of Allen,” Stuhlmiller says, “but he does have a lot more life achievement ahead of him.”