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Lee County--Medivac Pilot Retires after 25 years

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  • Lee County--Medivac Pilot Retires after 25 years

    Pilot makes final rescue call

    Long-time Lee County EMS employee to retire

    By ALISON KEPNER, [email protected]

    Fred Ungerer remembers the day that he could jump in his chopper when hunger pains called for a good burger.

    Just as ground Emergency Medical Services technicians drove ambulances to their favorite diners, Ungerer would fly out to grab a quick bite between calls.

    But that was 25 years ago, when Ungerer, now chief pilot at Lee County EMS, first came on the scene. “Things were a lot looser,” he said.

    “It was fun while it lasted,” he added, laughing.

    Ungerer, believed to be Florida’s longest tenured EMS pilot, will retire in mid-August. Richard O’Neal, coming to Lee with 20 years of experience, succeeds him.

    Ungerer will leave a program he’s guided almost since its fruition, one that grew from a

    10-hour daylight shift with two pilots to a 24-hour, five-pilot operation.

    In March, the program will add a second helicopter, an American Eurocopter EC-145 being built in Germany. EMS hopes to move its air headquarters from Page Field to a bigger home at Southwest Florida International Airport.

    Ungerer, 56, shares much of the credit for this growth, EMS spokesman Paul Filla said, adding that the pilot’s history with the program is almost as old as the program itself.

    Lee EMS was the second program in Florida to use a helicopter for emergency medical services when the it began using mosquito control helicopters on a trial basis in 1978, Filla said. Ungerer joined the team a few months later.

    A Vietnam veteran, Ungerer returned to America to find other ex-pilots looking for work. So he went overseas, working on construction sites in Ecuador, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Mexico until landing the Lee County job.

    At first, he just carried medics to a scene. Only later when EMS got a helicopter that could accommodate a patient did he begin transporting them. In 1981, he became trained as an EMT so he could give aid at a scene.

    Before ground coverage expanded, Ungerer often would reach accidents first, sometimes sending the ambulances home. Now, the helicopter is reserved for critical cases or to reach isolated areas, Ungerer said.

    For much of his tenure, he’s kept a low profile. “You are the white elephant,” he said. “You can’t afford an accident. You can’t afford mistakes that bring you into the limelight.”

    But he is proud of what EMS has accomplished. Improving and expanding the operation has been the highlight of his career, he said. “That’s been the fun. That’s been the challenge.”
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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