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Lily Helipads owner John Dotlich is obsessed with helicopters, helipads and making the safest and most environmentally-friendly product he can.
“During every waking hour, I’m thinking about helicopters, and at night, most of the time, I’m dreaming of them,” he said with a laugh. “I’m definitely a big kid at heart, but I’m fascinated by them and how needed they are in everyday aspects from traffic reporting to law enforcement to, primarily, HEMS [helicopter emergency medical services] and paramedics.”
Founded in 2015, Lebanon, Indiana-based Lily Helipads may be a relatively new launch, but the seeds for the idea behind the company were sown over 25 years ago. Dotlich and his grandfather Sam — fixed-wing and rotorcraft private pilot — would watch helicopters arriving and departing during the Indy 500 from the family’s grass helipad in Speedway, Indiana. When one day, Sam mentioned that the hovering helicopters looked like dragonflies on lily pads, the idea for Lily Helipads was born.
Fast forward to 2015 when Dotlich, a successful owner of an excavating company who had recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming licensed as a rotorcraft pilot, began building his own helipad at his Brownsburg, Indiana home.
A former engineer in the Indiana National Guard, Dotlich applied his meticulous nature to finding the perfect windsock, a quest that led him to United Kingdom-based firm Pollite’s LED-lit fiberglass product.
In casual conversation, Dotlich discovered that a local fire department in Atwood, Oklahoma, needed help installing a helipad for a safe, secure EMS rendezvous location for medevac transport to a major medical facility.
“As foreign as it might sound, at Dotlich Contractors, we were already doing everything from earthwork for complete hospitals and their parking lots to any kind of retention ponds and all their utilities, and we’d even done helipads in the past, but that wasn’t our sole niche,” said Dotlich. “The opportunities were there, and I really had a huge passion for it.”
Dotlich started thinking about different ideas, including how one of his current suppliers had a permeable product called PaveDrain, which is now used in every Lily helipad. Instead of heating the helipad with electricity, Lily Helipads uses glycol heated through a boiler, which means that the system can be turned off without worrying about the fluid freezing, said Dotlich.
“It means a heated helipad 24/7, free of snow and ice, whatever the weather. If you get a blizzard the day before, even though you may not be able to fly through those meteorological conditions, the pad is always ready, so as soon as the weather breaks, you’re ready to go.”
For every installation, the safety of the flight crew and passengers, as well as environmentally sound practices, are paramount.
“The whole concept of the name Lily Helipads also refers to our environmentally-friendly nature,” said Dotlich.
The custom-built, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant helipads are built with a proprietary permeable liner that is chemical and petroleum resistant. In the event of an overfill or other fuel spills, the pad can capture de-icing fluids or potential fuel spills, containing them either in an oil/water separator or optional collector to avoid contamination of the environment.
The glycol can be recycled, so it doesn’t go into the sewer system or into the surrounding area. The state-of-the-art LED lighting for the perimeter uses very little power, and in remote locations, propane can be used for the initial heat source with very little electricity required.
In addition, most hospitals have a central plant to use steam for hot water and heating, which Dotlich said can be attached to a heat exchanger to parasitically pull off an abundant heat source to heat the helipad, as well as the ramp and sidewalks leading to it.
“From the time that the flight crew walks out of the hospital onto the pad, their chances of slipping and falling because of snow or ice are virtually eliminated. Due to the lack of a need for a slope for drainage, a gurney can’t roll away or a pilot doesn’t have to worry about a slope landing,” he said.
The paint used is non-reflective to account for the use of night-vision goggles, instead using contrast between colors for illumination.
Safety measures begin well before installation and continue long afterwards. An aeronautical consultant from the medevac world is brought on-site for every install to plan flight and departure patterns and give a pilot’s perspective for the most beneficial way to deal with factors such as mechanical turbulence and obstructions.
Hospitals can also get annual safety reviews for their staff, such as a recent training exercise with StatFlight and local paramedics and first responders. Visitors can see a 46-by-46-foot helipad in action at Lily Helipad’s Brownsbury location, or talk to a member of the eight-person staff in the head office, shop and warehouse facility in Lebanon, Indiana.
As the global need for emergency management has grown, Dotlich has received worldwide interest in Lily Helipads’ safety and eco-friendly capabilities, from as far away as Chile, Peru, Germany and northeast China.
“There is a lot of interest from EMS departments,” said Dotlich. “It might be once every couple of weeks before they need a helicopter or it might be once every couple of months. To constantly worry about the condition of their helipad is just something that they can’t afford to do, and that’s why they need to have a Lily helipad.”
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