Estevan was the site of the first educational outreach for the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society's new BK117 helicopter in the province, as the helicopter was at the Estevan Airport on April 22 for the Saskatchewan Firefighters Association's annual spring school.
Volunteer firefighters participated in landing zone training with the helicopter. Jon Antal, a flight paramedic with STARS, said they want to teach the firefighters how to access the helicopter, land it once it arrives on scene, and move safety around the helicopter.
“It makes our job that much easier when we do come out to a scene,” said Antal.
Firefighters and other emergency response personnel were able to speak with some of the STARS workers, take a look inside the specially equipped helicopter, and learn more about the program that is expected to significantly reduced travel times for rural patients who need to be transported to Regina.
Among the scenarios practiced in Estevan was landing the helicopter in a low visibility situation.
“The training we've been doing is for them to actually set up an operational landing zone so that we could land on a highway, in a stubble field or a grid road or wherever we need to,” said Antal.
The helicopter will be in service on April 30.
Antal said that STARS will bring a higher level of treatment for a patient, and it will get a patient to a trauma centre or to an emergency room as quickly as possible.
When STARS is needed, the dispatch centre will coordinate with the local emergency response teams on the ground to establish a safe landing area. The goal is for the helicopter to be in the air within eight to 10 minutes after receiving a call.
It took 47 minutes to fly from Regina to Estevan for the training session, Antal said; that time could, of course, change based on weather conditions and wind speeds.
Each mission carries two pilots. The air medical crew also consists of a paramedic and a nurse.
“Then we can possibly also bring one of our flight physicians on the mission as well,” said Antal.
Captain Phil Haworth, a pilot with STARS, has been involved with the program in Alberta on an intermittent basis for the past six years. A lot of people benefit from the program.
“We are part of a chain of survival,” said Haworth. “And in that chain of survival, we provide another link in that chain to provide rapid transport with highly trained staff … to patients who need to get into that centre of excellence in Regina or Saskatoon, or anywhere else in the province.”
At one time, when he was in Alberta, 60 per cent of the calls that STARS received were for inter-hospital transfers and 40 per cent were for scene calls.
“For our mission, there's no difference,” said Haworth. “We're going to go out and we're going to affect something as safely as we can.”
Shannon Koch is an air medical crew flight paramedic who hails from Chaplin, which is about 80 kilometres west of Moose Jaw.
“I really know what a benefit that having this program is to rural Saskatchewan,” said Koch. “I grew up an hour away from any hospital, let alone two hours away from a large centre. It's going to be a real benefit for our health care system to have this in place, especially for rural Saskatchewan.”
Koch has been a paramedic in Regina since 2000.
Antal said STARS has enjoyed tremendous response from emergency services groups and the public. Firefighters and ambulance groups have been willing to have STARS personnel come out and do training sessions, so that they know what needs to be done to prepare for a landing.
They have completed nearly 60 90-minute landing zone training sessions, and about 140 informational sessions. The helicopter wasn't present for those classes. And they'll have more training sessions when another STARS landing zone opens in Saskatoon in the fall.