MEDICINE HAT, AB – After over a decade of operating with just one helicopter, HALO Air Rescue is doubling the size of their fleet.
HALO is purchasing a new twin-engine BK 117 model aircraft, something that chairman Dale Thacker said is necessary for growing the program.
“We ran into a situation here at a joint fundraiser between HALO and STARS, that we were told that the Emergency Link Centre wouldn't take the HALO program seriously until we had a twin-engine helicopter.”
The BK 117 is identical to one helicopter used by STARS Air Ambulance, will be faster, and will be available for HALO for the start of May.
STARS will be transporting critically ill patients from Medicine Hat during the Medicine Hat Airport’s pending three-week closure in May, while HALO was reportedly not considered.
Thacker said this is partly due to Alberta Health Services not being made aware of the new twin-engine coming on board.
“We sort of missed the window effectively, because we didn't advertise the fact that we were getting a twin in place for this airport closure.”
The new aircraft won’t greatly affect HALO’s funding model, as they’re now petitioning the province for funding along with their local donations.
A meeting to notify AHS of the new twin-engine helicopter was scheduled for February 13, but AHS has since delayed the meeting to March.
Thacker said he hopes AHS will reconsider and allow HALO to provide more service locally.
“I can understand why they made the decision they did,” said Thacker. “But, I certainly hope that they re-open this because we are clearly the best resource.”
According to HALO, many of the current issues surrounding air ambulance transportation in the city could be solved by the opening of the helipad at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.
Part of last year’s hospital wing expansion, the helipad has been sitting idle pending an inspection by Transport Canada after problems regarding the helipad’s fire suppression system.
For Thacker, the helipad would make a huge difference during the closure of the airport.
“It would allow us to not have to fly out as far and bring somebody back right to the hospital,” he said. “It's fast, it's really quick, and really that's what medical helicopter EMS is all about, is speed.”
Regarding the opening of the helipad, Transport Canada had the following statement:
“Transport Canada conducted an onsite inspection of the helipad at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital on December 19, 2017 and informed Alberta Health Services that it must complete training and undertake an aerial assessment of the site before certification can take place.”
Taking off near the hospital and now having a twin-engine helicopter in their arsenal, Thacker said he believes they’re the best option for local air ambulance service.
“We think because we have a pretty significant advantage of being located in Medicine Hat, that this is probably the right resource to use in this closure.”
AHS is expecting to complete orientation by the end of March, with the helipad set to be operational in time for May’s airport closure.
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