By Alison Squires
A presentation to Wadena town council by STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) suggested that Wadena would be a good location for the helicopter service’s refuelling station.
“In Wadena you are in a unique position,” stated Cindy Seidl, STARS representative, “where you are in both the Saskatoon and Regina range.”
Currently STARS flies out of both centres with a BK117-model helicopter, which has a 250-kilometre range one-way maximum without refuelling.
“Wadena is on the outer edge of that range,” said Seidl. “Having fuel in the community would be a great asset,” she said, emphasizing the range is a maximum only under perfect conditions, including temperature and wind factors.
According to its 2013 mission card for Saskatchewan, STARS was dispatched to Wadena five times, to Quill Lake, Elfros and Margo each twice, once to Fishing Lake and three times to Kelvington.
For 2014, STARS is in the process of procuring an AW139, which is a larger model with an outer range of 300-320 kilometres. Seidl emphasized that even with the larger model, the pilots would refuel every time in order to keep both the tanks full.
Having worked both as an emergency nurse as well as an air ambulance nurse, Seidl explained that the differences between a helicopter service and a “winged” service are quite significant, one being the range it could safely service and another being the ability to carry extra passengers.
STARS cannot carry any extra passengers, said Seidl.
“If a physician is needed, we would bring our own. The idea of STARS is to supplement the care,” said Seidl, “to leave the resources in the community.”
“Are there funds available to support the communities in providing a refuelling station?” asked Mayor Greg Linnen.
“Every community is different,” said Seidl. “Moosomin has a trailer system and Melfort has an airport. The fuel would be paid for by STARS. The cost to the community would be for the trailer. The fuel would come from our supplier in Yorkton.”
As to the biggest concern – liability – Seidl said that for two drums of fuel or less, no special liability insurance is required; however, having two large drums of aircraft fuel stored at or near the fire station, which backs onto residential property, was a concern discussed by council.
The town would be responsible for the storage of the drums as well as transport to the landing site, currently adjacent to the hospital and the high school.
In Alberta where STARS was first established, Seidl said that all hospitals in that province now have fuel stored on-site.
In North Battleford, STARS lands at the airport outside of city limits, then EMS transports the patients from the hospital to the airport.
“The ideal situation,” said Seidl, “is to have the helicopter land as close as possible to the hospital in order to reduce the number of times the patient is handled.” It is already landing close to Wadena Hospital and the patient can be moved by stretcher to the helicopter.
When asked about funding available for developing landing pads, council was referred to a contact at the Ministry of Health.
The other cost to the community is the call-out of volunteer firefighters to guide landing and takeoff. All Wadena and district volunteer firefighters are paged when there is a STARS dispatch to a community within their district. According to Seidl, only about four are required, depending on the traffic that needs to be blocked to accommodate the landing and transportation of the patient. Once the call is made there is no way to “call off” those who have been dispatched, and firefighters are paid for each call.
With winged transport, Seidl said the ministry subsidizes each call with a $350 flat fee per trip, regardless of where the trip was made. There is no fee mechanism in place for STARS flights, so the communities are solely responsible for all their costs.
Council tabled any decision on the subject pending discussions with representatives from the community of Moosomin.