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Helicopter life flight service takes off

Mar 15, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer

The time was about noon March 8. Classic Lifeguard Aeromedical Services medical director Matt Stein was posing for a photo with the company's helicopter and jet when two employees ran down the stairs and announced they had their first call: a transfer needed from Lander to Casper.

The crew, two paramedics and a pilot, jumped to action.

The helicopter, a Bell 407, sat on a trailer attached to a Jeep, which wheeled it out of the hangar at Riverton Regional Airport and onto the tarmac.

Within minutes, everyone was strapped in, and the crew took off.

The flight between the Riverton and Lander airports lasted no more than 10 minutes. Pilot Adam West said the helicopter was traveling at about 150 mph.

"It's pretty cool, isn't it?" said one of the medics in the back, as snow-dusted Fremont County passed quickly below.

During the flight, the crew talked about what was known about the patient. West called dispatch to confirm an ambulance would meet them at Hunt Field in Lander.

Upon landing, it was clear the Classic Lifeguard crew had beat the ambulance. After about five minutes, the ambulance arrived and arrangements to stabilize the patient at the hospital were made.

The crew expected the flight from Lander to Casper would take roughly 38 minutes.

"We've been looking into this area for quite a while," Stein said at the company's hangar in Riverton.

Classic is based in Page, Ariz., and has operations in Vernal, Utah, and a search and rescue deal with Sublette County.

Stein said Classic works as a life flight service for patient transfers, but with the helicopter, it can also provide on-scene response for wrecks or search-and-rescue missions.

Using the jet

The helicopter is not the only aircraft at the ready. The company also has a Cessna Citation II jet that has been retrofitted for medical transportation.

With the Citation, Classic can move patients to Denver, Salt Lake City, Billings, Mont., and Idaho Fall, Idaho.

Stein said that in some situations, the helicopter and the jet will be able to tag team a mission. The helicopter could respond to a scene, pick up a patient and give them to the jet crew, then return to the scene to pick up someone else or help in other capacities.

A helicopter crew is on-call 24 hours a day. The pilots and paramedics take 12-hour shifts and are on the job for a week at a time. The jet crew is available from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Should Classic's service come into demand more, a second jet crew will be added to make that service 24 hours.

The company is leasing its hangar from U.S. Energy, which includes eight bedrooms for crewmembers to stay in while on call, a lounge with a full-service kitchen and an office area.

"I think I've found every website on the Web," West said of killing time while on call.

West, who was brought up from the Vernal operation, said much of the downtime is spent studying and keeping up on training.

Since arriving in Fremont County, the pilots and paramedics have been training.

"We've been taking flights to different areas," said citation pilot Richard Willard. He said they have been learning the terrain and calculating flight times.

Stein has been communicating with area agencies and hospitals to make them aware of the services he has to offer.

"The thing about Classic is we're very independent," Stein said. "We're not affiliated with any health care system or hospital."

The company offers a membership program. For an annual fee, if a member is transported by Classic, then there will be no out-of-pocket cost to the individual. If a patient has a membership with another life flight program and Classic does the transport, they will honor the other's agreement.

Hospital response

Riverton Regional Hospital CEO Chris Smolik is unsure how much his operation will use Classic.

"Last week I found out about Classic," he said, adding that he has not had any personal contact with the company.

"We do try to support Wyoming Medical Center (the life flight service in Casper) because that's where our patients want to go," Smolik said.

He said the hospital is working on a contract with another jet company called Guardian Flight. The status of the company's local operations could not be confirmed by press time.

"We'll do our best to support all three of them," Smolik said. "It's great to have those resources."

Lander Regional Hospital interim CEO Rebecca Brewer said she met some of Classic's crew March 7 and was "very pleased" with what she saw.

She said the hospital has had good support with the tertiary hospitals that patients needed to get to but acknowledged flight times can lag.

"We should expect quicker response and probably a little bit better attention because they're local," Brewer said. "The proof is in the pudding. We will certainly give them a chance. ... This local service can just reach us quicker."

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