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RBC I The Yampa Valley and Rio Blanco County have a new air ambulance service that will give local hospitals and search and rescue teams quicker access to a medical chopper during emergencies.
Classic Lifeguard landed a newly outfitted medical helicopter Friday at Bob Adams Field in Steamboat Springs to set up the company’s first home base in Colorado, serving the three bases of Meeker (Rangely included), Craig and Steamboat Springs, according to Zack Henderson, the director of jet management in Steamboat Springs for Classic Lifeguard.
“We were surprised there wasn’t one here already,” company vice president Jason Atkins said shortly before the flight crew took the Bell 407 helicopter for a quick spin around Steamboat.
The helicopter will be on call at all times at Bob Adams Field in Steamboat Springs and will be staffed by a pilot, a nurse and a medic. The Utah-based company will offer an insurance buy-in program that costs $60 annually, and the first hour of a flight that assists a search operation will be provided for free.
“The more we looked into it, the more we thought it would significantly improve patient care in this area to have a helicopter here,” Atkins said.
“We have dealt with St. Mary’s (Flight for Life), which is out of Grand Junction, and with Classic, which was out of Vernal but is now out of the Steamboat Springs airport,” said Ken Harmon, chief executive officer at Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker. “We will continue to work with both, and both offer good services. They’ve done a wonderful job.”
In recent years, Northwest Colorado has relied on Flight for Life helicopters that are based out of Frisco and Grand Junction, and delays can come from the distance choppers having to travel and the weather between hospitals. Response times also depend on other calls coming from other communities on the Western Slope.
Atkins said his company started talking with administrators at Yampa Valley Medical Center and The Memorial Hospital in Craig about six months ago about the possibility of bringing a new air ambulance to the area.
The company officially started service March 1. A training event and ribbon cutting at the airport was held Wednesday.
Michael Boatwright, vice president of Routt County Search and Rescue’s board of directors, welcomed the news there would be a new air ambulance stationed in Steamboat.
“We’re excited about the possibility of having this closer resource,” Boatwright said Friday. “We’re thrilled they’re going to give it a go. The optimum time frame right now for Flight for Life is 22 minutes, and that’s if (the helicopter) in Frisco is available. Otherwise it’s 45 minutes out, and that can be a big deal for us.”
Atkins said the new air ambulance in Steamboat will take off within 10 minutes of being called.
Boatwright and Harmon said they don’t view the new service as a replacement for Flight For Life, which they said is very dedicated to the communities, but Classic Lifeguard will be another option.
Boatwright added the air ambulance company met with Search and Rescue in January and talked about the possibility of training together.
“We think it should be nothing but a positive for the community, and communities out west of here,” Boatwright said.
Yampa Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Rosie Kern said Friday morning the hospital and the new air ambulance do not have an official relationship yet, but they have been discussing how the service might be utilized in the area.
“We will continue to have dialog with them to better understand the components of their air ambulance service,” she said in an email.
Classic Lifeguard started in 1988 to transport sick and injured patients from Lake Powell to medical facilities. In recent years, it quickly has expanded its reach with new home bases in Moab, Utah, and Riverton, Wyo. The company has a fleet of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft that operate out of four bases in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming.
Steamboat’s previous air ambulance service, which was run by the hospital, stopped in 2005 following a fatal crash of a Yampa Valley Air Ambulance in Wyoming during wintry weather. A pilot and two hospital employees were killed in the crash.
That year, the National Transportation Safety Board launched a study of medical flights because of a high number of crashes. Nine years later, medical choppers and planes continue to play an important role in the region.
Longtime Search and Rescue volunteer Darrel Levingston said having a helicopter based out of Steamboat would be a “tremendous asset.”
“Having that 20-minute time difference could definitely make the difference of life and death in many situations,” Levingston said.
When Levingston started with Search and Rescue more than 20 years ago, medical choppers only came from Denver. He said even the switch from Denver to Frisco, about 92 miles southeast of Steamboat, has made a big difference in response times. Having a medical chopper at Bob Adams would further improve the outlook for patients, he said.
“There have been times we call Frisco first, but if they don’t have one available and there’s weather issues, then we’re going to Grand Junction and that flight time is much longer,” Levingston said. “Having one here to assist with backcountry rescues certainly would cut down time. That would make a dramatic difference for someone who is hurt in the backcountry.”