STARS adds new helicopter to service

Jodi Schellenberg
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A busy emergency helicopter service, STARS responds to incidents across the entire province.

The Saskatoon base of STARS recently received an AW139 helicopter to help provide services to the northern half of Saskatchewan, thanks to PotashCorp.

With the need for fast service, STARS recently unveiled a new AW139 helicopter at the Saskatoon base, which serves Prince Albert and the northern communities. PotashCorp provided the new helicopter, which costs $16 million, plus a hangar, bringing the total cost up to $27 million. 

“It was in the plans for bringing STARS to Saskatchewan since the beginning, it just takes a while for these aircraft to be built and delivered,” said Rod Gantefoer, executive director of the STARS foundation in Saskatchewan.

 “The one that has been provided to STARS by PotashCorp of Saskatchewan has arrived in Saskatoon and is flying missions with the pilots getting their familiarity with it and getting accustomed to it,” he added. “By early fall, we should be fully operational with it out of the Saskatoon base.”

The current helicopters are older aircrafts that are are smaller and slower. The new ones are “state-of-the-art” machines, about one and a half times the size of the old ones.

“That gives greater space for the medical interior for access to patients,” Gantefoer said. “If we get to a scene call, we can carry two patients if need be as opposed to one.

“It goes much faster -- it flies at about 300 kilometres an hour as compared to 225 kilometres an hour,” he added.

All of the missions in Prince Albert and northern communities are flown out of Saskatoon, Gantefoer said.

Since 2013, STARS has flown more than 800 missions, including 34 into Prince Albert in that year. Gantefoer said Prince Albert is one of the major locations they respond to in the north.

The STARS helicopter is called upon for two different types of missions -- interfacility and scene calls.

In an interfacility transfer, the hospital arranges for STARS to pick up a serious ill or injured patient from the hospital to be transported to the hospital in Saskatoon.

The scene call is where they will land at the scene, whether it is a car, skidoo or quad accident, heart attack at a farm or golf course and other incidents.

“We’ve landed virtually everywhere and that is right on the scene so we can go directly from that location to a facility here in Saskatoon so it saves a tremendous amount of time because we can go the shortest route and the people we have on board are highly trained to respond to these kinds of emergencies,” Gantefoer said.

The STARS helicopter is much faster than transportation by ambulance and the new helicopter will shave off even more time.

“We will be able to go to P.A., as we do now, we will just be able to get there 15 minutes sooner than we do now,” Gantefoer said. “That is a big difference.”

Not only will they be travelling at faster speeds, they will also be able to travel further.

“The service will be able to go to La Ronge and back without refueling, so it gives us longer range without having to refuel,” he said. “If you draw a circle around Saskatoon to La Ronge, you can see it covers a fair bit of territory that the aircraft will be able to travel in without refueling during the trip.

“We can go further north than that if we fuel up in Prince Albert or La Ronge and we can keep moving further north to service the northern communities,” he added. “It takes a little bit longer but we are still pretty fast.”

The helicopter can “go straight the way the crow flies” so it can get in and out of places quickly.

“You have probably heard of that golden hour and it makes a huge difference in severe traumas and health concerns that we deal with,” Gantefoer said. “It literally means the difference between life and death for people.

“It is very critical that we do everything we can to provide the fastest, most efficient services possible to the people of Saskatchewan.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, STARS foundation

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, La Ronge

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