They come bigger and better for emergency, life-saving responses but the new STARS Air Ambulance helicopters are too big for the hospital helipad.
STARS Air Ambulance’s newer emergency transport helicopters, the Agusta Westland AW139, pack more storage for patient transport and are faster than their counterparts, the Airbus Helicopter BK117. With a faster speed of 150 knots (278 km/h) compared to the BK117’s 120 knots (225 km/h) these new helicopters can get to a scene faster but their size means they are too big for certain helipads, the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre being one of them.
To meet patient care needs, the AW139 flies to the Ponoka Industrial Airport in the event of a hospital transfer, explained Lyle McKellar, central zone associate executive director for emergency medical services for Alberta Health Services.
He said there are several factors that require a certain size helipad, including safety requirements from Transport Canada, but added that Ponoka still receives high quality medevac services, which include fixed wing support as well as STARS helicopters. The Bk117 still lands on-site, he added.
Helicopter patient transfer may not always bring the Aw139, either. Pick up depends on factors such as what helicopter is on a mission at the time and the needs of the patient.
A common practice for many communities is also to transport patients to the airport for fixed wing or helicopter pick up.
Upgrading the current helipad is a possibility but McKellar says that residents need to get behind the project and look at ways to help raise funds. He recommends if residents are interested in working on an upgraded helipad to contact Alberta Health Services and STARS.
During STARS’ 2014-15 fiscal year, there were 17 missions to Ponoka, these included scene calls in the Ponoka area.