A delegation from STARS Air Ambulance base in Grande Prairie, consisting of Base Director Greg Schmidt, and Senior Municipal Relations Liaison, Glenda Farnden, visited McLennan Council Meeting on December 11, to ask for the Town’s continuing support, to offer an annual update and discuss finding an alternative landing site close to McLennan Hospital.
STARS started about thirty-two years ago in Calgary and have had a base in Grande Prairie for approximately eleven years. The Grande Prairie base, which services the northern Alberta region also services northeastern BC.
Since its inception, STARS has flown over 36,000 missions and averages 8 missions a day with 5 of those missions being in Alberta.
The service has six bases, three in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba.
The Town of McLennan provides a $2 per capita, $1,618 annually commitment to STARS that has asked for a 4-year pledge 2018 through 2021.
There are no additional costs to patients who are flown by STARS helicopter.
Transport Canada has clarified the rules governing Temporary Landing Zones (TLZ) and is strictly enforcing those rules.
Due to Transport Canada having tightened up its rules on where the helicopters can land the current site in the schoolyard directly across from McLennan Hospital is no longer viable so finding a new landing site close to the hospital is necessary.
A TLZ cannot be in a parking lot, road, park or areas that are set aside for use by people, vehicles etc.
The site requires 180-degrees of approach and departure flight-paths clear of any built up areas.
The approach and departure paths cannot overfly at low level any busy road that isn’t closed to avoid causing a hazard or distraction to drivers.
The present situation in the school parking lot is not an imminent safety risk but more of a regulatory issue so STARS will have to find another landing site in the immediate future.
“We have got to find a solution sooner rather than later, because this is mandatory so we have to do something very quickly,” says Glenda Farnden.
Finding a zero dollar solution would be ideal but there is no availability for such a solution.
However, working with the Town and with the MD, the site STARS recommends is directly across from the hospital on Highway 2 and with a little bit of building up it would give the helicopter a 180-degree span without having to fly over any buildings or structures and also provides the option to abort a landing if necessary.
“It is nice and close to the hospital and has relatively low costs,” says Schmidt. “If we have the fire department block the highway for us as we are landing we could just walk straight across to the hospital.”
The site would be regulated a TLZ, but the good news is that the area is close to the lake and unlikely to be developed so the standards can be maintained indefinitely into the future.
While it is a “temporary landing zone” it provides a long term solution unless things change radically.
A STARS helicopter is in essence a Critical Care Unite and that critical care begins once STARS arrive.
“When time is of the essence saving time saves lives,” says Schmidt.