By CHRIS MENEES
Air Evac Lifeteam has a new resource to serve patients in the local area with the addition of a fixed-wing aircraft.
The availability of the airplane for medical transport comes on the heels of the opening of a fixed-wing air ambulance base last year in Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Union City firefighters and Baptist EMS ambulance personnel had an opportunity to see the new airplane firsthand Thursday when the King Air E90 — as well as the helicopters from Air Evac’s Martin and Mayfield, Ky., bases — landed at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport.
The new fixed-wing service will serve as a supplement to Air Evac’s existing helicopter service by providing a faster means of transportation for longer transport, IFR (instrument flight rules) capabilities for flights in inclement weather when a helicopter cannot fly and an additional asset when a helicopter is committed on another flight.
Kent Martin, program director at Air Evac 31 in Martin, said the addition of the plane puts two fixed-wing assets in the company — one in eastern Kentucky and one in Poplar Bluff.
“What we’re trying to do is utilize those aircraft for longer distance transfers that they can do more effectively than we can because of flight times,” he said. “They fly almost twice as fast as a helicopter. Of course, they have to land at an airport, but the crews are very similar as far as their training for the same type of medical care. It’s just that we’re able to utilize these for situations also where the weather is marginal and we may not be able to fly a helicopter.”
The three-member airplane crew is the same as that of Air Evac’s rotorcraft (helicopter) crews — a registered nurse, a paramedic and the aircraft pilot — and has the same capabilities and same state-of-the-art medical equipment as the helicopters.
Air Evac contracts with Eagle Med to operate the airplane and pilots for the new service, while Air Evac provides the medical crew. The fixed-wing aircraft and crews were recently licensed for use in Tennessee.
Martin said Air Evac’s helicopters will continue to be used like normal, but if there is a situation where the weather is bad, dispatchers will check with the fixed-wing service and see if it’s appropriate to bring in the aircraft to a local airport.
The airplanes also have a little more room to maneuver inside and there is the added advantage of having an extra seat to carry a passenger with a patient, if needed and at the crew’s discretion.
Martin said because the airplane travels about twice as fast as a helicopter, the fixed-wing aircraft will also be a significant benefit in situations where time is extremely critical — such as limb reattachments.
“We can help more patients in more ways,” Martin said. “It will be a benefit to everybody.”
Amy Keirsey, a paramedic out of the Poplar Bluff base, said Thursday’s flight to Union City took 24 minutes from Poplar Bluff — but it’s typically about a two-hour drive by car and roughly a one-hour helicopter flight.
By comparison, she said the flight from Union City to Nashville is 36 minutes by plane, versus about an hour in a helicopter or a three-hour drive.
Ms. Keirsey works at a blended base, where the Air Evac crews rotate working a week on a fixed-wing aircraft and a week on a rotorcraft.
“It’s a nice change of pace to get to do both,” she said.
She also said the fixed-wing aircraft typically does longer medical transports and more flights in inclement weather.
“We work more on the fixed-wing when it rains,” she said. “We can fly in some pretty significant storms in the plane.”
Eagle Med pilot Mike Runner made the flight Thursday from Poplar Bluff to Union City. He is in his third month flying for Air Evac and is a former airline pilot who flew larger aircraft.
Runner explained the King Air E90 turboprop has a cruising speed of about 230 knots, or 265 mph, and said a rotorcraft travels at about half that speed. Range for the airplane is 900 miles.
The fully instrument-equipped aircraft allows for the capability to fly when rotorcraft cannot fly due to the weather. The plane has the latest on-board weather radar and a pressurized cabin and it is able to fly above much of the weather.
“Weather and distance are the main two keys with us,” Runner said.
Air Evac Lifeteam’s membership program also covers emergency flights made by the fixed-wing service. Although patients do not have to be a member to use the service, there are benefits. Members pay an annual fee and, if they are flown by an Air Evac service, they do not have out-of-pocket expenses for the cost of the flight. Memberships are valid in all Air Evac service areas so members are covered while traveling throughout those service areas.
Annual memberships are $50 for an individual, $55 for a couple and $60 for a household of three or more. For more information, call 1-800-793-0010 or visit www.joinlifeteam.com.
Air Evac, based in West Plains, Mo., has been providing air medical service for 27 years.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 9.21.12