STARS Shining on Tumbler Ridge

On March 13th, Ward Minifee, General Manager of STARS based in Grande Prairie, gave a power point presentation to Council at the Policies & Priorities Committee meeting. Mayor Mike Caisley requested the information at a Policies & Priorities Committee meeting in February. Minifee gave a brief history and an outline of what STARS can offer Tumbler Ridge and surrounding areas.

On December 1st, 2006, the STARS base in Grande Prairie had its grand opening. The base began 24 hour operations on January 28th. There are 26 air medical crew, 15 paramedics and 11 registered nurses. There are 10 pilots. STARS operate with a BK117 Helicopter twin engine two pilot machine for rescue missions. This helicopter accommodates a nurse, physician, and a patient. There are approximately 200 to 300 flights per year from the Grande Prairie base. The immediate flight area covers 1/3 of the BC Peace Region.

Minifee said the one of the benefits of STARS is that they use night vision goggles which have increased the number of successful missions completed. Minifee also added that land ambulance can take two and a half hours from Tumbler Ridge to Grande Prairie in ideal road conditions. It takes approximately three and a half hours in poor road conditions. STARS can get a patient to Grande Prairie from the Tumbler Ridge area in 35 minutes.

Generally, the protocol for an emergency is that BC Bedline is called first. They are a dispatch centre that finds the appropriate facility and transportation method for a critically ill or injured patient. BC Bedline will call BC Ambulance first; however, they do not provide helicopter service. When a helicopter is required, STARS will be dispatched. Minifee said that a physician can use their discretion and call STARS first to get a patient to tertiary care.

Minifee mentioned that there are weight restrictions that the physician will have to use discretion for. A patient over 300 pounds may not be able to use the service. The weight restriction is gauged on how far STARS has to travel and how much fuel and equipment will be required. Ground ambulance would be a last resort if a patient exceeds these weight limits.

STARS will also transfer a patient to a fixed wing aircraft at a nearby airport if the patient requires more care than what the medical facilities in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, or Grande Prairie can offer. There is no cost to the patient for using STARS since Alberta Health bills The Ministry of Health who then sends the bill to BC Health.

In December of 2006, the STARS team from Grande Prairie gave a presentation to the Tumbler Ridge Community on the service they provide. Permission was granted to STARS to land in the requested zone for that visit. The landing pad is located just across from the medical centre facing south.

Andy Stewart, who is STARS Grande Prairie Aviation Lead, submitted a letter on January 10th to the District of Tumbler Ridge. The letter requested permission from the District to use the area as a helicopter landing zone for transporting critically ill and injured patients. In support of this request, Fire Chief Dan Golob submitted a report to Council on February 9th, recommending that Council direct staff to research alternative landing sites and provide a cost of developing a non-certified emergency landing site, a certified landing site, and the need for a certified landing area. All of Council was in support of the recommendation.

Barb Shuerkamp, a Registered Nurse at the Tumbler Ridge Medical Center, said that it would greatly benefit the community if STARS is able to use the landing pad located across from the clinic. She said that time is critical in an emergency and STARS responds very quickly in a crisis.

There is only one certified heliport in the Peace Region, and it is on top of the hospital in Fort St. John. This landing pad is certified by Transport Canada. Although the landing pad in Tumbler Ridge is not certified, STARS is still able to land here. Minifee said that this is because there are no residential homes in close proximity to the landing pad. At the end of discussion, Council members thanked Minifee for providing information on behalf of STARS.