AirEvac Lifeteam celebrated its 20th anniversary serving Paragould on Sept. 13.
“What we do is provide access,” said AirEvac public relations manager Michelle Snyder during the celebration at the Paragould Municipal Airport.
Access by air, that is, to lifesaving medical care in rural areas not served by nearby major medical facilities. According to the company’s website www.lifeteam.net, AirEvac Lifeteam was established in 1985 by a group of citizens in West Plains, Mo.
The aim was to ensure access to emergency health care for their remote community in the Missouri Ozark region. Although most air evacuation transport services were located in large cities, the company founders recognized the people who needed air medical transport most lived in rural areas far from a hospital.
“West Plains is AE 1, and this is AE 2” Snyder said. “We now have 142 bases in 15 states including 11 in Arkansas.” She added 90 percent of those bases are in rural areas, more than an hour from medical facilities.
“It’s not easy to find a location and build a base,” Snyder said, “but that is the easiest part. We can’t be successful without a flight crew, maintenance technicians and people like Jimmy Shields, the program director for this facility.”
Shields, in his remarks, said AirEvac had set the standard for others to follow. “And this base would not be here without the current and former crews and support personnel,” he said.
Shields also thanked airport manager Roger Slayton, the airport commission and the city of Paragould for their support of AirEvac’s operation in town. “And this is a great group effort, for the police department, the sheriff’s department, the fire departments, the Rescue Squad,” he said, “it takes all of us.”
Shields said AirEvac Lifeteam had originally begun operations serving the Paragould area from a facility at the Jonesboro Airport in February 1998. “Then we moved to Lake City,” he said, “and then, five years ago, we moved to Paragould.”
Shields said the Paragould facility has one helicopter (a Bell 206 L4), four pilots, four flight nurses and four paramedics, plus a maintenance technician, a membership representative and the program director (Shields himself). “That’s like the base manager,” he said.
The pilots do 12-hour shifts, Shields said, but are prohibited from doing back-to-back 12-hour shifts due to safety considerations and Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The other aircrew members (i.e. nurses and paramedics) are allowed to do back-to-back 12-hour shifts but must receive 10 hours of rest afterwards.
“Qualifications for us to hire pilots are at least 2,000 flying hours,” Shields said, “and nurses have to have at least three years experience in a critical care unit.”
According to the AirEvac website, qualifications for paramedics include three years current experience on an Advanced Life Support (ALS) unit. Qualifications for a maintenance technician include a minimum of two years experience on helicopters.
Shields said the Paragould base receives notification via radio page from its headquarters in O’Fallon, Mo. “Once we get the page,” he said, “we get the location and incident coordinates, and check the weather. Then we can either accept or deny.”
Shields said just about the only circumstance under which a unit would deny a request for service would be weather bad enough to pose a hazard to the helicopter.
Shields added the Paragould base’s primary coverage area includes Greene, Clay, Randolph, Lawrence, Craighead and Poinsett Counties. The helicopter is, however, limited to a radius of 150 miles. “For anything requiring longer range,” Shields said, “we would call a fixed-wing aircraft based in Poplar Bluff.”
He said the most common type of call the base gets is a hospital-to-hospital transfer. “Then there is the scene flight,” he said, “like a wreck or something like that.”
Shields said such flights often see the helicopter land on the road, having been requested by an ambulance on the scene. “We usually see more of those in the spring and summer because the weather is better,” Shields said.