Air ambulance serves farmers

STARS active on Prairies | Half the helicopter service’s missions are farm accidents

BRANDON — Half of the STARS helicopter ambulance missions on the Prairies are farm accidents.

The other half are highway or industrial accidents, many of which involve farm families, says Troy Pauls, a flight paramedic with Manitoba STARS.

“STARS doesn’t serve urban centres. We’re based in Winnipeg, but we operate exclusively in rural areas, so it’s natural that many of the highway and industrial accidents we attend involve farmers and their families,” Pauls said. “The farm missions we fly involve falls from high structures, people caught in machinery and tractor accidents. These are all serious accidents. We’re airborne within eight minutes from the time we receive a call, and we’re compliant with that criteria 100 percent of the time.”

Pauls said the STARS helicopter typically reaches an accident site in less than half the time it takes a ground ambulance to reach the site. The times are even better in more remote areas that are further from a ground ambulance or that don’t have direct road connections.

“We always try to land right at the accident site. We can get into some pretty tight spaces,” he said.

“Even in forests and wooded areas, we find places to land our helicopters. If we can’t land right at the accident site, rural fire departments and first responders often direct us to a good spot close to the site.”

STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) is a non-profit organization founded to bring helicopter ambulance services to rural areas. Funding comes from corporate and private donations, provincial and municipal grants and fundraising activities.

It operates six helicopter ambulances on the Prairies, based in Grand Prairie, Alta., Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg, although the Manitoba operation has been suspended by the province after safety and training concerns were raised.

In 2013 there were 1,688 missions in Alberta, 821 missions in Saskatchewan and 177 missions in Manitoba. The Manitoba government grounded the STARS ambulance late last year.