|The two Star Flight helicopters are shown in front of the current hanger on Allen Street behind WCA Hospital. WCA Services broke ground on a new hanger, which will permit both helicopters to be dispatched simultaneously for emergency transports.|
JAMESTOWN, NY - In emergency medicine, the “golden hour” refers to a specified time lasting from a few minutes to several hours following trauma where there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical treatment will prevent death or debilitation.
WCA Services has been answering those urgent calls in Chautauqua County for 29 years, starting as the primary ambulance company in the county and then adding Star Flight in 1986, which at the time represented a collaborative effort funded by WCA Foundation.
|A new hanger under construction at WCA Services in Jamestown will permit simultaneous dispatch of both Star Flight helicopters.|
A new chapter in emergency readiness began as WCA Services broke ground recently on a second hanger for its Allen Street site. The addition will allow both Star Flight helicopters to be housed at the hanger permitting for the first time simultaneous dispatch of life-saving transport services.
According to Executive Director David Thomas, WCA Services acquired the two 5-blade helicopters to meet Part 135 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards allowing it to operate as a for-hire service.
WCA Hospital is the largest hospital in the county and according to Thomas, represents 50% of the Star Flight transports when patients are moved to “designated care centers” in Buffalo, Erie or other locations.
“The (ED) Emergency Department is right across the street from the hanger. Because we don’t operate as a dedicated flight medical team, it’s very easy for us to save costs. Having the second helicopter here allows us the ability to put together a second team to go on a another flight at the same time.”
“The addition to the hanger was an economy of scale. It made sense for the way our program was being done to have both here. The mechanic is also a pilot, so he is able to be here to maintain the helicopters at the same time.”
Despite the absence of a “dedicated crew”, Chief Flight Nurse Debbie Weaver says when the call is made, a crew is dispatched and off the ground in under ten minutes.
For an on-scene call, first responders make a call to the Chautauqua County Sheriff, who then dispatches to WCA Services the need for a pilot. If the weather is safe to fly, a nurse and paramedic are part of the medical team who accompany both a pilot and co-pilot to the scene.
According to Thomas, WCA Services does over 17,000 air and ambulance and transports a year, or one transport for every five people in Chautauqua County. Those numbers are only expected to grow in the years to come. “Ten years ago, we didn’t have as many vehicles on the road that we have today. Our demands have over doubled. In another five years they could very easily grow another 30%-40%. “
Compounding the problem is a shrinking base of volunteer firefighters, who usually carry (Basic Life Support) accreditation. “Seventy percent of our people that work in the medic roles are volunteer firemen. So as people have left, we don’t have as many people to draw from…
This is an industry-wide concern. There are statistics that reveal by the year 2016, there is going to be a 30-35% greater demand for paramedics and those needs aren’t going to be met.”
Thomas says an aging population, the obesity crisis and the fact that life expectancy has increased all play into the increased demand.
In addition, many hospitals are becoming “designated care areas or centers,” says Thomas. “Thirty years ago you went to your local hospital and they treated you. Now, they want to get you to those facilities as quickly as possible, within what they call that “golden hour.”
Thomas says one of the initiatives WCA Services has taken on to meet those demands is to put in place a state-of-the-art distance-learning lab at its Third Street facility. “The closest paramedic programs available were either at Erie Community College or Olean.”
Beyond the statistics are the stories told in lives changed and lives saved.
Weaver said her team treated a man last December who suffered a severe heart attack and was “literally dying in front of our eyes when we loaded him into the aircraft.”
“We worked feverishly on him the whole way to Hamot Medical Center and within 18 minutes got him in the cardiac center there. They put him on a balloon pump where the machine pumps for your heart, and got the cardiac cauterization done. He came and saw us New Years Day.”
In another case, they transported a woman in labor with triplets to Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo where she delivered within 20 minutes after arrival.
Speaking to the speed, Weaver said “We picked up a guy at his house- he was at St. Vincent’s in Erie within 40 minutes from the time he called 911.”
Weaver says the demand for both helicopters needed at the same time is as high as five or six times a month.
Greg Berg is director of maintenance and has also served as a co-pilot for two years. He says the service averages about one flight a day. “That goes down in the winter, when visibility is diminished because of snow and requirements are higher at night.”
Completion of the hanger is scheduled for July of this year.
For more information on WCA Services call 716- 664-7353 or visit www.wcaservices.com.