Careflight provides immediate assistance 24/7 | SierraSun.com

Careflight provides immediate assistance 24/7

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunCare Flight pilot Tim Andersen and nurse Barb Murphy get ready to take off from Truckee-Tahoe Airport Tuesday afternoon.

Averaging about 40 flights a month, or one to two flights per day, extending Careflight’s operations to 24 hours a day seven days a week is beneficial to emergency services in Truckee-Tahoe, said Jason Knight, Careflight paramedic and Truckee base manager.

Sharing a building with the California Department of Forestry and the Truckee Fire Protection District has turned out to be a good thing because of better communication among agencies, Knight said.

“It has fostered a better relationship because all three entities have a better idea on how we operate,” said Gene Welch, Truckee fire’s public safety and information officer. “All around it’s been a good experience.”

An intercom alerts fire personnel of dispatch calls coming in to the fire station, which is adjacent to the Truckee Tahoe Airport. Through the intercom, Careflight crew members are alerted simultaneously, Knight said. The alert at the station gives Careflight staff an extra few minutes so they can lift off as soon as they are dispatched, he said.

Saving time may be one of the most tremendous benefits Careflight services provides to the Truckee-Tahoe region.

With the freezing weather conditions recently, Careflight has been busy responding to ski-related head injuries at area resorts as well as car accidents due to icy roadways, Knight said. Weekends prove to be the air ambulance’s busiest days.

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Careflight’s been great, said Pam Hosier, risk manager at Alpine Meadows ski resort. Careflight has been called to Alpine Meadows twice this season, in response to injuries on the slopes, she said.

Since Careflight increased its availability to 24/7, the emergency response time has been shortened to provide more immediate assistance when a 9-1-1 call comes in, Welch said.

And compared to a 30-minute ambulance ride to Renown Health Center in Reno, Careflight helicopters can transport patients in about 15 minutes, Knight said.

Depending on the injury, Careflight will take the patient wherever they want to go, he said. Careflight transports patients to Tahoe Forest Hospital and, on occasion, to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Careflight recently received a 9-1-1 call from a man’s home in Tahoe Donner. The man “was pretty sick” and the ambulance was three hours away, Knight said. The air ambulance was able to land and transport the patient to Renown within minutes, he said. The helicopter is equipped with medical equipment equivalent to that of an intensive care unit.

Pilots fly AStar-B3 series helicopters, especially for high-altitude performance at speeds of 160 mph. Careflight provides emergency service within a 150-mile radius to Reno, Gardnerville, and Truckee. The Careflight crew consists of a pilot, a flight nurse and a flight paramedic, Knight said.

Rough weather conditions such as heavy snow or high winds can force Careflight to stay grounded, Knight said.

“If we can’t see Northstar, then we probably won’t be flying,” Knight said. “But we try and get to every flight we can.”

“Careflight is a great asset for our community,” Welch said, sometimes serving as are “our eyes in the sky.”

Careflight currently rents the CDF side of the fire station building as its temporary living quarters. Having the Careflight crew around during down-time between calls is “fantastic” and helps CDF out financially, said Dean Levonian, CDF captain, who stays at the station three nights a week.

A new facility for Careflight is in the building permit stage, said Jason Knight, Careflight’s Truckee base manager, with plans for constructing a permanent station by June 2007.

“We are looking forward to having our own home,” Knight said.

Later this ski season, Careflight will work with ski patrol staff from Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley USA, and Sugar Bowl, as part of a training group to instruct ski patrol how to load patients into the helicopter, Knight said.

In February or March, Careflight will also lead an avalanche safety training session with ski resorts. The training will focus on transporting avalanche crew to prone sites and will include ski patrol dogs, Knight said.