An emergency medical helicopter has landed in Regina in preparation for the launch of a new air ambulance service for southern Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan already has a fleet of airplanes that perform medical transports.
The new service, operated by a company called STARS, the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, adds a helicopter with a dedicated nurse and specialized EMS crew to attend to emergency calls and critical patient transports.
The Regina-based service is set to launch daytime operations on April 30. Full-time service will start a few months later as soon as various regulatory requirements are met.
Jacques Poirier will be one of nine pilots flying the helicopter.
"We can get to an area where, if it might take two hours to get there by road to Regina, we can do that in about half the time," said Poirier, the STARS Regina base commander.
According to a spokeswoman for STARS, the helicopters have a range of 250 kilometres without the need to refuel. They can go further if there is a place to stop and refuel.
A new hangar has been built at the Regina airport for the aircraft and crew. When emergency medical transports are done, a ground ambulance will be used to move patients from the airport to the Regina General Hospital.
A second STARS helicopter will begin service out of Saskatoon in the fall.
The Regina helicopter and crew is set to travel 200 kilometres southeast to Estevan, Sask., on Sunday for a day of training with local EMS crews and volunteers.
The Estevan exercises will deal with landing zone protocols.
"Landing zone training prepares emergency personnel and volunteers to prepare a safe landing area for the aircraft and how to safely approach the helicopter," STARS officials said in a news release about the Sunday event. "They'll also have the opportunity to become familiar with the medically-equipped interior of the BK117 helicopter."
Each STARS flight will have on board two pilots and a specially-trained paramedic and a nurse.
"There's plenty of room in there," Poirier said, when asked the crew size. "It looks like a small helicopter, but there's definitely room in there."
The Regina operation already has six pilots ready to go, Poirier said, and three more will be joining the service shortly.
"We're actually a health-care provider with helicopters as our means of doing the job," he said, referring to the level of care people can expect when they arrive on the scene.