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New heli-pad expected to cut air-ambulance rescue service time in half

At the beginning of November, the city put the finishing touches on a temporary heli-pad at the old public works site on Mission Flats Road
For $20

It’s a 27-minute ride that could be the difference between life and death.

Right now, anyone with a critical medical problem out in the backcountry or a good distance from the city needs to be flown by helicopter to Kamloops Airport, before being transported to Royal Inland Hospital.

However, that distance will soon be cut in half.

In August, Premier Christy Clark was in Kamloops to announce permanent funding for a dedicated helicopter air-ambulance service for the region.

The service operates seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from a base near the airport.

The service was expected to stay there until a proper heli-pad could be built at Royal Inland Hospital.

But, at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in September, the city offered up a plan and piece of space that could save lives.

At the beginning of November, the city put the finishing touches on a temporary heli-pad at the old public works site on Mission Flats Road.

“It just happened to work because it was a large secure area,” said David Freeman, the city’s real-estate manager.

Located adjacent to space used by organizers of the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games, the heli-pad, which meets Transport Canada guidelines, cuts the trip to the hospital down to 13 minutes.

The area is secured by a perimeter gate, which ambulance drivers will have access to through a key fob.

In case of a power outage, there is also a manual gate.

The landing area, which has a footprint the size of a house, is cordoned off with no-post guard rails to ensure a safe landing.

“It’s unbelievably well-organized,” Freeman said.

The site will allow ambulances to transport patients without any major disruptions.

From a city perspective, the heli-pad is also a cheap alternative - it only cost about $20,000 in asphalt to pave the landing area.

Freeman said the paving work was already in the city’s budget and, when the permanent heli-pad is completed at RIH, the space can be leased out as a paved storage yard.

“Everything we did is what I would do to make that area leasable,” he said.

The space could function indefinitely as a heli-pad, but it’s not the intention of the Interior Health Authority.

Susan Brown, the IHA’s vice-president of tertiary services, said the health authority supports any solution to minimize transport delays to the hospital, but noted the Mission Flats site is a short-term fix.

“We do need to proceed with upgrading our own heli-pad because having patients land at the hospital campus is the best solution,” she said.

Brown noted steps to construct a permanent heli-pad at RIH are underway.

The IHA has awarded a contract for the construction of the pad and hospital officials are expected to meet with consultants soon to look over the design.

The permanent heli-pad is expected to cost $750,000 and be completed by the summer of 2012.

Meanwhile, the city is waiting to hear from Transport Canada and the B.C. Ambulance Service before the heli-pad at the public works yard becomes fully operational.

The estimated annual cost for the air service is $2.35 million, which will come from within the existing Emergency Health Services Commission’s budget.

The air-ambulance service came after an eight-week pilot project last summer in Kamloops, in which a dedicated helicopter was in place 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

– Jeremy Deutsch - Kamloops This Week