STARS service for emergency flights to and from hospitals in Manitoba has been greatly involved with Portage la Prairie's Fire Department.
Through the years, emergencies in the Portage area have seen our firefighters working in cooperation with STARS, and chief and public safety director Brad Bailey gives us a peek into how they function together.
"Usually, our involvement with STARS is, for the most part, at crash scenes or motor vehicle accidents," says Bailey. "Our job is essentially to set up a landing zone. We select one of our personnel to be a landing zone officer. They will direct the aircraft in and set up the site for the landing zones. We pick a spot which has to be 120 feet from the crash site or wherever the main incident is. The landing zone itself is 120 feet by 120 feet. Our landing zone officer will check that area for debris and hazards. We also will wet down the area if necessary if it's going to create a lot of dust that will interfere with the landing of a helicopter."
Bailey says their efforts to set up the landing zone may involve a highway, so they shut down the traffic in both directions on all divided highways.
"It's up to our discretion, but more times than not, we will shut it down in both directions," continues Bailey.
He explains they're notified about the inclusion of STARS in any given accident by way of EMS.
"The majority of time, they (EMS) are the ones who request STARS," adds Bailey. "We do have the ability to request STARS through 911 and we have done it before, but the majority of the time it is through EMS. Once they notify them, the ground crews for EMS will notify us. And then we initiate the landing zone prep site."
Bailey says there are at least about three times a year when they work together.
"From a fire department side, we do our job when we get the people out of the vehicle and we pass them off to EMS," adds Bailey. "Then STARS comes in after we assist with loading the patient, and EMS with loading the patient. STARS doesn't help us take the patient out of the vehicle or anything. They might stabilize or offer help, or if we haven't gotten the patient out before they come, they will kind of assume a role for EMS because they have more skills."
He explains many fire departments in rural areas are strictly volunteer departments. Bailey says such departments might have one truck and don't have extrication equipment to help get people out of crashed vehicles. This makes Portage a region where they get a tremendous amount of help from the fire department in those circumstances that require extrication.
Bailey outlines another aspect of their cooperation that makes a difference.
"Almost every single pilot, if not all pilots, for STARS got their training at Southport," notes Bailey. "They all have hundreds of hours flying over our region, so when they get a call for our region, they're quite comfortable in knowing where locations are because they've trained here the whole time they were out at Southport. We do find that as an advantage when we're in radio contact with STARS to land them. You can talk in layman's terms, for lack of better words, and they understand where you are, as opposed to going to a place blind. I'm sure those places are harder for them. They they have GNPS and all that, but I'm sure it's harder for them."
Bailey says the fire department not only creates a landing zone for the helicopters to land, but their role is also their safety.
"In the event of a crash, we train with them to identify how to shut down their aircraft in an emergency," adds Bailey. "We train to know the access points on the aircraft, how to get into the aircraft, how to shut off the fuel, and how to shut off oxygen. Another advantage is we also do training with Southport with some aircraft familiarization there, too. We do have an idea on how helicopters and small aircrafts work, so we can take that knowledge, coupled with the training that STARS provides, and we can keep them safe, as well."
See Portage Fire Dept. helping to land STARS helicopter before landing pad was constructed.