Valdosta Daily Times

May 16, 2013

Life Flights

Lowndes County welcomes AirLife Georgia

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Perhaps nothing is as indicative of the potential impact of AirLife Georgia’s new base at Valdosta Regional Airport than this example: At the ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony Wednesday, the local crew on duty was absent, having been called out to Jasper County in Florida to transport a patient to South Georgia Medical Center.

“I told Jeff See, our vice president, ‘you know, we’re going to get a flight in the middle of this thing, right?’ And sure enough, we did,” said Jeff Clifton, a flight paramedic with AirLife Georgia.

It was the fifth mission for the new base since it started operation a couple of weeks ago.

“Opening this new base is about plugging a hole in coverage,” said See, regional vice president for Air Methods, AirLife Georgia’s parent company. “When someone needs emergency-medical assistance, there’s this golden window of 60 minutes; if you can get the patient to the hospital in that window, there’s a significantly better survival rate.”

Air Methods has grown since its 1980 inception and now has bases in 46 states, with a roster of 330 helicopters and 110 fixed-wing planes for longer distance transfers.

The Valdosta base is equipped with an A-Star, a light, single-engine helicopter. Flight crews consist of one pilot, one nurse, and one paramedic. The crew is fully operating within an average time of six minutes between the base receiving the call and taking off.

“The citizens of this county and surrounding counties need air medical support,” said Amy Boutwell, Air Methods regional clinical director. “Our crew can reach anywhere in Lowndes County.”

With an average speed of two miles a minute and a fuel rate of 150 miles on a full tank, AirLife crews can reach a wide radius. Space in the A-Star is limited to a three-person crew and one patient. For accidents with two patients, a second helicopter must be alerted. Exceptions can be made, however, for a parent of a small child that needs emergency medical attention.

Of course, the crew does more than just transport patients.

“It’s basically an intensive-care unit with a rotor,” said Russell McDaniel, Air Methods regional business manager. “Our nurses and paramedics come to us with a boatload of experience and the A-Star is equipped to treat a number of life-threatening injuries.”

“If you’ve ever needed one and it wasn’t available, you know how important they are,” said Hahira Mayor Wayne Bullard at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

In addition to adding better medical flight coverage to the area, AirLife will be training regionally, bringing jobs to the area.

“We like to be part of the community we’re in and, informally, part of the local medical community,” said McDaniel. “We want to operate as an extension.”