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25 years, countless lives

LIFESTAR celebrated as air ambulance nears milestone

Published: Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012 1:00 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 1:35 p.m. CDT
(Herald Photo by Christina Chapman-Van Yperen)
LIFESTAR Flight Nurse Kathy Devine shows how a gurney would be loaded onto the helicopter for air medical transport in an emergency situation.

LIFESTAR air medical transportation is about to celebrate 25 years in business and Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District is proud to be a life-long member.

“They’re a class act, that whole company. They’re not just good at their job, they’re good people,” said Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes. “Safety is their number one priority.”

“They’ve helped us save more lives than we can count,” he continued.

LIFESTAR serves the Morris and Grundy County area on scene for major accidents that require air transportation, as well as Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers when patients need to be transferred to other hospitals, such as to Loyola’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or other Level 1 Trauma Centers, noted Scott Hagemann, business development manager for Air Methods, LIFESTAR’s parent company. Morris Hospital is a Level 2 Trauma Center.

“Morris fire has been one of our busiest EMS agencies this year,” Hagemann noted.

For almost five years, LIFESTAR’s community base has been out of Joliet, making it a six-minute flight away from Morris. Prior to the move, it was based at Loyola University Hospital and took 20 minutes by air to get to Morris.

“When on the ground, you’re looking at an excess of an hour depending on traffic and weather,” Hagemann said.

The company does six to eight flights a month out of Morris, he said.

The Morris fire department calls out LIFESTAR most every time there is an accident with a person or people trapped in a vehicle, Steffes said.

“Most of the time, when someone is trapped in a car, they’re in bad shape,” so he automatically calls the helicopter in, Steffes said.

“Our job is to give the people trapped in that car every opportunity to be given the best medical treatment there is, and the best treatment is to get them in a helicopter and to a trauma center,” Steffes added.

The helicopter is usually there before the person is out of the vehicle, he said, and the flight medics come on scene and help the ground EMS until the patient is ready to be loaded on the helicopter. About 17 years ago, Joe Neary, a housekeeping employee of Morris Hospital who also helps guide on the ground when a helicopter comes in, was saved because of LIFESTAR.

“I was in a bad auto accident that bashed up my face. . . they couldn’t stop the bleeding here, so (LIFESTAR) took me to (Loyola),” said Neary. “They saved my life.”

The helicopter has a three person crew, and it was an all-female crew that did the demonstration flight Thursday: Pilot Nikki Dodge, Flight Nurse Kathy Devine, and Flight Medic Deb Raymond.

“No day is the same. Your senses are always very alert. You get the worst of the worse, so you always have to be prepared,” said Devine, who has been a nurse for 14 years.

“The strength we see in our patients and in the patients’ families is amazing,” she said.

The biggest difference between being a medic or nurse in the air rather than in a hospital is the lack of space and resources.

“It’s a rapid pace, so you don’t have the luxury of calling people and getting their opinion,” Devine said. In addition to their medical backgrounds, the crews have continuous education and certification requirements to meet.

The helicopter used for Morris is a BK-117-B2 twin engine aircraft. New helicopters are about $7 million, said Hagemann. This helicopter received a renovation about 3 years ago so it could handle two patients. That cost was about $1.4 million.

An additional service, Air Methods, has is its own national dispatch center that handles the dispatching for the flights, said Hagemann. So, if LIFESTAR is not able to respond to a Morris call, Air Methods finds another nearby helicopter as soon as possible.

For more information on LIFESTAR, visit http://lifestar1chicago.com.

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