Northwest Colorado-based air ambulance logs 100th mission in 9 months | CraigDailyPress.com

Northwest Colorado-based air ambulance logs 100th mission in 9 months

Tom Ross

Johnross Joseph Doyel pilots a Bell 407 near the Steamboat Springs Airport on Monday afternoon. Doyel works for Classic Air Medical, an air ambulance service based in Steamboat Springs, which recently completed its 100th flight since beginning service in March.

When Classic Air Medical launched its Bell 407 helicopter for it 100th mission flight from Northwest Colorado on Dec. 8, it traveled a little bit out of its usual territory to transfer a 20-year-old woman having seizures from Rangely District Hospital to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction.

"It's a little west of our normal area," Steamboat Base Manager Dan Harris said. "We do have other bases. Vernal is closer — they are usually the first to Rangely. Our Moab (Utah) base is roughly an equivalent distance" from remote Rangely as Steamboat is.

Classic Air Medical serves all of Northwest Colorado, including Craig.

It opened its base at the Steamboat Springs Airport on March 1 but didn't operate its first mission until March 9. Reaching the 100-mission plateau in essentially nine months exceeded the company's proforma, Classic Air's Chad Bowdre said.

"It's kind of a testament to the fact that it was a needed resource," Harris said. "Often, (air ambulances) are based in a metro area and fly out to pick up a patient and return to a metro area. It takes 40 minutes to an hour to get up here from a big city."

Classic Air Medical employs eight medical crew members, four pilots and a full-time mechanic to be ready to respond to a call at all times.

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"There are significant fixed costs," Harris said. "That's part of what makes having a helicopter service expensive. When it's needed, it's needed right now, 24/7."

Bowdre said the advantage of having emergency medical air service based in Northwest Colorado is the response time.

The protocol at Classic Air Medical calls for the helicopter to be lifting off within 10 minutes of dispatch, he said. A medical flight might involve the helicopter taking off from Steamboat to pick up a patient in Leadville and then ferrying them to a Denver-area hospital.

"The need for fixed-wing or helicopter EMS is getting patients to care sooner, or bringing critical care to the patient sooner," Harris said. "We're trying to make that as efficient as possible."

Building up the demand for the helicopter requires the time necessary for medical professionals to learn to trust in and rely on the service.

Classic Air Medical has relationships with local fire departments, Steamboat Powdercats backcountry skiing operation, Routt County Search and Rescue and law enforcement in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Grand and Jackson counties. Twenty percent of its missions so far have been generated by nearby Craig Memorial Hospital.

"We're just beginning to provide service for Kremmling, Walden and Meeker, but it takes a medical provider or EMS person some time to warm up to a new agency in the area," Bowdre said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1