October 12, 2023 By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News
Representatives from the STARS air ambulance service provided an annual update to the Peace River Regional District at their October 5, 2023 meeting, thanking the PRRD for their continued support.
Glenda Farnden, Senior Municipal Relations Liaison and Jon Gogan, Provincial Operations Director for STARS, presented the update. Six bases with ten air ambulances are currently operated by the organization in Western Canada.
STARS remains a non-profit organization, funded through both provincial and local government support. Five rural municipalities and six urban municipalities have recently joined their service area – while another four have pending support asks.
“We’re very grateful to Peace River Regional District that you have unanimous support throughout your entire region,” said Farnden. “And that we celebrate 17 years in partnership, many lives saved.”
“You are one of our regional leaders and one of our municipal leaders that are represented on the helicopter. We’re very proud of that fact – not seeing any borders between the two of us, just embracing that we are all Northern residents and doing what we can in order to save lives,” she added.
The PRRD has committed 170,000 in funding for STARS over the next three years – 2023, 2024, and 2025. The PRRD has also been a big help in coordinating with BC Health, Gogan noted.
“I always like to thank this group in particular for helping us collaborate and coordinate with BC Health, those quarterly and monthly meetings that we have with Kamloops are very strong,” said Gogan. “We continue to build those relationships, and I think that they’ve just opened upgrade opportunities for this region, as far as getting the right asset to the right patient at the right time.”
Last year, Alberta Health Services committed roughly 10 million dollars per base in operational funding to support three bases in Alberta, which also serve Northeast and Southeast BC.
Over 30,000 calls are handled through their Calgary dispatch centre as emergency requests, noted Gogan, with 4,300 industry sites including STARS as part of their emergency response plans. Pre-coded site numbers are in STARS’ database, providing the site’s exact location in case of an emergency, all the site has to do is provide their number to a dispatcher.
PRRD Chair Leonard Hiebert said he’s used STARS in his previous working life and sees the value of the service for residents.
“Knowing how you’ve evolved from seven years ago to what you’re currently doing is amazing,” said Hiebert. “I did have an opportunity to last year to actually go through one of the new helicopters – and if you don’t understand it, it’s a hospital in there, basically it what it is.”
“The equipment that’s in there, when they say it’s truly life-saving, it is,” he added. “Anybody that understands even just basic first aid, will understand the equipment that’s in there is amazing.”
Electoral Area B Director Jordan Kealy said the service is invaluable to rural residents who live and work in remote areas.
“When you work where you have to drive five hours to get to a location, and you’re doing a dangerous job to start off with, and something happens – this is something where it clearly is invaluable, because you’re able to get the person to the care that they need,” said Kealy.
Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darryl Krakowka said he used to work for BC Ambulance, and greatly appreciates what STARS offers the Peace Region, and asked if STARS will bringing back mock scenarios, which had been practiced in Tumbler Ridge with their local emergency services.
Gogan said STARS will likely return to public outreach, but are adjusting to their newest air ambulance and the maintenance schedule required for their ten helicopters.
“The reality is that we have a very specific maintenance schedule that we’ve run through and we’re converting the four-bladed system into the five-bladed system,” said Gogan, noting they could be in a position next summer to have extra aircraft to run mock scenarios.
Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen said STARS has been a worthwhile investment for Peace Region residents, and asked if the organization is working with post-secondary or trade schools to encourage training in aircraft maintenance.
While there’s no direct collaboration, STARS has been present at several job fairs with NAIT, SAIT, and the University of Alberta, noted Gogan, and are open to sending their pilots, engineers, medics, and nurses to job fairs in the Peace.
“There’s a massive need for men and women right across the country to join this industry. And anytime we get the opportunity to have those conversations with young men and women, we do,” he said.
You can read a copy of the presentation here: