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Stars set for lift off in Saskatchewan

November 29, 2011  By Carey Fredericks

Nov. 29, 2011, Regina - STARS is breaking borders and taking flight in Saskatchewan. The helicopter air ambulance will begin providing services to Saskatchewan in 2012, developing bases in Regina and Saskatoon.

STARS made a public presentation to health care workers, first responders and firefighters in Broadview on Nov. 10 to explain the new service.
The helicopter ambulance provides specialized emergency transportation for critically injured or ill patients, responding to scene calls, inter-hospital transfers and limited search and rescue efforts.

The province of Saskatchewan is currently in negotiations with STARS, projecting its first Saskatchewan base to open in Regina in Spring 2012. The base will have 12-hour daytime operations which will be extended to 24-hour operations within a year of opening. A BK117 will serve the Regina area.

The helicopter is able to carry one critical or two stable patients, is capable of hot loading and unloading (blades in motion), will be equipped with twin turbine engines and will have two pilots, one paramedic and one nurse on board.

A second operation base in Saskatoon is scheduled to open in Fall 2012. The Saskatoon base will be equipped with an AW139 helicopter, with greater speed capabilities and travel allowance.


STARS works closely with rural communities and rarely responds to calls within urban centres, except in extenuating circumstances. STARS has also registered remote locations to allow the helicopter ambulances to respond to emergencies in areas difficult to for ground EMS to access (remote oil field locations). 

The emergency transportation service delivers and fosters its foundation of care on four pillars: emergency medical communication, patient care and transport, education and research, and fundraising and community partnerships.

STARS has operated in Alberta for 26 years as a charitable non-profit organization.

Twenty-five per cent of the service is funded by government, with the remaining 75 per cent generated through fundraising and corporate sponsorship. STARS currently responds to an average of four calls per day within its three operation bases in Alberta (Grand Prairie, Calgary, Edmonton). Within the next year STARS will expand its services and extend its bases into Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, although dispatch will continue through the 24-hour Calgary Link Centre.

Although a Saskatchewan model has yet to be determined, STARS hopes to remain a charitable-run organization. In Alberta, not a single patient has been charged for STARS services.

For the introduction of Saskatchewan STARS services, partnerships must be developed with the health regions, ground and air ambulance, emergency services, industry and communities across the province.

STARS is reliant on emergency responders’ ability to assess each patient on a case-by-case basis. While circumstance must be evaluated separately, some situations that could require STARS services include: central penetrating injuries, critical burns, post-delivery complications, falls more than 10 feet, difficult access for ground EMS, or motor vehicle accidents associated with fatality.

The STARS training model consists of an internal training program for STARS staff and an external training program directed toward people in rural communities.

The three-part external training program includes outreach; an academy which teaches medical personal about transport medicine; and a mobile education program with mannequin training.

STARS is an expensive resource to have, but a valuable one to have. The helicopter air ambulances can travel up to 250 kilometres per hour, with a mobilization time of eight to ten minutes from the initial call to lift off. STARS staff aspire to complete inter-hospital transfers within 30 minutes, and to complete scene calls within 15 minutes.

Flight is weather dependent, and varies upon wind speeds and visibility. Temperatures are generally irrelevant, though jet fuel does freeze at -40 degree Celsius.

A timeline set out by STARS in Saskatchewan includes the targeting of hospitals and the installation of hangers and bases.

A Saskatchewan team will then be recruited over a three to six month period, with scene training to follow. STARS will also return to rural communities to reach out to RCMP, ambulance, fire, first responders and health care workers to provide education and training in relation to land-zone setup and hospital patient transferring.

Because Transport Canada prohibits STARS from landing in the same location twice, the helicopter air ambulances will be required to land in airports and on landing strips within Regina and Saskatoon, until helipads are built.

Location of the landing pads is crucial. SaskHealth is evaluating where helipads will be built, but Regina and Saskatoon will be the first to receive landing pads.


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