Life Flight plays vital role in emergency response system
Casper — Since 1983 Wyoming Life Flight has provided emergency medical care and transportation to Wyoming residents. As the state’s only emergency air transport service, Life Flight is ready to take off at any time.
Chief Flight Nurse Dustin Windle says Life Flight operates both a Beechcraft King Air 90 fixed wing plane and an EC 145 helicopter.
“We go all over the country with the fixed wing plane and primarily use the helicopter in-state,” he explains. “About 70 to 80 percent of what we do is fly from small hospitals around Wyoming to Casper or take people to Denver, Billings, Rapid City or Salt Lake.”
Every flight has one registered nurse and one paramedic in addition to one pilot in the helicopter and two in the fixed wing plane.
“We’ve got all the medications and equipment you would see in an intensive care unit (ICU) and can do just about everything that can be done in ICU. We are capable of mixing complicated IV drugs, have ventilators and are trained to do it all,” explains Windle.
Life Flight will fly any patient when dispatched through a 911 call, but won’t fly high-risk OB patients or babies under six months old on regular transporting flights due to an absences of physicians to back those patients.
While many people assume Life Flight is only launched as a result of a medical emergency, Windle says the sheriff’s department also launches them in situations where they can reach a location in a more time-efficient manner.
“For example, if a ranch outside Kaycee calls 911, they will get a local response from the county they’re in. But most of the time if it’s a really remote location it is quicker for the helicopter to come get you,” says Windle.
To aid in locating the remote ranches found throughout Wyoming, Life Flight has a Farm and Ranch Registry for which people can sign up. Ranchers are encouraged to provide their coordinates to aid Life Flight in the case of an emergency.
“It’s basically a Rolodex of ranch names, contact information, phone number and GPS coordinates,” says Windle. “If we have good coordinates they will get us to within feet of where we need to be, and that saves a lot of time locating someone if they need our services.”
He adds that providing the necessary information on a day when nothing is going wrong makes it much easier for everyone.
“When someone is trying to give us all the necessary information while something is going wrong, it is very stressful. They have to answer questions when their mind is on the person who needs help. When we already have that information we can be in the air heading in a general direction, then get our exact location pinpointed once we’re in flight,” Windle explains.
When selecting GPS coordinates, keep in mind the helicopter needs a 75 by 75 foot area to for touchdown during the day and a 125 by 125 foot area at night. The area should be cleared of debris and individuals on site may be required to assist the crew during landing and take-off.
Wyoming Life Flight membership is another available feature through the program. Rolinda Mackler explains that the average cost of using Life Flight is $14,000 and Windle adds the cost can far exceed that number.
“There is a lift-off fee and mileage fee on top of any medical fees,” he explains.
With a membership individuals only pay the cost of the membership, which is $60 for one year, $115 for two years of $250 for three years. Windle notes these prices may increase, so getting on board now is recommended if its something an individual is considering.
“If you use our services, we bill your insurance and whatever they pay is all we expect. Nothing comes out of your pocket except the membership costs,” says Mackler.
The membership covers all flights through Wyoming Life Flight, regardless of where a patient is flown. Additional flight groups outside Wyoming also recognize the membership.
“Even if there isn’t a medical emergency, there are just some things we can’t do in Wyoming. There are several things where Wyoming residents have to be taken to Denver or Salt Lake City and that can be a huge expense. The membership program more than pays for itself if Life Flight services are ever used, ” notes Windle.