Ryan Cutter pilots a new medical helicopter over Steamboat Springs during a test flight on Friday afternoon. The new air ambulance service from Classic Lifeguard will begin operating out of the Steamboat Springs Airport on Saturday.

Photo by Scott Franz

Ryan Cutter pilots a new medical helicopter over Steamboat Springs during a test flight on Friday afternoon. The new air ambulance service from Classic Lifeguard will begin operating out of the Steamboat Springs Airport on Saturday.

New medical helicopter service lands in Steamboat Springs

Classic Lifeguard helicopter service will operate out of Steamboat Springs Airport

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Pilot Barry Worstell does a pre-flight check on the new air ambulance Friday at Bob Adams Field.

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Helicopter pilot Barry Worstell does a pre-flight check on the new air ambulance at Steamboat Springs Airport. The helicopter will provide emergency air service in Steamboat Springs.

— The Yampa Valley has a new air ambulance service that will give local hospitals and search and rescue teams quicker access to a medical chopper during emergencies.

Classic Lifeguard landed a newly outfitted medical helicopter Friday at Bob Adams Field to set up the company's first home base in Colorado.

"We were surprised there wasn't one here already," company vice president Jason Atkins said shortly before the flight crew took the Bell 407 helicopter for a quick spin around Steamboat.

The helicopter will be on call at all times at Bob Adams Field and will be staffed by a pilot, a nurse and a medic.

The Utah-based company will offer an insurance buy-in program that costs $60 annually, and the first hour of a flight that assists a search operation will be provided for free.

"The more we looked into it, the more we thought it would significantly improve patient care in this area to have a helicopter here," Atkins said.

In recent years, Northwest Colorado has relied on Flight for Life helicopters that are based out of Frisco and Grand Junction, and delays can come from the distance choppers have to travel and the weather between hospitals.

Response times also depend on other calls coming from other communities on the Western Slope.

Atkins said his company started talking with administrators at Yampa Valley Medical Center and The Memorial Hospital in Craig about six months ago about the possibility of bringing a new air ambulance to the area.

The company officially will start service March 1. A training event and ribbon cutting at the airport is planned for March 5.

Michael Boatwright, vice president of Routt County Search and Rescue's board of directors, welcomed the news there would be a new air ambulance stationed in Steamboat.

“We're excited about the possibility of having this closer resource,” Boatwright said Friday. “We're thrilled they're going to give it a go. The optimum time frame right now for Flight for Life is 22 minutes, and that's if (the helicopter) in Frisco is available. Otherwise it's 45 minutes out, and that can be a big deal for us.”

Atkins said the new air ambulance in Steamboat will take off within 10 minutes of being called.

Boatwright said he doesn't view the new service as a replacement for Flight For Life, which he said was very dedicated to the community, but Classic Lifeguard will be another option.

He added the air ambulance company met with Search and Rescue in January and talked about the possibility of training together.

“We think it should be nothing but a positive for the community, and communities out west of here, Craig included,” Boatwright said.

Yampa Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Rosie Kern said Friday morning the hospital and the new air ambulance do not have an official relationship yet, but they have been discussing how the service might be utilized in the area.

“We will continue to have dialogue with them to better understand the components of their air ambulance service,” she said in an email.

Classic Lifeguard started in 1988 to transport sick and injured patients from Lake Powell to medical facilities.

In recent years, it quickly has expanded its reach with new home bases in Moab, Utah, and Riverton, Wyo.

The company has a fleet of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft that operate out of four bases in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming.

Steamboat's previous air ambulance service, which was run by the hospital, stopped in 2005 following a fatal crash of a Yampa Valley Air Ambulance in Wyoming during wintry weather.

A pilot and two hospital employees were killed in the crash.

That year, the National Transportation Safety Board launched a study of medical flights because of a high number of crashes.

Nine years later, medical choppers and planes continue to play an important role in the region.

Longtime Search and Rescue volunteer Darrel Levingston said having a helicopter based out of Steamboat would be a “tremendous asset.”

“Having that 20-minute time difference could definitely make the difference of life and death in many situations,” Levingston said.

When Levingston started with Search and Rescue more than 20 years ago, medical choppers only came from Denver.

He said even the switch from Denver to Frisco, about 92 miles southeast of Steamboat, has made a big difference in response times.

Having a medical chopper at Bob Adams would further improve the outlook for patients, he said.

“There have been times we call Frisco first, but if they don't have one available and there's weather issues, then we're going to Grand Junction and that flight time is much longer,” Levingston said. “Having one here to assist with backcountry rescues certainly would cut down time. That would make a dramatic difference for someone who is hurt in the backcountry.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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