While there isn't a final count yet as to how much was raised for the new Flight For Life helicopter at the recent Dancing with the Mountains Stars event in Keystone, one thing is for sure: it was quite a bit.
Summit Medical Center Health Foundation's president Debra Edwards' conservative estimate for the overbooked event is more than $100,000, and the contributions are still coming in.
"We're really grateful to the community, because they really came out and supported us," Edwards said.
Proceeds from this year's event supported the lease of a new Eurocopter AS350B3E helicopter for St. Anthony Summit, the Summit County base of Flight For Life Colorado, which celebrates its 20th anniversary of service in the High Country this year. The critical care transport service, the first of its kind in the United States, was established 40 years ago in Denver.
The new helicopter, expected to be delivered next July, will be leased for $120,000 a month. So that "more than $100,000," plus proceeds from other events around Colorado, will be useful in helping to pay the monthly bill.
The new helicopter will be faster and equipped with a higher horsepower to handle Summit's thinner air, which helps assure a higher margin of safety for crew members and patients.
"It's a more powerful helicopter that will be able to handle high-altitude rescues a little bit easier," Edwards said. "Also, it will be a couple of minutes quicker on the way to Denver."
And, as everyone knows, when there's a major medical emergency, "minutes matter," Edwards said.
In the last two decades, Flight For Life's Life Guard 2 helicopter has transported 5,410 patients and flown more than 750 search-and- rescue missions in the mountain region. Virtually all of the pilots have military experience and all have undergone extensive training to be able to fly in the unique environment of the Rocky Mountains.
In 1992, Lifeguard 2 started operations out of Summit County with a base at the old medical center on Summit Boulevard in Frisco. The orange Eurocopter AS 350 "AStar" B3 helicopters are chosen for their high-altitude capabilities and are a perfect fit for medical air transport in Colorado's mountain communities and terrain. However, extreme cold and changes in temperature can cause problems and inconsistencies in the helicopter's flight instruments and affect its ability to meet urgent patient needs without delay. Before the new hospital was finished, the Flight For Life Capital Campaign Cabinet initiated a fundraising drive to build a hanger for Lifeguard 2. The hanger was completed in February 2007 and dedicated to the memory of flight nurse Sandy Sigman and pilot Gary McCall, who lost their lives in 1994 during a mountain rescue on Huron Peak, the only crash in the 40-year history of Flight For Life.
Lifeguard 2 no longer sits unprotected in the elements of the our high-altitude mountain environment. The mountain hanger was the first hanger to be built in the Flight For Life system.
Flight For Life's other helicopters are based in Lakewood, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Durango. All of the helicopters are in service 24-hours a day, seven days a week. They have a service radius of approximately 120 miles from their bases.
The helicopters are used in two primary roles, scene response and interfacility transport. Scene response can be to an urban traffic collision or mountain rescue. Each scene is evaluated for its level of risk and a flight may be aborted by any crew member if they feel uneasy. Loading and unloading must be accomplished with both skids solidly on the ground. Interfacility transports are performed in order to move a patient either to a higher level of care or for the sake of immediate intervention.
When someone is in need of emergent transport, Flight For Life Colorado responds and never questions a patient's ability to pay. Because of this, and the high costs of their aviation services, their expenses are high. They depend on corporate and private donations to support capital equipment and training needs and ensure that lives are saved.