New agreement brings in another emergency helicopter

Published 2:33 pm Thursday, November 13, 2008

To better cover the county and provide emergency transport services, two helicopters will now cover the Southeast Mississippi Air Ambulance District, which includes 10 south Mississippi counties.

About a month ago Rescue 7 was put out of commission when one of its rotor blades struck an oak tree limb, leaving the participating counties, including Pearl River, without emergency air lift service for a short time.

A new agreement with Baptist Life Flight out of Florida will keep emergency air lift services going in case another incident happens when the main helicopter is in use elsewhere or not operational. This new service agreement has put Life Flight on the forefront for air lift service, and put Rescue 7 as the backup helicopter, said Pearl River County Emergency Management Director and SEMAAD board member Danny Manley.

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The coverage area of Life Flight is much larger than the 10 counties in the SEMAAD district, however, Manley said. Rescue 7 will still fly only in the 10 counties in the district, so if Life Flight is tied up elsewhere, Rescue 7 should be available.

Severe weather conditions still will mean that neither helicopter will fly until weather conditions improve.

This agreement will come at no additional cost to the counties involved. Instead, the cost will be handled by the patient’s insurance company, said Wade Spruill, CEO of AAA Ambulance Service. Since Rescue 7 will be the backup helicopter, it could mean less cost for all counties involved. Less flight time for the helicopter will mean less operating expenses, such as fuel and maintenance, he said. Another cost cutter involves Life Flight paying SEMAAD to use Rescue 7 as its backup helicopter, said Dr. John Nelson, SEMAAD board president.

Currently, all 10 counties pay their share of about $1 million to use the service from SEMAAD. Each county’s share is determined by its population, Manley said.

Director of Medical Transportation at Baptist Life Flight Kevin Stanhope said the company’s helicopter will be stationed at the Bobby L. Chain airport in Hattiesburg and the service will begin sometime in early December. If one of the company’s helicopters is out of commission for any reason, another Life Flight helicopter will be brought in within 24 hours.

Manley said so far nine of the 10 counties have agreed to participate in the new contract, including Pearl River County. The contract is for one year, Nelson said.