WSAR and the Clinic heli-pad
I have been asked by friends and members of the Whistler community, why Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) is so concerned about the Whistler (Health Care Centre) helipad?
The following is a quick overview: WSAR's mandate is to respond to backcountry emergencies in remote locations.
Historically, WSAR calls are often the product of difficult communications, isolated location and significant time delay. Impacts of altitude and weather can lead to a deteriorating condition of the subject, resulting in a need of expedited higher care in a medical facility.
Unlike other emergency responders in the valley (ski patrol, fire, and ambulance), helicopters generally become the main mode of evacuation and transport.
The current restriction at the Whistler (health centre) helipad to twin engine helicopters (H2 status) affects us in a number of ways;
WSAR depends on availability of charter aircraft at the time of the call. Twin-engine machines are not always available, given that the majority of helicopters in the valley are single-engine aircraft.
The decision to use a Twinstar (if available) would normally be based on the need for WSAR to transfer patients directly to the (health care centre) heliport in critical medical situations. Unfortunately, the more modern single-engine (Astar) is lighter, more powerful and therefore better suited for high mountain rescue.
If the (health care centre) pad were certified for H3 (single-engine) helicopters, this would allow WSAR to use the best, and safest aircraft for the job on local missions, which can take place as high as 9700' ASL. These rescues place a high demand on the aircraft, as well as the pilot. Available power becomes much more of a safety consideration than the redundancy of a second engine. In short, the single engine restrictions are placing an increased risk on the volunteer SAR members, pilots, as well as the subjects.
In closing, WSAR team members literally stop their lives when requested and attend to the matter at hand. Often these requests for assistance occur in poor weather conditions, fading light and combined with environmental conditions, can present significant risks.
WSAR team members, justifiably, are questioning the validity of why they should be elevating their personal risk in performing these timely evacuations, and then be forced to overfly the clinic to the Whistler municipal heliport, so that their patient can be "handed off" to EHS.
The extra flight time, the transfer from aircraft into ambulance, then the drive back to the clinic by ambulances can sometimes cause critical delays of over one half hour.
The current situation should be a concern to the whole community!
Greg Newton, WSAR treasurer
John Hetherington WSAR director-a-large
Last week's Pique carried a detailed article on Whistler SAR's rescue responses from the previous year and the concern brought forward at the Team's AGM regarding the delay by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to re-establish single-engine helicopter access to Whistler Health Care Centre.
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