Jan. 28--Kathy Hilton of Dillon beamed with exhilaration after disembarking from the sleek Koala medical helicopter Monday at Bert Mooney Airport.
The aircraft is part of the Life Flight Network, which started operations at its new base in Butte on Monday.
"It's smoother than a car and quiet," said Hilton, a volunteer paramedic with the Beaverhead Emergency Medical Services Ambulance. "There's so much room and access to your patient. Plus they circled my house in Dillon."
Her flight landed at Barrett Hospital and Healthcare in Dillon to introduce the crew and company to staff. Then, Hilton and volunteer EMS colleague Brenda Kirkley, who had boarded in Butte, switched places.
The flight back to Butte took 20 minutes, said Dominic Pomponio, regional director from Lewiston, Idaho, who was in town with other key players to jump-start the new service.
"We're basically an independent agency," said Pomponio, a veteran flight nurse. "We'll take individuals whenever they need to be dropped off."
That includes St. James Healthcare, according to Pomponio, who said Life Flight has talked with St. James emergency room staff concerning use of the new Butte-based service.
Linda McGillen, St. James Healthcare spokeswoman, said the hospital is negotiating with a different air ambulance company, and the status of its relationship with Life Flight Network will be clarified soon.
Meanwhile, St. James uses the services of Summit Air Ambulance of Bozeman, she added.
The Koala five-person capacity copter holds top-of-the-line medical equipment, including a ventilator, cardiac monitor, IV infusion pump and other must-haves.
On board Monday were pilot Brandon Hiller of La Grande, Ore., paramedic John Kelly of Sandpoint, Idaho, Hilton and Pomponio.
The nonprofit Life Flight Network, with administrative officers in Aurora, Ore., has served Libby in northwestern Montana for the past 18 months and Eastern Idaho. With the expansion into Butte, the company plans to better serve critically ill patients throughout the area, said Pomponio.
"We're a lot like the fire department," he added. "We're available when they need us."
The LFN crew will be available for on-the-scene calls, hospital calls and calls between hospitals when a patient needs transport to a different facility.
Besides Barrett Hospital in Dillon, the 24/7 air ambulance will serve Community Hospital in Anaconda and Deer Lodge Medical Center, as well.
The service is expected to increase response times to medical emergencies that require helicopters. It will serve a 150-mile radius, including Lima, among other towns.
The AW119Kx Koala can reach about 160 miles per hour, reducing flight times.
"The aircraft and critical care team resembles a mobile emergency department or intensive care unit," Pomponio said.
When the hiring of a part-time nurse and a part-time paramedic is done, LFN will have 14 employees on staff in Butte. Payroll and benefits are expected to exceed $1 million per year.
So far the company has four nurses, four paramedics, four pilots and one mechanic, said Pomponio.
The new hires may commute or choose to live in Butte, he added.
Training wraps up this week, then assigned staff officially start work next week.
Like Hilton, Pomponio was invigorated by the Monday afternoon flight.
"It's beautiful," said Pomponio after pilot Hiller landed the craft squarely on a 12-by-12 foot dolly next to a hangar at Bert Mooney Airport.
Pomponio was especially struck by the mountains and expansive grandeur of a clear 25-degree day in Southwest Montana.
"It's amazing country around here," Pomponio said. "Flying here is a different experience."
Contact Birkenbuel at Renata.Birkenbuel@mtstandard.com or 406-496-5512.
Life Flight Network shows off new operation in Butte this afternoon
The new Life Flight Network took off today in Butte in order to better serve the city and Rural areas in Southwest Montana.
Dominic Pomponio, LFN regional director and an experienced flight nurse, said that seven employees are in training today for the 24/7 ambulance service that features a sleek AgusyaWestland 119Kx Koala air medical helicopter.
-- Dec. 15--Life Flight will add a fixed-wing plane to its lineup in Lewiston beginning next month. A Commander 690A aircraft should be installed and parked at the airport site...
New base to open in February of this year.
Group combats air-medical services safety and appropriate usage concerns.