On September 20, Greg Ottenbreit, Minister of Rural and Remote Health, joined staff at the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance hangar to celebrate 70 years of operation and recognize the organization for decades of service to the people of our province.

The Air Ambulance fleet has come a long way in its 70 year history in Saskatchewan.

The Air Ambulance fleet has come a long way in its 70 year history in Saskatchewan. This Beechcraft C-18 was used by the service in the 1950s.

Saskatchewan Air Ambulance is North America’s oldest formally-organized non-military air ambulance service. Launched as a lifeline in a rural province that boasted few major highways at the time of World War II, the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance service continues to serve a vital role in transporting hundreds of critically ill and injured patients each year to the hospital care they need.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that Saskatchewan people have timely access to the health services they need, no matter where they live,” Ottenbreit said.  “We have been well served over the past seven decades by the dedicated men and women of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance.”

What began in February 1946 with a single plane flying to communities that often didn’t have landing strips has expanded to a 24 hour operation with three fixed-wing airplanes and pilots, nurses and advanced care paramedics supported by a provincial air-medical coordination centre, support teams and maintenance crews.

“Our entire team is committed to meeting the need for safe, advanced care in transport,” Saskatchewan Air Ambulance Flight Paramedic Pat Morris said.  “From the aircraft maintenance engineers who maintain our fleet, to the pilots who ensure the safety of our patients and crew, to the medical crews that work together as a true team, we are proud to serve the citizens of Saskatchewan.  Air Ambulance is the silent gem of the province.”

Saskatchewan Air Ambulance Flight Paramedic Pat Morris in one of the Lifeguard planes.

Saskatchewan Air Ambulance Flight Paramedic Pat Morris in one of the Lifeguard planes.

The service operates out of a base at the Saskatoon airport, dispatching crews to locations across the province and transporting patients to and from other provinces for care not available in Saskatchewan.

“Air Ambulance is a unique service in this province, both in what they provide and how the service is offered to the people of Saskatchewan,” Saskatoon Regional Health Authority Chair Mike Stensrud said.  “It is an example of an effective partnership between multiple organizations, including Saskatoon Health Region and St. Paul’s Hospital.  From trauma patients in northern communities needing stabilization and monitoring en route to acutely-ill patients requiring medical services out of the province, Air Ambulance does it all.”

The service is a key part of a provincial network of emergency medical services from fixed-wing and helicopter air crews to ground ambulances and medical first responders, ready to respond to emergencies and medical transportation requests anywhere in Saskatchewan.

Minister Greg Ottenbreit with members of the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance flight crew at the 70th anniversary celebrations.

Minister Greg Ottenbreit with members of the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance flight crew at the 70th anniversary celebrations.

History of Saskatchewan Air Ambulance

By early 1946, the Saskatchewan government established Saskatchewan Air Ambulance, which is the oldest formally-organized non-military air medical transport service in North America. Using a war surplus Norseman bush plane, the first flight picked up a female patient in the town of Liberty on February 3, 1946 and took her to the Regina base, then to hospital. With the addition of a second Norseman, the service averaged about 30 flights a month in its first year.

At first, few communities had airfields, so planes often landed on fields or on open water with pontoons attached. For winter landings, skis were attached. In addition to transporting patients, the planes also delivered medical supplies and brought physicians and nurses to isolated communities for public health services.

Today

Operations have been based at John G. Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon since1993, to best serve more isolated communities in northern Saskatchewan. Crews provide emergency medical transportation in the province and inter-facility patient transfers in Saskatchewan or out of province. Annual budget in 2015-16 was $15 million.

 Today’s crews transport critically ill and injured patients to advanced medical care centres in fast, well-equipped twin-engine planes.

Today’s crews transport critically ill and injured patients to advanced medical care centres in fast, well-equipped twin-engine planes.

Aircraft

  • Three twin-engine turboprop Beechcraft Kin Air B-200s (Ministry of Central Services)
  • Cruising speed 270 knots (500 kilometres per hour or 310 miles per house)
  • Can fly 2,000 kilometres (1,300 miles) before refuelling.

Flights

  • Available 24 hours per day under most weather conditions
  • An average of 125 flights every month, 1,500 each year.
  • Can carry two patients
  • Medical supplies, monitoring equipment and medications, including a ventilator, defibrillator/pacemaker, type O blood and (for neonatal patients) a transport incubator.

Crew

  • Specially-trained air medical, maintenance and flight crew with extensive experience in critical care, aircraft maintenance and northern flight
  • 29 pilots and first officers – two on each flight (Central Services)
  • 37 registered nurses (Saskatoon Health Region) and flight paramedics (MD Ambulance)
  • Nine aero-medical engineers and support staff (Central Services)
  • When needed, a doctor or special medical team (such as pediatric or neonatal transport team) will provide care in-flight.

Patient cost

  • $385 per trip for residents (more than 90 per cent subsidy by provincial government)
  • $6.29 per mile flown for non-residents or insurers (Health Canada, Saskatchewan Government Insurance, Workers Compensation Board of Saskatchewan)