TIFTON — Air Evac EMS has completed its first mission after taking possession of its temporary facility at Tift County Fire/Rescue Station 51 on Dec. 21.
“Air Evac has been a public safety partner of ours for the last eight or 10 years,” said Jason Jones, director of public safety for Tift County.
“They’ve been great to work with,” Jones said. “They’re part of the team. We’ve had a very good working relationship.”
They have previously operated out of bases in Douglas and Cordele, according to Jones.
Representatives from the company approached Jones about six months ago, he said, and asked about the possibility of opening a base in Tift County.
“We thought that it was an excellent idea for the entire community,” Jones said. “Anytime you can increase your emergency medical assets it’s a good thing.”
Tift County reached out to the Tift County Development Authority, who agreed that building a permanent base in Tifton would be beneficial. The permanent facility will be located on Tifton Eldorado Road, near Station 51.
They have already started clearing the land where the facility will be located, and are looking at a March 2017 open date.
Until the permanent facility is built, Air Evac will be leasing space at Station 51 for their 15 employees, some of whom are current part time or former full time medics employed by Tift County.
The helicopter will remain on site unless there is inclement weather, at which time it will be moved to the airport.
“This gives us the opportunity, when we have an incident that involves trauma, we can fly them straight from the scene to Macon or Thomasville to get to that trauma center to get them the help they need in as timely a manner as possible,” said Jones.
Tifton Police Chief Buddy Dowdy was very positive about the arrival of Air Evac.
“It’s certainly going to be an asset to our community,” he said. “We do a lot of medical evacs out of the hospital and the surrounding area, and this is a good centralized location.”
“This will benefit the citizens of Tift County and anyone passing through. This is a life saving device," said Georgia State Patrol Post Commander for Tifton Post 13, SFC Duane Massey.
“You have a golden hour in trauma situations where an ambulance just can’t fight the traffic to get you to the necessary trauma center, and this can do that,” Massey said.
County Fire Chief Joey Fowler was also on hand for the event, and was also positive about the benefits of having Air Evac in Tift County.
“We fly people more often than people realize, but it’s all about taking care of the person that’s been involved in the accident or incident. We try to make the best medical judgement on that and get them the care they need, and part of that means sometimes we need to fly them out,” Fowler said.
Air Evac EMS is the largest privately owned air medical evacuation company in the country, according to Greg Dampier, program director for Air Evac Lifeteam in Cordele and Tifton.
The company was started in West Plains Missouri in 1985. There are 130 bases in 15 states, with 10 Air Evac bases currently located around Georgia.
“We discovered a need between our Cordele base and our Douglas base. There was a substantial need for emergency transport here because we’re so far from any trauma centers,” Dampier said.
The closest level two trauma center is in Thomasville and the closest level one in Macon. Level one trauma centers have a full time staff and level two trauma centers have on call staff.
The purpose of air lifting a patient is to get them to a facility that can handle whatever medical emergency they have within the golden hour, which increases the patient’s chances of recovery.
The brand new helicopter is essentially “a flying ER/ICU,” said Dampier, and carries one patient.
“It has the most state of the art ventilators, cardiac monitors, radios. The medication inventory it carries rivals any ER or ICU in the area,” said Dampier.
In addition to the pilot, it carries a critical care nurse and a critical care paramedic on every flight.
Air Evac has a membership program. An annual $65 fee covers an entire household for one year, and any member of the household that is airlifted will not be charged for the flight beyond what their insurance pays.
“It’s one of the things Air Evac prides itself on besides quality patient care, trying to help people and work with people during a traumatic time in their lives,” said Dampier.