(From left to right) Flight Nurse Selina-Anne Muzyka, Pilot Greg Cars, and Flight Paramedic John Bly stand in front of one of two red STARS helicopters parked at their new base of operations at Edmonton International Airport.
It has been in the planning stages for a long time but with the closure of the Edmonton Municipal Airport it has finally become a reality; STARS air ambulance has made the move to their new base of operations at the Edmonton International Airport.
STARS will be hosting an official grand opening before year's end, but Corinne Edwards, the Edmonton Base Director, and also a Flight Nurse herself, was kind enough to give us an early tour of their sparkling new facility.
"We have actually been working and flying out of here for a month already but we are just bringing over the last bits and pieces now." said Corrine. "It was a big job to get everything moved but we are absolutely thrilled with our new building!" She shared with a big smile.
STARS has recently been moving and growing not just within the Capital Region but right across Canada as well. With their expansion into Saskatchewan and Manitoba STARS has doubled in size in the last 18 months.
"We are so lucky to be so well supported by Albertans." confided Corinne, "There are a lot of good causes out there but every year we get a fantastic response to the STARS Lottery (which is pretty much sold out again this year!) and people really support our calendar campaign. Personally, I think they just really like the amazing bandages with the red helicopter on them that come inside each calendar! I know I do!" laughs Corinne.
Only 21% of the cost of running the STARS air ambulance is covered by government funding. The rest is raised from fundraising and donations from corporations and individuals. "Our corporate sponsors have really done some amazing things." Shared Corinne. "From a company that donated a massive motorhome for us to use as a mobile training centre, to Leduc Movers that helped us with relocating to the EIA, and Blackjacks Roadhouse who provided all the food to us on moving day. It is all so appreciated!"
Leduc County has also been a big supporter of STARS for the last 20 years, donating over $67,000.00 to the charity. "Everyone out here has been fantastic to us during this transition time." shared Corinne. "The County has been a huge support to us, and the airport personnel have been great."
Greg Cars, one of the STARS pilots chimed in that in the 70-80 missions they have already flown this month, it appears to be quicker to operate out of EIA. "The tower staff and NAV Canada have been fabulous and seem to get us off the ground faster. Shell has actually parked one of their fuel trucks at the STARS building to make it quicker to get us refuelled. If we can give them ten minutes warning, they have us gassed and ready to go. It's great to be in L.A.!" He laughed.
Leduc and area have also been a big supporter of STARS through the Tyson Parker Commitment To Life Society, which has raised over a 1/4 million dollars in the last six years to keep the helicopters in the air. Tyson was once a badly injured crash victim himself, who's life was saved by the quick action of a STARS crew. Now, thanks to his efforts in giving back to the organization that saved his life, his likeness which is incorporated into his society's fundraising logo, is permanently attached to the tail fins of both BK117 helicopters that work out of the new EIA base.
Another exciting change that is upcoming for the new STARS base at EIA, will be welcoming a brand new AW139 helicopter that is due to arrive very soon. This new helicopter will be able to transport two patients at a time with 360 degree access to both. This state-of-the-art machine will have a customized medical interior that includes an airborne ultrasound machine, as well as being able to carry an NICU incubator. It will also have de-icing capabilities, which neither of the current BK117's possess, and it can also cover about twice the range in travel as the current helicopters, making it able to fly almost to Fort McMurray and back without refuelling.
Corinne shared that there is a lot of maintenance that goes into caring for helicopters, as they have a tremendous amount of moving parts. "We always need a backup helicopter in case one is down for repairs, so we recently purchased three more BK117's from the States and they are being retrofitted with a medical interior so they can join the fleet. Most of the work is done right here in the new Edmonton base, but when they are finished they will be moved to their new homes in some of our other bases around the country that are currently operating with only one helicopter."
Another exciting initiative that is just about to be released is a brand new fundraising campaign that the staff at STARS allowed us, and the readers of the Pipestone Flyer, a sneak peek at! Soon to be up on their website as well as in printed form, STARS is establishing a gift guide of donation items that anyone can choose to purchase for the organization. A few of the items that can be purchased through the catalogue for STARS will be high tech pilot's helmets, flight suits, a tank of fuel, or even to fund the cost of an entire rescue mission.
Corinne stressed that even though everyone recognizes the red helicopters and knows that STARS flies missions to save lives, this is not the only thing that they do. The STARS team is heavily involved in running many different educational and training programs. "We do training with rural hospitals, fire departments, and other facilities as well. And we do not charge for these services. This is one of the reasons that fundraising is so important to us. Without people supporting us and continuing to make donations we couldn't keep doing what we're doing." Corinne continued on to say, "And beginning in the new year, we would also like to extend an invitation to anyone who would like to take a free tour of our new base to come and check it out! We would love to show you around our new home and give you a close-up look at the big red helicopters!"
A lot of families within Leduc and County are very happy that STARS are able to continue on with their good work. Since STARS inception in 1985 they have run 545 missions in Leduc County, with 25 occurring just last year. That is a lot of local lives they have helped to save. So as an area, I think it is safe to say; Welcome to Leduc STARS! We are very glad to have you.