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CALSTAR wraps up winter season, preps for summer

Axie Navas
anavas@tahoedailytribune.com
A CALSTAR crew tends to a patient. CALSTAR / Provided to the Tribune

It turns out that even California Shock Trauma Air Rescue isn’t immune to the mud season slump.

The South Lake Tahoe base of the regional air ambulance service will wrap up its busy winter season as South Shore chairlifts stop turning this month.

“The ski resorts are really our bread and butter in the winter,” CALSTAR-6 Flight Nurse Jennifer Drennan said. “It’s pretty unique to Tahoe that we have these shoulder seasons. It’s kind of a nice break for the crew.”



The local CALSTAR-6 team transported 121 patients since the start of last November, up from 102 flights during the same period last year. Sixty percent of those transports were 911 or scene flights where the crew picked up a patient in the field and transferred him or her to a hospital, according to CALSTAR-6 Chief Flight Nurse Bryan Pond.

The remaining 40 percent of the flights were inter-facility transports where patients were moved between regional hospitals, Pond said. It’s a 22-minute flight to Renown Hospital in Reno, Nev., the closest trauma center to South Lake Tahoe. The team also completed two search-and-rescue missions in that time.



Transfers from Barton and injuries at ski resorts make up the largest chunk of CALSTAR-6 business in the winter, according to Pond.

In the summer, most of the South Shore CALSTAR missions involve rescuing lost or injured hikers in the wilderness, car and boating wrecks or aiding El Dorado County Search and Rescue.

“The summer is typically busier,” Pond said. “In the hospital, you work in a nice environment. You have lighting, you have heat. CALSTAR nurses work 24-hour shifts and the entire Sierra is our office.”

As the snow melts and the basin enters a temporary tourist-lull, the CALSTAR crew takes advantage of the extra time to catch up on trainings and prepare for the warmer months. Training takes place throughout the year — the team finished eight sessions with local ski patrollers and Emergency Medical Services agencies this winter — but the shoulder season can be a good time to refresh certifications, Drennan said.

It’s also a good time to prepare for the tricky flying conditions that summer brings.

“Winter is a little bit easier. The aircraft flies better. When you get into the summer, you have to deal with air density and the performance of the aircraft is scaled back,” CALSTAR-6 Lead Pilot Kris Hunt said.

Hunt started flying with CALSTAR helicopters in 1995 after a United Nations mission in Africa partly because of the nonprofit’s helicopters, called the BO 105 “bull cow.” It’s a powerful machine meant for the mountains, he said.

The nonprofit also works by a safety creed where any one crew member can make the decision whether or not to fly, he said.

“The main backbone of CALSTAR is safety — for the aircraft, crew and the personnel we pick up,” Hunt said.


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