Liftoff for rescue squad |

Liftoff for rescue squad

Susan Wood

Calstar Flight Nurse Julie Carrington knows what it’s like to be a survivor.

The nurse was one of a dozen emergency medical personnel brought together in tight living quarters at the Lake Tahoe Airport to relive the reality show scenario.

“You have to be a flexible person to be able to bunk with people you don’t know,” said Carrington, a lifelong Jackson, Calif., resident and nine-year nurse.

She’s one of eight nurses, four pilots, one mechanic and one chief flight nurse who have shared a busy first week of operation as the new air ambulance service assigned under the joint powers agreement El Dorado County recently negotiated.

Calstar’s week had the crew responding to a motorcycle accident and a vehicle rollover since going on line Monday, a month after Cal Tahoe’s ground ambulance service started responding to emergencies.

The community, nonprofit air service’s sixth call Thursday to a Lakeland Village painter who fell 30 feet off a roof stopped traffic on U.S. Highway 50 at Herbert. Mike Ferrari was delivered to Washoe Medical Center in 20 minutes.

Calstar, an 18-year company based in Hayward, Calif., averages a five minute liftoff time. Once in the air, its twin-engine helicopter can fly at speeds of 145 mph. The crew of a pilot and two flight nurses pulling 24-hours shifts may use a defibrillator, ventilator and mini intensive care unit on board to stabilize the patients.

“If a life can be saved, it’ll be saved by a trauma surgeon there,” Chief Flight Nurse Bob Griffith said, listening to his air crew headed to Washoe on the scanner.

Street landings like Thursday’s call present a challenge to pilot Pete Kinney. The asphalt surface makes the landing more predictable. However, power lines, poles, pedestrians and vehicles could offset whatever advantages the landing may offer.

In Calstar’s airport hangar office, a hazards map of the Lake Tahoe area posted on the wall highlights the job considerations.

Griffith expects the crew – with about 120 years of EMS training under their belts – to respond to many recreation-oriented calls.

“Every area has its own specialties,” he said. “We’ll probably have more skiing, biking and hiking accidents. Other areas have the gun-and-knife club.” This is EMS talk for violent crime.

Many of the Calstar crew members are new to the area, but Griffith said they plan to make community outreach a priority. The crew will train with the search and rescue team next week.

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