Port Angeles firefighters, from left, Dayvid Rypinski, Capt. Terry Reid and George Kourdahi, along with Life Flight Network’s David Salisbury, carry Life Flight mechanic and mock victim Steven Varlay during a familiarization training exercise with a AW109 medical helicopter at William R. Fairchild International Airport. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles firefighters, from left, Dayvid Rypinski, Capt. Terry Reid and George Kourdahi, along with Life Flight Network’s David Salisbury, carry Life Flight mechanic and mock victim Steven Varlay during a familiarization training exercise with a AW109 medical helicopter at William R. Fairchild International Airport. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Air ambulance begins service based on Olympic Peninsula

Life Flight Network now serves Clallam and Jefferson counties

PORT ANGELES — An air ambulance service is available directly from William R. Fairchild International Airport to Puget Sound hospitals more than a month earlier than planned.

Life Flight Network, which now serves Clallam and Jefferson counties, announced last week its intention to start up service March 29.

Instead, under a verbal agreement with Port of Port Angeles officials, the Aurora, Ore.-based not-for-profit began basing its emergency Agusta-Westland helicopter last weekend at the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport west of Port Angeles, company Regional Director Jacob Dalstra said Wednesday.

A Life Flight Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft based at Fairchild will serve southeastern Alaska.

Dalstra said Life Flight was available for emergency flights beginning Tuesday.

Port commissioners unanimously approved the agreement in a special meeting Wednesday under a three-year, $175,500 lease, making Port Angeles the 24th emergency flight base for Life Flight in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Dalstra said staff trained local fire district emergency medical crews last weekend on the finer points of “hot loading,” in which patients are transported onto an emergency helicopter after the aircraft’s rotors have been activated to allow for fast takeoffs.

Port Angeles firefighter Mark Karjalainen, left, speaks with Life Flight Network personnel David Salisbury, center, and Garth Hope-Melnick next to an on-call EC-135 medical transport helicopter at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles firefighter Mark Karjalainen, left, speaks with Life Flight Network personnel David Salisbury, center, and Garth Hope-Melnick next to an on-call EC-135 medical transport helicopter at William R. Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Dalstra, himself a flight paramedic, said Olympic Medical Center staff started calling Life Flight for medical transports last week after the company announced it would be basing service directly out of Port Angeles.

“I am aware that Life Flight is working on a fairly aggressive timeline, but we are not aware of any increase in calls for their service,” hospital spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said Wednesday in an email.

Until now, Seattle-based Airlift Northwest has provided emergency air service from Port Angeles out of its base in Bremerton.

Hospital and Life Flight officials told Peninsula Daily News on Friday that it takes Airlift 30-35 minutes to reach Port Angeles.

John Nutter, port director of properties, marinas and airports, cited that time frame Wednesday during his presentation on the lease.

An Airlift Northwest spokeswoman said in response to those time estimates that the flight time is 24 minutes.

Dalstra said Life Flight will continue to coordinate with Airlift Northwest in providing emergency service to Clallam and Jefferson counties when a Life Flight helicopter is unavailable.

Dalstra said another factor in speeding up Life Flight’s schedule was pressure from company employees who want to fill some 15 to 20 positions, including a pilot and flight nurse, that that will be created as a result of the new service.

Dalstra said applicants will be interviewed today and Friday in a Port Angeles hotel conference room.

“We said, there is a need here, that we needed to get up there and service that,” Dalstra said.

“We were suddenly surprised, internally and externally, about how the reception has been.

“We had people who said, ‘I want to go up there and staff that base and be part of that.’

“That allowed us to be able to start that much sooner than expected.”

Life Flight Network is offering $65-a-year family memberships that cover the entire cost of emergency flights for “emergent medically necessary transport” for all family members, Dalstra said.

The cost otherwise begins at $19,993, according to a list of frequently asked questions at the company’s website at tinyurl.com/PDN-LifeFlightFAQ.

The port lease covers the remaining rental space at the airport.

Nutter said the company’s presence also will increase fuels sales for Rite Bros. Aviation, whose former space Life Flight will occupy.

It also adds to the port’s recorded landings and takeoffs, enhancing the tax district’s case for Federal Aviation Administration runway maintenance funding, he said.

“This is one of the biggest win-wins I’ve seen in terms of the port of meeting its mission of bringing public resources and business together for everyone’s benefit,” Nutter added.

Port Commissioner Colleen McAleer said the port and OMC were unsuccessful over the years in convincing Airlift Northwest to base its aircraft at Fairchild.

“This is wonderful from not just a jobs perspective and the port having the facility fully leased, but mostly we have the very quick response capability now for the Olympic Peninsula that was more limited when those flights were originating out of Bremerton,” she said.

Life Flight will occupy 11,800 square feet of existing hangar and office space at the airport and industrial park.

Life Flight officials approached Nutter on Feb. 15 about basing regional operations in Port Angeles.

That was the first time he learned of the company’s interest.

Two Life Flight officials toured the port facilities, exclaiming at the end of their visit “Great, we’ll take it” and coming to a verbal agreement on lease terms, he recalled.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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