June 23rd, 2018

Ready with time to spare

By Gillian Slade on March 14, 2018.

The new air ambulance provider for Medicine Hat will be ready to commence its contract April 1. CanWest Air CEO Jake Fehr points to the newly constructed hangar and taxiway, with plenty of contractors on site taking care of final details.--NEWS PHOTO GILLIAN SLADE


In 10 days the new air ambulance aircraft will arrive in Medicine Hat, and CanWest will be ready to operate its new contract with time to spare.

“We are anticipating backing an aircraft into the hangar on March 23,” said CEO Jake Fehr standing Tuesday morning on the newly surveyed and graded taxiway from the hangar to the airport’s main taxiway.

A sub-base of rock is the next stage in the process followed by a layer of crushed gravel, said Fehr.

The Request for Proposals for fixed-wing air ambulance services for Alberta was issued Aug. 9, 2016. Alberta Health Services signed a contract with CanWest in September 2017 to provide service across most of the province, including this region, effective April 1, 2018.

CanWest received approval from Medicine Hat city council on Dec. 18 to lease 1.09 acres of land at the airport. CanWest agreed to construct at its own cost the access road and the taxiway from the existing taxiway network.

The following day crews were ready to commence construction, said Fehr.

“I am totally amazed that our contractor has performed like it has, against all odds, in the coldest winter in 25 years. I take my hat off to them,” said Fehr.

“Our company goes year round regardless of the weather,” said George Wolf, Hiway Steel Structures, from Grande Prairie.

The melting snow and ice notwithstanding, crews have already installed a sewer holding tank, fresh water tank and backup generator, said Fehr.

A total of eight pilots have already been recruited. Fehr believes all are probably living in Medicine Hat. An aircraft maintenance engineer has also been hired already.

Even though there is only one fixed-wing air ambulance aircraft based in Medicine Hat, a total crew of eight pilots is necessary because they work on a two-week-on and two-week-off rotation and 12-hour on-duty shifts.

Finishing touches inside the CanWest hangar are being put in place, including a pilots’ lounge with cupboards and couches. Additional offices are waiting for a coat of paint. A computer setup is in place with wi-fi already activated.

Fehr estimates CanWest will be ready to operate from March 26 with time to spare for the April 1 deadline.

“We are very excited to provide patient care to Medicine Hat on schedule,” said Fehr.

Medicine Hat’s airport will be closed from May 7-31 for rehabilitation of the runway. During this time CanWest will complete the surfacing of its own taxiway to the hangar.

During this closure of the airport air ambulance service will still be provided as follows: A STARS helicopter from Calgary will be used to transport “critically” ill patients out of Medicine Hat, AHS revealed in February. Patients will be transported by road from the hospital to the airport.

The fixed-wing air ambulance service will be used for “urgent” cases requiring transfer. A ground ambulance will take the patient from Medicine Hat to Bow Island’s airport.

The patient will then be transferred to a fixed-wing air ambulance sent down from Calgary, said AHS. “Non-urgent” transfers will be done by ground ambulance.

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