The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Monroe County Fire Rescue received its third Trauma Star helicopter Thursday as it touched down at the Sheriff’s Office Aviation Division hangar at the Florida Keys Marathon International Airport at 6:30 p.m.
“We are excited to add this exceptional new aircraft to our fleet,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said. “The Trauma Star program has saved thousands of lives and greatly improved the quality of life for both residents and tourists in this community. This was the right ship at the right price and it will only improve the program’s life-saving effectiveness.”
The $1.2 million 2001 Sikorsky S-76C+ medically equipped helicopter was purchased in Sweden and shipped to Delaware, where Sheriff’s Office pilots inspected it and then flew it to its new home where it will provide emergency transportation for individuals who are critically injured either by natural causes such as heart attacks or stroke, or by other causes such as vehicle crashes or criminal action.
The new helicopter will serve beside the two other 2002 Sikorsky S-76 helicopters already in service. The new helicopter cost about $2.4 million once it was properly configured, shipping costs were added and it was painted, which puts it at roughly the same price as the other two helicopters already in service.
Trauma Star is the only air ambulance service in Monroe County. There are two Trauma Star bases: One in Marathon and another in Key West at the Lower Keys Medical Center on Stock Island. Both bases are staffed around the clock to be ready for launch at a moment’s notice. The third helicopter will greatly enhance fleet readiness as helicopters require maintenance often. When one aircraft is down for such maintenance, the third helicopter will be able to fill that slot, thus keeping both bases filled around the clock.
Since the program began in 2001, Trauma Star has transported more than 5,500 patients to critical care facilities not available in the Florida Keys. Trauma Star is a joint program: The Sheriff’s Office administers it, hires the pilots and maintains the aircraft while Monroe County Fire Rescue flight nurses and paramedics provide critical medical care in flight.
“We are all very excited to take delivery of our third helicopter, said Monroe County Fire Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Steve Hudson. “This third aircraft will allow our Trauma Star team to continue to provide this vital air rescue service to our community with minimal service interruption when one of the aircrafts are out of service for maintenance.”
Safe, rapid air transport is critical in the “Golden Hour," the 60-minute window when the human body can compensate for injury. After that, the chances for recovery diminish significantly. For an island chain that is isolated from the mainland by distance and a busy single highway, Trauma Star saves critical minutes for patients to receive life-saving interventions. These precious minutes saved decrease the loss of heart and brain tissue, which reduces or eliminates permanent disabilities.
Trauma Star’s response is initiated through the Sheriff’s Office Emergency 911 System, and the helicopter often times will land at crash scenes to provide the quickest response to medical facilities in South Florida.
There are no out-of-pocket costs for Monroe County residents who use the life-saving service. In the past, private air ambulances in the Keys have charged county residents tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for transport to mainland hospitals.
Trauma Star is operating in the black despite those no out-of-pocket costs to Monroe County residents: The program’s operational cost was $6.6 million for Fiscal Year 2018. Trauma Star has collected $7.9 million in costs to non-county patients. In Fiscal Year 2017, Trauma Star also operated in the black with $5.6 million in revenues and $4.7 million in operation costs.