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New Life Flight Helicopter Ready For Service In Eastern Oregon

New Life Flight Helicopter Ready For Service In Eastern Oregon

LA GRANDE — The new Life Flight helicopter took to the skies this morning for its first emergency call in Eastern Oregon. The call came in just moments after the Life Flight crew finished moving their belongings into the hanger at the La Grande/Union County Airport.

When an emergency call comes in that requires Life Flight transportation, the pilots, nurses, and medics on standby, respond by loading the patient into the small helicopter. This helicopter, equipped with IV, monitor, and blood storage, allows for the nurses and medics to perform necessary medical procedures, if the injury to the patient demands it. Having a supply of blood on-board serves a critical purpose when needed, which is rare on medical aircraft in the Northwest.

Available space inside is certainly a limiting factor for this helicopter, but during the short time it takes to transport the patient to area medical facilities, such as St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise Idaho, the crew is certain they will have access to the essential equipment needed to keep the patient stabilized.

“When you fly around in this helicopter, that’s your office. You could be working with the sickest of the sick,” remarked Dominic Pomponio, the Director of Clinical Operations with Life Flight, and Registered Nurse. Dominic is one of the five nurses and paramedics part of the La Grande Life Flight crew. Along with the two pilots and two mechanics, the crew lives in their own quarters in the hanger on 12-hour rotational shifts, similar to a firehouse environment.

Dominic has been with Life Flight for three years now. He is really excited about the new helicopter, and is confident it will be able to handle the demand of service in Eastern Oregon. “This helicopter is fast, efficient, and quiet. It can land at a hospital, on the freeway, or even a park.” Dominic is proud that even though the helicopter is not the largest in size, it is still a unique aircraft in the Northwest considering all that it can do. “This model helicopter has taken off and landed on Mt. Everest, around 2600ft,” he remarked. “At high altitude, it performs great.”

Life Flight is a non profit air medical service based in Aurora Oregon, and has been operating for 33 years. The La Grande base is the 11th base for the company. There are three to four medical staff on-hand at any given time, as well as a mechanic and pilots, courtesy of Air Methods. Dominic mentioned how great all members of the crew are, from the nurses and medics providing care to the patient, to the mechanics and pilots that maintain and operate the helicopter.

“The pilots we use have experience ranging from civilian backgrounds, all the way to military backgrounds,” Dominic explains. “Our most experienced pilot, Doug, has close to 20,000 hours of flight, having been with Life Flight for over 12 years now.” Life Flight, across the Northwest, operates helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, which are owned by Legacy Emanuel, Port Providence, St. Alphonsus, and OSU.

Raul Marroquin, one of the flight paramedics, was on hand to discuss what it takes to assure the crew has all that they need for when the next emergency call comes in. “Our medicine supply is restocked each day,” Raul remarked. “We go through a checklist to make sure we have what we need, when we need it.”

Raul, transferring from the Lewiston Idaho Life Flight base, is excited to be in La Grande. “It’s great to be here,” he said. “La Grande has such a beautiful view.” Other members of the crew are eager to make Northeast Oregon their home, including two pilots, one from Vancouver, and the other from Longview.

Life Flight, with around $1.25 million annual payroll, is looking forward to serving Eastern Oregon, and will be announcing an open house event in La Grande, later this summer.

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