Taking flight

Regional Air Medical Services on the job in Walker County

By ELANE JONES, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 1/21/18

Regional Paramedical Services Inc. recently took its emergency medical services to the next level by adding an air medical service, which began service earlier this month.

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Taking flight

Regional Air Medical Services on the job in Walker County


Regional Paramedical Services Inc. recently took its emergency medical services to the next level by adding an air medical service, which began service earlier this month.

The 19-member flight crew with the new Regional Air Medical Services (RAMS) in Jasper has been hard at work training for the past several weeks and has already flown two air medical missions in Walker County.

The public is invited to RAMS grand opening being held Thursday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. until noon at the new RAMS Base of Operations, which is located at 3925 Old Birmingham Highway in Jasper. A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 11 a.m.

“By adding an air medical service to our (RPS) ground service, we’re just expanding the emergency medical services that are already offered in Walker County,” said Eric Pendley, RPS’s director of operations. “We have a great 911 system, and our local fire departments do an outstanding job of getting to a patient, assessing the patient and starting the care they need, as well as the staff here at RPS who continue to do their very best with response times and high level patient care and transportation, and having a hospital right here in our county has been very valuable. But we’re seeing more and more patients who need to be taken to Birmingham for a higher level of speciality care, whether it is a patient who is critically injured in an automobile accident or someone who is having a stroke and needs to be treated immediately by a neurologist.”

Pendley said in the past the majority of those patients would have been transported by either ground or another air medical service located in another area of the state, such as Hanceville, Tuscaloosa or Huntsville.

“So we looked at ways on how we (RPS) could improve response times and decided bringing an air medical service to our county would be the way to go,” Pendley said. “It will not only cut down on response times but help save lives. So this is a community aircraft; it is for the citizens of this community.”

Pendley said when an aircraft was requested by one of the local fire departments or RPS, it could take 20 minutes or more before it arrived on the scene, then another 10 to 15 minutes on the ground while the flight crew assessed and loaded the patient.

“The RAMS flight crew responded to a call just the other day in our county, where they had the patient sitting at UAB in Birmingham within an hour,” Pendley said. “And that’s never happened in the 15 years I’ve been with RPS.”

The RAMS crew held a mock drill Friday regarding a call where a patient who was having a heart attack needed to be transported from Walker Baptist Medical Center to Princeton Baptist as soon as possible.

The response time (from the time the call was received at RAMS to the time the patient arrived at Princeton) was 45 minutes. Ground transport normally takes 1 hour and 16 minutes.

“Having RAMS in our county is going to be a very valuable resource. RPS currently serves nine counties in Alabama, and due to the number of calls, we’re limited to the number of ambulances we can staff daily in our more rural counties,” Pendley said. “If we get a high value of calls that take resources out of one county, we have to move resources from other areas. So the main reason we decided to add an air medical service is to improve our EMS system.”

Pendley said having an air medical service in our community is a win-win for everyone.

“Walker County, for some reason, is known for having a history of high trauma calls,” Pendley said. “So we’re very excited about having an Air Medical Service available right here in our community to respond to those calls and help save lives.”

Pendley said the flight criteria for RAMS is no different than any other air medical service.

“We going to have an auto launch criteria no different than any other air medical services,” Pendley said. “And with us working the air side now, we’ll be able to get in to respond a lot quicker.”

RAMS also has a Critical Care Ground Unit available if needed. Pendley said the RAMS Flight Crew consists of 19 members, including critical care flight nurses, paramedics, pilots and a mechanic.

“Several of the crew members are from Walker County and have worked here at RPS at some point,” Pendley said. “They not only know a lot of the folks here at RPS, but also out in the community, which I think is going to make a big difference.”

RAMS Base Directors Josh Bankston and Katrina Key are both natives of Walker County and worked at RPS before moving on to work in the field of air medical services.

“I’ve been in air medical services for five years now, and I’m excited about being back at home and a part of RAMS,” said Bankston. “This is something we’ve needed in this community for a long time, and it’s going to help save a lot of lives.”

The RAMS helicopter, which has been nicknamed “Marty” in memory of the late Marty White who was one of the original owners of RPS, is literally a flying Intensive Care Unit.

“We have all the medications and emergency supplies they have in an ER or ICU onboard our helicopter,” Bankston said. “We have already flown two calls, a transfer out of Walker Baptist and from a scene right here in Walker County, and the response time was very quick.”

The Chief Financial Director of RPS, Lee Wills, said to have an air medical service in Walker County has always been a dream of his father, John Wills, the president and CEO of Regional Paramedical Service.

“My dad is a certified helicopter pilot and he has always dreamed of bringing air medical services to this community,” Lee Wills said. “And now that dream has become a reality.”

For more information about the Regional Air Medical Services (RAMS) in Walker County visit www.ramsems.com or call 1-833-FLY-RAMS.