The flight crew of LifeLink III, based out of the Alexandria airport, keep loose with inside jokes, often at each others expense. They work 12 hours shifts, which consists mostly of sitting around, watching television, or reading. But when a call comes in and they respond, they are all business; they have to be, their business is saving lives.
LifeLink III has helicopter bases at municipal airports in Alexandria, Willmar, Anoka, Hibbing, and Rice Lake, Wisconsin, as well as a temporary summer base in Cloquet, Minnesota. Each base has one Agusta Westland 119K helicopter on site. There is also one spare helicopter available to fill in when a chopper is being serviced. Each $4 million helicopter is outfitted with the latest high tech medical equipment. They are basically hospital emergency rooms in the sky.
“The only thing we don’t have that an emergency or trauma room would have is an X-ray machine,” said Aimee Steward, LifeLink III paramedic.
Steward and fellow crew members, nurse Laura Adamek and pilot Ron Muntifrering, are out of the Alexandria LifeLink III base and have been coming to Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services (PRHHS) in Elbow Lake every Tuesday and Thursday to be visible, get to know the new facility, and have the medical staff at Prairie Ridge get to know them and what they can do. They will be coming to Elbow Lake through August.
One of the people who has become familiar with the crew is the new Ambulance Director at PRHHS, Aric Risbrudt.
“We respond to around 250 ambulance calls per year,” said Risbrudt. “Having LifeLink available to us is a lifesaver in many cases.”
Adamek said LifeLink nurses are trained in intensive care at Level 1 or Level 2 Trauma Centers, and the paraprofessionals have to have experience in high volume 911 calls. Both receive ongoing training all year long.
Pilot Ron Muntifrering was in the service for six years and has been a helicopter pilot for 35. He has flown medical helicopters for 25 years.
“There are two types of calls we respond to,” he said. “A Scene Request, is a call from an ambulance that they have a patient that needs a transfer to a trauma center. This often means we have to land at an accident site for the pick up. The other kind of call is an Interfacility Transfer, where a doctor calls us in to transfer a patient from one hospital to another one that has specialized facilities.”
LifeLink transfers patients to hosptials in St. Cloud, Fargo, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the Twin Cities, depending on the type of medical emergency it is and which hospital specializes in treating it. For instance, children usually go to Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities.
LifeLink III helicopters can cruise at 180 to 185 miles per hour.
The pilot said he has landed in parking lots, playgrounds, and even landing docks because for years many rural hospitals lacked special landing areas or helipads.
“Now more and more are getting them,” he said, adding the helipad at PRHHS is first class.
The LifeLink III helicopter based in Alexandria, responds to between 20 and 25 calls per month.
The LifeLink III helicopter will be at the Flekkefest Fly-in on Saturday, August 1, and the crew welcomes everyone to come out and see this amazing piece of life-saving machinery.