Sanford in Dickinson adds to it’s AirMed fleet

On Monday, Dec. 15 at 7 a.m., Sanford Healthcare turned a new page in its storied book of helping the sick and injured.

Rear View of plane (RGB)

Cole Benz | For Adams County Record |

On Monday, Dec. 15 at 7 a.m., Sanford Healthcare turned a new page in its storied book of helping the sick and injured. They flipped on the proverbial lights and began taking flight request with its newest edition to the fleet of AirMed flight services, commissioning a King Air B200 fixed-wing aircraft to serve this area of the tri-state region.

“Opening up the Dickinson base is really a brand new chapter in our history, and we’re really excited to do it,” said Mike Christianson, Executive Director of Sanford AirMed. “We feel there is a great need in western North Dakota to serve the patients that are kind of in this oil area.”

Christianson added that the craft will also serve areas of northwest South Dakota and eastern Montana.

Prior to adding the Dickinson aircraft, Sanford AirMed had seven other air ambulances in its fleet. Three fixed-wing aircrafts, two in Sioux Falls, S.D., and one in Fargo, N.D., along with four helicopters in each of Bismarck, N.D., Fargo, N.D., Bemidji, Minn. and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Though not always referred to by its current name, Sanford AirMed, the program has been in existence for 35 years and has flown over 60,000 patients in that time period.

Sanford Public Affairs Director Fred Fridley emceed the ribbon cutting event and was happy to announce the arrival of the air ambulance to the residents of this region.

“I think today is another special day for the citizens of this region,” Fridley said.

The addition of the new fixed-wing aircraft is something Christianson said was a ‘forward positioning move’ for Sanford. Though Sanford does not currently have a hospital in Dickinson, with the expansion of Sanford’s super-clinic, Christianson said this was the right opportunity to bring an emergency vehicle like the King Air to the region, noting that Sanford didn’t have anything west of Bismarck for air transportation.

“It’s really about expanding the Sanford network, we’re in Bismarck with the helicopter but we don’t really have anything further west from there,” Christianson said. “I’d call it forward positioning an airplane, strategically, that we feel is going to hit a population that’s maybe underserved over here, and that’s kind of what we want to bring out here.”

Christianson said that surrounding towns are mere minutes away and noted that the Dickinson location is unique in that they will house the crew at the airport, so with a 15 minute take off time the aircraft could be in Bowman or Hettinger in roughly 25 minutes. The aircraft travels at speeds between 300-350 miles per hour.

Though the aircraft seems smaller on the outside, the room inside is quite sufficient for medical crew to work on patients.

“Although it seems small this is actually quite a bit of room up here (in the craft),” said Adam Parker, Bismarck Lead Flight Paramedic. “It’s a pretty large aircraft, we have pretty good access to the patient.”

Overall the craft can house two pilots, two patients, and up to five medical personnel.

Parker said along with intubating and performing chest decompressions, they have the equipment to administer medications and can utilize a defibrillator if the situation calls for it. The craft also houses equipment for people of all ages and sizes.

Aviation Lead for Dickinson and pilot Josh Zellers said he’s very excited to be a part of this new chapter and he’s excited for everyone involved.

“The opportunity for the pilot group, the medic group, the service for the community, it’s all just very exciting,” Zellers said.

Zellers previously worked with private charters, and though he enjoyed the clientele he worked with, he knows this is different territory.

“I think maybe (it’s) a little more fulfilling position,” Zellers said. “It’s kind of a new dimension, it’s pretty exciting.”

In total there will be a flight team comprised of eight pilots in rotating shifts, with two being on board the aircraft each time duty calls.

So why a fixed-wing aircraft and not a helicopter? According to Christianson, the airplane is more versatile than a helicopter.

“The airplane give us a lot of opportunity to go further, faster, also it’s all weather,” Christianson said.

The plane will also adhere to the patients’ wishes. Though it’s a plane owned and operated by Sanford, the flight crew will take the patient to any healthcare facility they request.

“What’s important to us is that Sanford will transfer patients to anywhere they want to go,” Christianson said.

Sanford AirMed, is currently the only Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport System air medical program in North Dakota.

The service can be activated by hospitals and first responders.