Although they have been operating since May, the staff and crew of the Air Evac Lifeteam base in Paducah were officially welcomed to the community Wednesday.
Area community leaders, hospital representatives and local government officals attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening at the Air Evac facility on Coleman Road.
Paducah is one of 143 air medical bases across 15 states. Each base has four full-time pilots, nurses and medics, as well as a program director and mechanic.
The Air Evac Lifeteam provides "ground level, life and death, emergency service when you need it quickly and you've got to go some distance," McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said.
"The No. 1 responsibility of government is to protect its citizens," he said. "But local government cannot afford the capital expenditures to provide a service like this. But a private investor, a private enterprise can come in and fill that essential emergency medical transportation niche that we cannot provide.
"We do so much appreciate and welcome Air Evac to our community," Clymer said.
Sandra Wilson, president of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed Clymer's sentiments.
"When you see that helicopter leaving, you know someone's family life has probably been changed forever. But thankfully, you are here and you can take them somewhere that will make them better," Wilson said.
"We appreciate the contributions you are making to our city, our county, and our whole region, and the benefit you provide those families in their time of need. So, thank you."
According to Shelly Schneider, Air Evac public relations manager, bases are placed contiguously and a lot of their services overlap.
"A good example of the reason for that would be the Marshall County High School shooting (in January 2018)," she said. "Six of our aircraft responded to that. Some flew from Paducah, some landed at the scene or at the Marshall County Hospital."
Memberships are available, at $85 per household per year, but are not required to receive service, according to Schneider. Each base covers a 70-mile radius. In addition to Paducah, there is an Air Evac Lifeteam based in Mayfield, Marion and Hopkinsville, as well as Clarksville, Tennessee. Air Evac Lifeteam bases are designed to serve rural communities, drastically cutting the time it takes to drive to the nearest Level 1 trauma center, Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee.
"What happens, is you're at a local hospital and the hospital feels you need to be transferred to a definitive health care facility, or if you've had a farming accident or you're in the middle of the road somewhere ... 911 is the first call and then the first responders," Schneider said.
"Or, if you're in a hospital, the doctors are the ones that make the decision that you need to be transferred to a higher level of care. So those people would call our emergency communications center and we will look for the closest appropriate aircraft."
According to Schneider, the Air Evac units are like a "flying ER," and staff can perform any services that can be performed in an emergency room. Area hospitals have been very supportive of Air Evac, according to Allen Jones, program director for the Paducah and Mayfield bases.
"Massac Memorial (in Metropolis) has been very supportive over in Illinois. Baptist Health Paducah and Mercy-Lourdes have been very, very instrumental in helping us get this base here," he said.
"We do a lot of outreach education for all three of those hospitals and work very closely with all those staff members and managers. They are very excited to have us in their community."