The red and white intensive-care helicopter parked on the helipad outside Payson Regional Medical Center is not just for Payson residents.
It's also for people in surrounding areas who need immediate care -- for residents and visitors in the Rim country who are ill or injured. The helicopter was stationed at the hospital last month because response time can mean the difference between life and death.
PRMC Chief Executive Officer Russell Judd said this is not the first time a helicopter has been stationed at the hospital.
"Five years ago we had a helicopter sitting here to fly people out," Judd said.
Judd joined the three on-duty members of the Life Rescue helicopter team Monday to talk about the French-built A-Star helicopter, which has been based at PRMC since Sept. 24. The helicopter will be used to pick up critical patients and fly them to PRMC, or when more sophisticated equipment is needed, hospitals in the Valley.
"We realize we can't handle everything," Judd said. "But with the helicopter right here, we don't have the 30- to 35-minute wait to get a helicopter here (from the Valley)."
Judd said having the Life Rescue helicopter at the hospital is a part of the hospital's goal to increase what he called "its level of intensity -- treating sicker patients."
PRMC is listed as a Level 2 trauma center, which has staff and equipment that can treat most illnesses and injuries. Level 1 trauma centers handle the most serious life-threatening traumas and head injuries.
PRMC officials began searching for a helicopter crew last spring and put the word out to helicopter agencies.
"We looked at six different agencies that operate medical helicopters," he said.
Hospital officials looked for a helicopter that could fly in higher altitudes. With the help of emergency personnel in the area, the hospital selected Life Rescue.
Payson Fire Chief John Ross said, "The addition of Life Rescue's helicopter in Payson is very important, not only for the citizens who live here, but also those in the surrounding areas."
The primary owners of the company, Eben and Robert Moseley and Chris Halladay, are from Show Low. The Moseleys have operated ProLift helicopters for 20 years in the Valley, performing agricultural and construction work as well as firefighting services.
"One reason to have the helicopter here is to help our EMS system," Judd said. "We're the base station for Canyon State Ambulance, and Payson, Pine-Strawberry, Diamond Star and Christopher-Kohl's fire departments, and it gives them another tool."
When accidents happen in rugged terrain, the Department of Public Safety helicopter will continue to respond as a rescue unit. Life Rescue will be called out to transport the patient either to PRMC or to a Valley hospital, depending on the level of care the patient needs. The helicopter only needs 20-square-feet of landing space.
"That's crucial in upper Strawberry, when someone's having a heart attack," Judd said. "It's a lot faster than driving."
It's 10 minutes to the Rim by helicopter, a far cry from the 30 minutes it takes to travel by land, he said. And it's a much smoother ride.
Pilot Mark DeWolf said, "We try to average a five minute response time for scene calls from the time we get the phone call to the time we're in the air. It's a 30-second start-up time. A lot of other helicopters have a two-minute warmup."
Dan Mercer, the R.N. on duty with the crew Monday, said, "We usually sit listening to the scanner so we're ready."
Judd said there are a number of Valley helicopters that have responded to patients' needs in Payson. "It was whichever one could be found, but it was not difficult," he said. "It's the flying time that's the key issue. Just the other day, with the rollover in Sunflower, they used the helicopter that was based here."
The three-person crew at the helipad Monday was just one of a number of crews with Life Rescue stationed in Payson. Four pilots are each assigned to 12-hour shifts. There are two people on the medical crew -- a certified emergency paramedic and a registered nurse.
The Show Low company has two helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft.
"We'll bring in whatever's needed," said DeWolf. "The fixed-wing is for patients that need pressurized cabins or for certain weather conditions. We're not an instrument-rated machine, but we can fly in some pretty bad weather."
DeWolf said the Life Rescue helicopter cruises at 130 knots, or about 143 mph, depending on the weather conditions.
"The equipment is for pediatric to heart attack to trauma patients," Mercer said. "We can carry more drugs, more equipment than an ambulance and we're a little more specialized."
"It's kind of like a miniature ICU," said D.D. Johnson, the certified emergency paramedic on duty Monday.
DeWolf said the helicopter has made 13 trips since it was stationed at PRMC. He expects to average about 25 flight missions a month. "It's a 30-minute flight down to the Valley," he said.
"It's the same to Flagstaff. It's a real good location -- it's right in the middle."
"PRMC is doing a wonderful job in upgrading their program," said Ross. "All of that is evidenced now by them having a helicopter up here. The Payson Fire Department is extremely pleased to be working with Life Rescue. We look forward to assisting them in any way possible."