By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
The iconic red helicopters of STARS Air Ambulance will not be flying into Castor anymore, Town council heard during their May 10 meeting.
Town council was notified of this officially during their regular meeting, which followed a meeting held earlier in the day between Town of Castor Mayor Richard Elhard, Town of Castor Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Robblee, representatives from Alberta Health Services, representatives from Covenant Health – who operate the Castor hospital – and a pilot from STARS.
The decision was made after Alberta Health Services did a study of the site as part of their overall evaluation of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services program in the province, and finding that the current heliport did not meet current Transport Canada requirements.
The proximity of the hospital helipad to the road was cited as a major reason for closure, though the pilot from STARS brought up additional safety concerns.
“The STARS pilot was very forthcoming about the reasons for not using the helipad, related to safety and the regulations of Transport Canada,” said Elhard.
“I can see it, I guess. In a worst-case scenario, if one of those choppers got in trouble there, there’s a lot of buildings there.”
In addition to the hospital, Theressetta Catholic School, Paintearth Lodge, and several residences are in the vicinity of the helipad as well.
“It’s going to be closed, and they are going to land at the airport,” said Elhard.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for them, to land where there is not so much infrastructure. They’d much prefer to land at the airport.”
Some discussion has been held around moving the existing helipad further into Pals Park, to get it away from the road, but doing that would be cost-prohibitive, nor does it deal with the safety concerns of the helicopter flying into the densely-populated area.
“A new helipad is cost-prohibitive,” said Robblee.
“(Alberta Health Services) and the STARS (pilot) alluded that if we pushed the pad further into the park that it might be acceptable to (them), but we’d have to get an engineer and an architect to design it all, and who pays for that? It’s officially closed.”
One concern about the closure of the helipad is the need for ambulance transport between the airport and the hospital, though Elhard doesn’t see it as much of an issue, as from the time of a mission launch STARS is at minimum 40 minutes away.
Castor has its own ambulance, and if it is called out, either Coronation or Stettler can be at the Castor airport within that 40-minute window.
According to a December 2020 presentation by STARS to the County of Paintearth, STARS flies an average of four missions a year to Castor.