By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Tens of thousands of missions later, STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society) is still flying high, making a difference in people’s lives.
The service, which debuted in the dying days of 1985, will have surpassed 40,000 missions by the end of 2019, and it will have done so primarily by generous donations from industry and supporters from the public.
In fact, the first responder organization is only about 20 per cent publicly-funded, through Alberta Health Services. The rest of the money is fundraised.
There are many fundraisers throughout the province over the year, with Castor’s own contribution taking place over the second weekend in July with the Battle River Ride for Stars.
This year’s record-breaking ride raised over $34,000 and earlier in August seven members of the Ride’s organization traveled to Edmonton to present a cheque to STARS.
“It’s the best ride we’ve had in 11 years,” said one of the event organizers, Tara Muhlbeier.
The $34,000 raised in the 2019 ride brings the rides’ life-time total to just shy of $200,000, an important portion of STARS Alberta’s approximate $38 million annual operating budget.
STARS is no stranger to Paintearth County, with the service averaging six calls to the region per year, at an estimated $45,000, or around $7,500 per mission.
People fundraise for STARS for different reasons, and for Randall Muhlbeier that reason is his parents, who were flown by STARS after a traffic accident around 12 years ago.
“They were on their way to Spruce Grove, they met a truck pulling a trailer with a pintle hitch, and the trailer came unhooked,” said Randall.
“They picked them up with STARS right off the highway.”
STARS’ history is full of stories like Randall’s.
As STARS transitions to a new fleet of helicopters, the organization is actually dedicating the first of its helicopters to its very first patient, Kelly Waldron, and is doing so by registering one of the helicopters with the designation C-GKLY, an acknowledgement of her first name.
Over the next five years, STARS plans to replace their fleet of aging BK 117 helicopters with nine new helicopters, at an estimated cost of $13 million an airframe.
The aircraft chosen to replace the venerable workhorse is the H145, produced by Airbus in Europe.
The first of the helicopters arrived in Alberta earlier this year, and the plan calls for a total of nine new aircraft to be in place over the next five years.
The Battle River Ride for Stars will be returning in 2020 to support the service, and volunteers are needed to help organize the ride. Work for the 2020 edition of the ride will begin in September.