KEY LARGO – The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners, at its Wednesday meeting in Key Largo, unanimously approved spending $2.5 million from the voter-supported infrastructure sales tax fund to purchase a 2002 Sikorsky helicopter for its life-saving, Trauma Star air ambulance program.
The helicopter is needed to replace the aging 1981 Sikorsky helicopter, which has flown 2,445 people from the Florida Keys to trauma centers and hospitals on the mainland since beginning operations in 2006. The County will keep the 1981 Sikorsky – which is still operational but has become increasingly expensive to maintain – as a backup to be used when the 2002 Sikorsky is out of service for routine maintenance.
The 1981 Sikorsky S76 A++ cost the County $3.24 million a decade ago. The 2002 Sikorsky S-76 C+ helicopter, previously flown by the Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Angel One air ambulance program, will cost the County about $760,000 less.
“This is like it fell out of the sky … what a terrific solution,” Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers said about the good fortune of finding a helicopter that fits Trauma Star’s needs at such a good price.
The 2002 Sikorsky is similar to Trauma Star’s current helicopter – able to hold two pilots, two patients and up to four caregivers – but it is equipped with more modern avionics and has better lift capabilities that are needed on high humidity days, especially for flying out of hospital helipads that are surrounded by buildings and mangroves, said Trauma Star and EMS Captain Andrea Thompson of Monroe County Fire Rescue.
“It’s the old deal: timing, timing, timing,” Monroe County Fire Rescue Chief James Callahan said. “The Sheriff’s Office mechanics have inspected this bird and it looks like a great deal for us. It’s also a Sikorsky, the same brand the pilots, mechanics, paramedics and nurses are familiar with and enjoy. This helicopter will help us continue to save the lives of people suffering from strokes, heart attacks and critical injuries.”
Trauma Star, which is jointly operated by Monroe County Fire Rescue and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, already has transported 228 people this year, putting it on track for a record year of use.
Trauma Star also is a County service whose operations now almost pay for itself. The program transported a record number of 397 people last year at a cost of $2.7 million. However, revenues collected from insurance and out-of-county patients covered 96 percent of that cost. Taxpayers footed only $285,516 of the bill, or just $1.41 per $100,000 in taxable property.
REMINDER: As a reminder, qualifying residents of Monroe County pay no out-of-pocket costs related to air transport fees on Trauma Star. Last year the County mailed to residents red and white Trauma Star First Option stickers to be placed on the driver’s license or medical insurance card.
If you are a resident and did not receive a sticker, you can call 305-289-6010 or pick them up at any fire station in the Keys, at Monroe County Fire Rescue Headquarters at 490 63rd Street Ocean in Marathon or at any of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office sub-stations.
For information about the fee-waiver program and requirements for residents, go to Monroe County’s website at www.monroecounty-fl.gov, click on the Resident tab, and then click on the Trauma Star link.
Fire Station Locations:
01- Key West FD, 1600 N. Roosevelt Boulevard
02- Key West FD, Corner of Simonton and Angela Streets
03- Key West FD, Corner of Kennedy and Flagler
07- Key West International Airport, 3491 South Roosevelt Boulevard
08- Stock Island, 5655 MacDonald Avenue (MM 5)
09- Big Coppitt, 28 Emerald Drive (MM10)
10- Sugarloaf, 17175 Overseas Highway (MM 17)
11- Cudjoe Key, 20950 Overseas Highway (MM 21)
13- Big Pine Key, 390 Key Deer Boulevard (MM 30.5)
14- Marathon FD, 8900 Overseas Highway (MM 50)
15- Grassy Key FD, 9805 Overseas Highway (MM 59)
17- Conch Key, 10 South Conch Avenue (MM 63)
18- Layton FD, 68260 Overseas Highway (MM 68.5)