BC Emergency Health Services says that despite the closure of Rio Tinto BC Works’ helipad emergency chopper flights in and out of Kitimat are still possible.
Reacting to an article in the Northern Sentinel published last week, BCEHS communications director Lesley Pritchard said while the helipad had indeed been shut down, BCEHS will still fly to Kitimat for serious medical emergencies.
“Obviously having a helipad in Kitimat is ideal. However, we still have the capability to land helicopters in Kitimat,” said Pritchard.
“We want to assure residents that if there is a serious emergency and a chopper is needed, we will land one in Kitimat.”
BCEHS uses a number of different locations to land their helicopters, including schools and roads.
Pritchard said BCEHS will call on the local fire department to prepare makeshift landing sites to help their choppers land safely. Ambulances will still be used for patient transfers to Terrace or Prince Rupert from Kitimat.
She said if one of their helicopters isn’t available to airlift patients, BCEHS can call on a number of private operators to airlift patients out of Kitimat.
BC Works spokesperson Kevin Dobbin confirmed the helipad had been closed due to the LNGC construction of Terminal A, which is adjacent to the helipad.
He said the helipad hadn’t been used much since additional ocean-going vessels had been contracted to transport personnel from Kitimat to Kemano and back to work on the completion of the second tunnel project – T2.
BCEHS was notified in December last year of the closure of the helipad and has been using the Northwest Regional Airport Terrace-Kitimat for any patients requiring emergency air ambulance transports.
In 2018, Kitimat had two calls that required BCEHS helicopter air ambulance response. For 2016 and 2017 there were between one and two calls.
Total BCEHS calls for medical emergencies in Kitimat were 563 in 2016, 705 in 2017 and 820 in 2018.
BCEHS operates a dedicated fleet of four air ambulance helicopters and seven air ambulance airplanes, with additional access to a number of pre-qualified air carriers throughout B.C. to provide charter aircraft as needed.
In the north, BCEHS has a dedicated air ambulance jet staffed with critical care paramedics based in Prince George and an air ambulance helicopter based in Prince Rupert.
The issue of the helipad closure was raised at a District of Kitimat council meeting on February 11 during a presentation by Kitimat Flying Club president Bob Rypma, who came before council to ask that the District of Kitimat sign on as the main applicant for a grant to upgrade the Kitimat Air Park to accommodate larger aircraft.