In the spring of 1975, a young logger sustained a critical head injury in a remote area and was transported by the only means available, a helicopter patterned after the kind used during the Korean War. This style of transport did not allow for treatment during flight and unfortunately the young man died. This tragedy led to the development of a coordinated, hospital-based helicopter rescue system culminating in what is now known as the Advanced Life-support and Emergency Rescue Team (A.L.E.R.T.).
The First 40 Years
The A.L.E.R.T. program started as the second hospital-based advanced life support helicopter system in the United States and the first of its kind in rural America. A.L.E.R.T. faced financial difficulties in 1978. The local community rose to this potential crisis with the formation of the A.L.E.R.T. Board, comprised of community members from businesses, primary rescue, logging, and Park and Forest Service. Some Board members and their families provided the initial funding to purchase the first helicopter.
Anticipating the need for a more widespread effort for community financial support, the Board established the annual A.L.E.R.T. banquet. Proceeds from this event, coupled with generous financial support from community donors, have sustained the program for more than 40 years.
The Future of A.L.E.R.T.
A.L.E.R.T. is now facing another financial challenge and seeks community support to purchase a replacement helicopter. The current helicopter is 17 years old and requires frequent maintenance. Helicopters available for rent during this maintenance lack critical equipment that was a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirement beginning in April 2017. Due to the existing inventory of replacement parts and pilot familiarity, as well as having the same lead and backup helicopter operations, we will purchase the newest model of the current helicopter make at a cost of $4 million.
To make a donation, please contact Tagen Vine at the Kalispell Regional Healthcare Foundation by calling (406) 751-6930 or visit our online donation page.
The current helicopter is 17 years old and has accumulated more than 6,500 hours.
The previous helicopter, Bell 206 Long Ranger, was replaced after 11 years of service.
In 2016, A.L.E.R.T. was down for all or part of 105 days for maintenance.
The helicopter flew 496 missions in 2016. It is anticipated that the number of future missions will remain the same or increase.
In 2016, more than $200,000 was spent due to maintenance. A new helicopter will need minimal maintenance and has a two-year warranty, whereas a helicopter that is 17 years old and has 6,500 hours needs more frequent, more expensive and more extensive work.
A.L.E.R.T. is a unique air ambulance service in that:
It responds to the scene of the emergency call.
It picks up patients in the backcountry, roads/highways and facilities, not just at other hospitals like most other services.
It will go when called without confirmation of ability to pay.
It will go to the scene when called and will not charge a patient if air transport was not needed.
It accepts the insurance coverage patients have and does not bill them for the full balance of the charge.
It has trained flight nurses and paramedics on the flight team.