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The Life Flight Network has moved its local helicopter base to the Kelso airport from St. John Medical Center, where it had been based since 2008.

The move will get three-member Life Flight crews off the ground faster and make helicopter maintenance and refueling easier, said Justin Dillingham, chief customer officer with the Life Flight Network. Airports are generally the best locations for a Life Flight base, he said.

While the helicopter was previously based on a helipad atop the St. John parking garage, Life Flight crews were stationed in a house several blocks away from the hospital. When a call came in, crew members had to walk to the hospital and go up four floors to access the helicopter and be ready for service.

Now, the team has a manufactured home next to the helicopter at the airport and should be able to board and get in the air faster, Dillingham said.

“Every minute counts. If someone is having a heart attack, stroke, time sensitive emergency or traumatic injury, they want help there as fast as they can,” Dillingham said.

Officials at PeaceHealth said they don’t anticipate a change in the quality of service at the hospital, but they wanted to make sure the move wouldn’t delay Life Flight’s response to hospital patients.

“We are confident that any time that’s lost in bringing the helicopter from the new location to us (PeaceHealth) will be balanced out by the speed of the people being able to get from the residence to the helicopter,” said Randy Querin, spokesman for PeaceHealth.

The Longview base was established in 2008, but the Life Flight Network previously serviced the area from other bases, including Portland. On average, the Kelso-Longview-based crew responds to between 200 and 300 calls a year, Dillingham said.

“We’re just glad we have access to it,” Querin, with PeaceHealth, added. “Having the helicopter available has been a great benefit to the community. I’m glad it’ll still be here, at arm’s length. The people in the community should still be pleased to have it here.”

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Contact Daily News reporter Denver Pratt at 360-577-2541 or dpratt@tdn.com

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