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Northern BC H.E.R.O.S. takes flight
March 29th, 2012
Mark NIELSEN - Prince George Citizen

The many mountainous regions of the Prince George region are a paradise for recreational skiers, snowmobilers and backcountry hikers. When accidents happen, the woods are easily accessible for paramedic crews and doctors arriving in an air ambulance helicopter. Northern BC H.E.R.O.S. hopes to soon bring that service to the north central Interior area.

A society has been formed to bring an air ambulance helicopter service to Prince George and enhance existing emergency services in area hospitals, and a local figure known for health-related fundraising campaigns has put his name behind the cause.

Brent Marshall will be chairing the Northern BC Helicopter and Emergency Rescue Operations Society (H.E.R.O.S.).

Millions of dollars will need to be raised, Marshall said this week, but he believes the effort will be worthwhile given the growth predicted in resource-related jobs in northern BC.

"The ability to have a helicopter to go grab people in remote locations, as an example, many of the mine sites within so many hundreds of kilometres," Marshall said who added the service could also be deployed to highway accidents.

"It will benefit all of the people in the North," Marshall said.

The aim is to have a "state-of-the-art air ambulance that can fly day or night in all conditions," within two years.

Marshall would also like to see "helipads in all outlying communities, including a helipad as close as possible to University Hospital of Northern BC (UNHBC), working in conjunction with the BC Ambulance Service to provide the utmost care to sick and injured people in northern BC."

Marshall sees something similar to the system used in Alberta, which is funded through the non-profit STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society).

Last year STARS raised nearly $19 million to keep it flying rescue missions with its five-chopper fleet, and have handed over more than $250 million to the society since it began in 1985.

With the local society now formed, the process of gathering representatives for an advisory board is underway and Marshall expects to provide more details by early next month.

Before he became the principal of a Prince George automotive dealership, Marshall was once a first responder and level four paramedic. His wife, Kali, was also a paramedic.

Through his Northland Dodge dealership, Marshall raised $1.2 million for the pediatrics ward at UHNBC and has given $300,000 to the Kordyban cancer lodge now under construction near the hospital.

Dan Froom, B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) executive director of provincial programs, said the BCAS would be "very interested" in talking to Marshall but also warned the BCAS's mandate is for a province-wide system.

"We couldn't do it if, for example, he came and said 'well, I only want to do it for community X,'" Froom said. "Well, we can't do that. We can't just service community X, we service the province of BC."

The BCAS's critical care transport program uses six dedicated airplanes, four helicopters and can call on about 40 pre-qualified charter aircraft across the province.

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