Rural fire chief Ken Dayment disagrees with Manitoba Health claims that ground ambulances have been posting better response times than air ambulances.

On Wednesday, CBC News learned ground ambulances were actually responding faster to calls than typical helicopter response times.

Provincial officials suspended STARS service in Manitoba in December after three critical incidents.

Since the air ambulance service was suspended, there have been 21 missions that qualified for a helicopter dispatch, but all of those calls were responded to by ground ambulance instead.

According to Manitoba Health, 20 of those 21 calls were resolved an average of 26 minutes faster with ground ambulances than they would have been with a STARS helicopter.

Dayment, the fire chief for Ste. Anne, said he just doesn’t believe those claims.

“If they're in Lac du Bonnet, for instance, and they have to get to health sciences, you're going to tell me the [ground] ambulance is faster than STARS?” he said. “That doesn't make sense. I don't believe that.”

One community best served by STARS

CBC News has learned that Manitoba Health has conducted a preliminary analysis of ground and air ambulance response times.

The data suggests that based on response times, only one Manitoba community has been best served by the STARS air ambulance, according to sources.

But the provincial government says response times are not the only important measurement of the service, adding that the study does not recognize how ground and air ambulances can work together.

Officials added that the study does not reflect the agility of a helicopter and its ability to access hard-to-reach trauma scenes.

Dayment agreed, citing the number of snowmobile crashes his crews have been called to over the years.

"They're in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden they need help. How do you get an ambulance in there? You can't! They're not on a trail, whereas STARS can fly in and get those people," he said.

External review underway

The provincial government says an external review of the STARS service is in progress, examining 16 cases selected by STARS and Manitoba Health.

Officials with STARS told CBC News they continue to work with the government to complete the review, and they hope to be back in service in the very near future.

In the meantime, STARS crews are taking part in training missions and medical simulations to maintain their skills, according to officials.

Dayment said he wants to see STARS service reinstated in the province as soon as possible. He said the service is crucial for bringing critically-injured people from rural Manitoba areas to Winnipeg for treatment.

“If you can get the people to Health Sciences — people who are critical — it’s more important to get there as fast as they possibly can,” he said. “STARS can do that.”

He added if the program saves even one life, he believes it is worth it.