Rural fire chief pans STARS suspension after boy's death

Concerns are being raised over the suspension of an air ambulance service in Manitoba, after a Steinbach teen died in a snowmobile crash on Sunday.

Manitoba’s STARS air ambulance service was suspended after an investigation into the helicopter service

Health Minister Erin Selby responds to rural fire chiefs who have challenged the provincial government's decision to suspend the STARS air ambulance service. 7:00

Concerns are being raised over the suspension of an air ambulance service in Manitoba, after a Steinbach teen died in a snowmobile crash on Saturday.

Jonah Crookes, 16, was snowmobiling near Highway 210 near La Broquerie when he lost control and hit trees. Emergency crews were called but had trouble reaching the scene. They had to use snowmobiles to get to the area, and Crookes died.
Jonah Crookes, a 16-year-old student at Steinbach Regional Secondary School, died in a snowmobile crash Saturday. (courtesy Steinbach Regional Secondary School website)

The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service or STARS, the province’s air ambulance helicopter service, was suspended two weeks ago over concerns it may have broken some rules during a transport.

Now, at least one rural fire chief is raising the alarm bells over its absence.

“It’s like saying, ‘Yeah. We’re taking away your fire truck. Make due with what you got with the smaller pump,’” said Patrick Laroche, the fire chief for the RM of De Salaberry. “Yeah, I’m going to be worried because we don’t have all the tools.”

Since STARS has been suspended, ground ambulances have responded to six calls that helicopters normally would have.

In each case, provincial health officials said comparable service was provided to patients by providing planes and ground ambulances.

But Laroche isn’t convinced.

“Timewise, you can’t replace [the helicopter],” he said.

Helicopters have the advantage of being able to land in most remote locations – locations ground ambulances can’t drive to and planes can’t land in.

Snowmobiler Brad Harder said he’s worried about what the STARS suspension will mean for other snowmobilers in the area.

“It’s very disappointing. It’s helped a lot of people and could still be helping people,” he said. “Very often, minutes will make a difference between life and death.”

In Crookes’ case, officials said an air ambulance would not have been dispatched because the crash happened in a heavily wooded area where a helicopter could not have landed.

It is not yet known how long STARS flights will be suspended in Manitoba, but officials said helicopter air ambulance service is in the future for the province.


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