Heroes of the North: 24/7 lifesaving service in the Wood Buffalo region

When every second counts, a helicopter can make a lifetime of difference

When emergency medical help is needed, rescuers shouldn’t be kept in the dark.

That’s why Paul Spring formed the Local HERO (Helicopter Emergency Response Organization) Foundation in Fort McMurray in 2013.

Up until that point, medical evacuations in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta were limited to daylight hours, and were also subject to helicopter availability. Now, Local HERO—operated by Phoenix Heli-Flight—is the sole provider of 24/7, helicopter-based emergency medevac services in the area, with a crew standing by at all times.

Because for the patients, every second counts.

“We can’t do much for a stroke patient, for example, in the field. They need to be transported to the hospital as quickly as possible so the type of stroke can be diagnosed and treatment started,” says Spring.

Local HERO was one of the first privately-owned companies to acquire night vision goggles in Canada, following certification in December 2013. While the goggles have high costs associated with them, they’re critical to providing 24-hour service—particularly during short winter days.

“A patient that would only take six or seven minutes to reach by helicopter may have to wait hours for a ground crew to arrive,” says Spring.

“We’re helping people not only survive, but by getting to them sooner, we also help them have a quicker and more successful recovery. There’s a lot of fulfillment in that role.”

Local HERO has performed 35 medical evacuations to date in 2019, totaling around 425 since the program began. The Fort McMurray Fire Department provides all medical supplies and personnel, who are trained as both paramedics and firefighters.

A team of two pilots and two paramedics are standing by all times, ready to provide care to individuals in situations such as motor vehicle collisions, workplace incidents, recreational vehicle crashes and medical emergencies.

“The facilities, knowledge and people we already had at Phoenix Heli-Flight enabled us to start this program without cutting corners,” Paul says. “Everything on the aviation side has been industry-leading and first class.”

At Enbridge, safety is a core value—and the very foundation of our business. Our Safe Community grant program helps emergency responder organizations keep people safe in the communities where we live and work. Our recent $10,000 Safe Community donation will assist the Local HERO Foundation in covering equipment and maintenance costs.

“We feel really lucky to be able to do this,” says Andrea Montgomery Spring, Local HERO’s director of stakeholder and community relations. “Not everybody gets to do work that saves lives. It's very rewarding.”