A flight nurse with Air Idaho Rescue talks about the reopening of the West Yellowstone medical base and the types of services it provides during the summer tourist season. Watch it in the video above. | Photo courtesy Air Idaho Rescue
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana — Air Idaho Rescue is celebrating the re-opening of its emergency medical base in West Yellowstone, Montana.
The base officially opened for the season on May 3.
Johnny Hayden, a flight nurse with Air Idaho Rescue, tells EastIdahoNews.com the base is equipped to serve those with medical emergencies throughout Yellowstone National Park, Island Park, Driggs and surrounding communities.
“The big one is Yellowstone park, especially when all the tourists start coming. We’re here to provide care for them,” Hayden says. “But we also cover Fremont County, some parts of Madison and Gallatin County in Montana. We cover a broad area and work close with EMS to provide care for the outlying communities.”
The base includes an AS350 A-Star helicopter, along with a team of nurses, equipment and medications needed to save lives in an emergency. The helicopter is used at other locations the rest of the year where lifesaving resources are needed.
With other medical bases in Driggs, Salmon and Idaho Falls, Air Idaho has access to resources year-round.
“This helicopter is a vital resource for the park and its visitors,” Mike Jenkins, area manager with Air Methods, which owns Air Idaho, says in a news release. “Parts of the park are remote and hard to access, requiring the agility of a medical helicopter. Ensuring visitors get the emergency care they need when every second counts is critical.”
This video was originally published in June 2018.
The West Yellowstone base opened about 10 years ago and operates seasonally between May and September during the height of the tourist season. An average of 8.5 million people visit Yellowstone every year, according to a news release from Air Idaho. The park experienced record-breaking years in 2021 and 2020, and that’s led to an increased demand for emergency medical services.
Hayden started working at the base last summer. He doesn’t know the exact number of calls they get in a typical season, but based on how it went last year, he says it’s around 100.
“It was busy,” says Hayden. “I got to take care of a lot of patients and it was really rewarding. It’s an honor to be here.”
All of the Air Idaho Rescue clinicians and pilots have years of experience in the field and receive advanced, ongoing training to handle a variety of scenarios.
Hayden describes the operation as an “ICU in the air.”
“We go to our mother bases in Denver (and other places) to take hands-on training several times a year. They train us for everything from trauma to pediatrics. We are trained extensively and are constantly learning to take care of the most critical patients,” he says.
Courtesy Air Idaho Rescue
In West Yellowstone, the types of scenarios and injuries they deal with vary, but Hayden says it’s typically dealing with people “getting hurt while having fun.”
“Whether you’re riding a snowmobile, ATV or horse, sometimes you fall and get hurt … and we’re there to provide whatever care is needed,” says Hayden.
Carrie Egging, the assistant fire chief with Hebgen Basin Rural Fire District, works closely with Air Idaho Rescue every year. In a news release, she says the services it provides are a “valuable asset” to the community because of how far away it is from surrounding hospitals.
She’s happy to see Air Idaho Rescue return for another season.
Hayden is ecstatic and humbled to be back as well. While he wants people to be safe and enjoy their time in Yellowstone or Island Park, he also knows that emergencies happen and he wants to be able to help however he can.
“Just know that if you are ever in need of medical attention, we’re just a few minutes away and can provide you with a great level of care,” Hayden says.
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