Nonprofit group holds informal open house event at Burlington base
By Jason Arndt
Flight for Life’s permanent base at the Burlington Municipal Airport required additional time to become a reality because of typical manufacturing delays and labor shortages.
However, after several months of waiting, it officially opened last September, with Flight for Life officials holding an informal open house of the new structure last week.
Unlike the temporary area Flight for Life used for more than a year, the permanent facility includes comfortable living quarters for staff members on the second level with a kitchen and living area on the first floor.
Scott Rinzel, Marketing and Development Manager for Flight for Life, said the new facility has brought joy among staff members. They’re tasked with responding to crash scenes requiring helicopter transport to critical care facilities, such as Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, as well as Aurora hospitals in Burlington and Elkhorn.
“It is nice to have a finality to the journey. This is what we were always marching toward,” said Rinzel, who commended several partners, particularly the City of Burlington.
“(Staff) were living in a double-wide trailer that had plumbing and everything. But in the winter time, it was not insulated as well. Here, they have nice, comfortable living quarters,” he said.
A win for the area
Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty, who strongly supported Flight for Life’s desire to create a Burlington base, has talked about the importance of it for the area and said it will benefit Racine, Kenosha and Walworth County communities.
“The quick response is critical, not only for Burlington, but Elkhorn and all of the surrounding areas compared to 15 to 20 minutes from Waukesha,” Hefty said.
Before arriving to Burlington in late 2021, Flight for Life only had one base, which was at the Waukesha County airport.
Flight for Life Executive Director Leif Erickson was not on hand at the informal open house. But during the groundbreaking of the permanent hangar in late 2022, he said the second location in Burlington would improve response times to critical incidents in this area.
“Burlington is the perfect spot, about 50% of our volume comes south of I-94, and 50% north, so Burlington puts us in an optimal spot for response times,” he said. “It means a quicker response as well (for) people in Racine, Kenosha, Walworth counties.”
The permanent location has already seen improved response times compared to the temporary structure, according to Chief Flight Nurse Nick Lehouillier.
“The big difference between this hangar and the old hangar is definitely our liftoff times,” he said. “We had to push the aircraft a little bit further (at the old hangar), which made liftoff times between three to six minutes longer. So, we are able to get to that community faster.”
Additionally, the permanent hangar has increased efficiency among staff members, who needed to leave the double-wide trailer and enter the hangar to access the helicopter.
“We actually have the living quarters built into the hangar, so we are quicker to the helicopter because we are not trying to lock up everything. The base is more secure,” Lehouillier said.
“This building has been very helpful in getting to our patients, to our hospitals and helping communities faster,” he added.
Ania Horner, president of Aurora Medical Center – Burlington and Aurora Lakeland – Elkhorn, said Flight for Life has been a key partner in helping patients in need of care.
“They are very helpful,” Horner said. “They are very critical for us.”
Flight for Life initially planned on opening the new facility in early 2023 but encountered some delays.
Lehouillier said increased wait times for supplies as well as some labor shortages were the reasons it took longer to complete.
In retrospect, when comparing new space with the temporary one, Lehouillier said “it was definitely worth the wait.”
Flight for Life, a nonprofit organization launched in 1984, has its main headquarters at the Waukesha County Airport.
The group offers multiple emergency services with trained paramedics providing around-the-clock helicopter transportation to regional hospitals.
At the Burlington base, called Trauma 2, Flight for Life always has employees working on site and ready to respond.
According to Rinzel – who noted the group is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – said the agency passed a milestone last fall.
In September 2023, Flight for Life transported its 40,000th patient, Rinzel said on Thursday.
Since Flight for Life arrived in Burlington, along with quicker response times, the organization has upgraded its fleet and introduced a new model EC145 helicopter.
The new helicopter, along with state-of-the-art medical equipment, is loaded with cutting edge avionics technologies designed to improve navigation and safety with improved collision avoidance systems.
Other features consist of a real time weather radar and an engine and fuel monitoring system, among other assets.
Additionally, courtesy of a Miller Motors contribution, Flight for Life received a 2018 Ford Interceptor SUV to serve as a critical care response vehicle.
The critical care response vehicle is typically used when the helicopter cannot fly because of weather conditions.