AirMed helicopter wants to establish a permanent nest in Tooele Valley, and Tooele City officials think they’ve found just the place.Tooele City has offered AirMed of University of Utah Healthcare, space on five acres of city-owned land for a permanent helipad and Tooele-based crew. Though the Tooele City Council has not considered the issue, the Tooele City Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit last week.
Mayor Patrick Dunlavy favors the arrangement because it will benefit Tooele City residents.
“It will save significant time in getting critical patients to trauma centers,” he said.
The site, located behind Maceys at 145 E. 1000 North, is also the intended location for a future Tooele City fire station to be built when the city outgrows its current facility behind city hall.
There should be plenty of room for both the helipad and the station, Dunlavy said. When the station is built, the city will offer to lease some available space to AirMed. Until then, a conditional use permit will allow AirMed to maintain a helipad and temporary auxiliary structure on site without paying a lease.
Now that the city’s planning commission has approved the conditional use permit, AirMed’s next step is to submit a final proposal to the Tooele City Council.
AirMed believes permanently stationing a helicopter in Tooele is necessary because of the large number of flights it already conducts into the area, said AirMed Outreach Coordinator Nathan Morreale. AirMed has sought a Tooele base of operations since May 2012.
During the course of their search, AirMed officials did consider stationing a helicopter at Mountain West Medical Center, which does have a helipad but is without a dedicated aircraft or team.
However, after reviewing the situation, Mountain West executives decided against locating the AirMed team at the hospital for liability reasons, said Doug Sagers, director of business development for Mountain West.
Locating an AirMed helicopter in Tooele City would be a win-win for the hospital, Sagers said, because it would give the hospital greater access to a medical hospital when necessary while avoiding the barriers that have prevented Mountain West from bringing in its own helicopter.
In addition to issues of liability, a full-time helicopter crew would require sleeping and living quarters on-site — which would be difficult to accommodate at the hospital, but readily available at a firestation.
At the same time, locating a helicopter in Tooele will reduce flight times — it usually takes about 12 minutes for a helicopter from Salt Lake to fly out to Tooele, Sagers said, and the need to divert helicopters around air traffic at the Salt Lake International Airport has been problematic in the past.
Additionally, a helicopter crew based in Tooele would provide better access to central Utah and northern Nevada.
Not everyone, however, is thrilled about the possible helipad. An individual who owns property in the area expressed concerns about noise during an open forum meeting last week, but AirMed representatives said they believe it would be possible to mitigate noise.
“Several months ago we did neighborhood field testing to the site of the helipad and there were no complaints,” Morreale said in an email. “In fact, one neighbor didn’t even know we were there.”
Morreale said AirMed uses noise abatement flight techniques that are recommended by the Helicopter Association International and that can reduce ground-area noise by as much as 80 percent.