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Flying high with new home
A cake was part of the refreshments at Tuesday's dual ribbon cutting. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Effingham EMS has a home of its own finally. And LifeStar’s helicopter has dropped anchor in the same building.

Officials and employees gathered Tuesday afternoon, even as an afternoon storm knocked out power to the building, to cut the ceremonial ribbon for the facility housing the county’s emergency medical service and the LifeStar air ambulance.

“It took a long time to get it,” said Commissioner Reggie Loper. “We’re proud to have it.”

LifeStar and county commissioners began discussions about bringing the air ambulance to a permanent home in Effingham County three years ago.

The 5,000 square foot building, across 1st Street from the Effingham Hospital, is divided into 3,000 square feet for the EMS and 2,000 square feet for LifeStar. The helicopter service also has a 2,500 square foot maintenance bay, two landing pads and a 10,000 gallon fuel tank.

“We love it,” David Herrin of OmniFlight said of their new home.

The OmniFlight helicopter and its operations moved to Effingham County around the first of July. The LifeStar air ambulance service, purchased by OmniFlight two years ago, has been in operation for 25 years. OmniFlight, which also has helicopters stationed in Vidalia and Charleston, S.C., has 100 air ambulances across the nation.

The new home will allow OmniFlight to serve its area more efficiently, Herrin said. They also aren’t bound by the restrictions they had while they were at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.

“It allows a quicker response to the region,” he said.

There is a day room for the helicopter crew and each of the crew members has individual sleeping quarters and office space. In all, there are about 14 LifeStar employees, many of whom live in Effingham.

LifeStar had been operated and based at Memorial Health University Center in Savannah before losing their landing pad as the hospital expanded. They relocated to the airport but incoming and outgoing air traffic from the airport limited when the helicopter could take off.

The county’s ambulances have been at their new base for three months, after leaving the county administration complex. Before setting up shop at the county administration complex, the EMS started out at the hospital. Then it was moved to near where the hospital’s pond is and then to where Veterans Park is now.

“We love it,” county EMS Director Wanda McDuffie said. “It’s nice to have our own space. It took us three years, but we finally have a home.”

EMS crews also have sleeping quarters, bathrooms and officers.

“I’m proud that we have this,” McDuffie said. “It’s nice.”