CALSTAR’s Vacaville base marks 5th anniversary

CALSTAR’s Vacaville base marks 5th anniversary 7 Oct, 11, Source: CALSTAR

The California Shock Trauma Air Rescue (CALSTAR) base in Vacaville, known as CALSTAR 8, marks its 5th anniversary this month.  Since the base opened in 2006, flight crews have flown approximately 1,400 critically ill and injured patients throughout Solano and surrounding counties.

According to Chief Flight Nurse Scott Wallace, approximately two thirds of the calls were in response to a variety of accidents in and around the county while the other third were inter-facility transfers.  Inter-facility transfers happen when a patient admitted to a local hospital needs to be transferred to an advanced or specialty care facility.

Ross Fay, CALSTAR’s San Francisco Bay regional director, said the 1,400 flights are not a true reflection of how often the helicopter lifts off.   “We are often dispatched simultaneously with first responders,” he said. “About 50 percent of the time, the first responders realize that the injuries are not that serious and we return to base.”  He added that CALSTAR would not have it any other way.  “If there’s a potential that individuals are seriously or critically injured, we don’t want to waste a moment’s time in getting our critical care nurses on scene.”

CALSTAR 8 operates the Eurocopter BO-105 helicopter, specifically designed and engineered for a high payload. Fay says the helicopter is perfectly suited for CALSTAR 8’s mission. “Many of our calls take us directly to the scene of an emergency, and whether that is a street intersection, parking lot, or a clearing in a regional parkland, this nimble aircraft is ideal for maneuvering in such tight places.”

Fay added that the rotors of the BO-105 are safely up and out of the way, and the downwash is minimal.  “The litters can be loaded straight in, with no tilting or turning,” he said.  “And the sound signature is minimal—a great advantage in serving hospitals in densely populated areas.”

CALSTAR 8 also is able to respond on a regional basis to 911 system requests to adjoining counties such as Contra Costa, Napa, Yolo, Sacramento and beyond for transports to hospitals such as NorthBay Medical Center, Vaca Valley Hospital, Sutter Solano Hospital, Kaiser Vacaville, Queen of the Valley Hospital, John Muir Medical Center, Children’s Hospital Oakland, Kaiser South Sacramento and UC Davis Medical Center.

CALSTAR 8 flight crews frequently train with local fire agencies and hospitals.  “The various EMS agencies and hospitals are a close knit family,” Fay said.  “We continuously strive to improve on our efforts.”

As a nonprofit company, all CALSTAR bases frequently participate in community events such as health fairs and other educational programs.  Fay said he is particularly proud of CALSTAR’s participation in “Every 15 Minute Drills.”  The drills, held over a two-day period at local high schools, dramatically show the tragedy that can occur from impaired driving.  The program utilizes students made up to show horrific injuries. A mock vehicle accident is staged near the school and portrays dead or dying students being transported to a medical center or the morgue.  The program is called Every 15 Minutes because that used to be the statistic for how often someone died in America due to drinking alcohol and driving.  “The program apparently is having an impact, because that number has been cut in half,” Fay said.

CALSTAR is now in its 27th year of operation and has completed more than 45,000 flights without a single injury to a patient or crew member.  CALSTAR has what is recognized as the “gold standard” for flight crews.  Each crew is made up of a pilot and two highly trained trauma nurses.  Prior to starting at CALSTAR, a pilot must have a minimum of 3,000 of helicopter flying time, and nurses must have a minimum of three years experience either in an emergency room or intensive care unit.  All nurses must maintain advanced certifications in various forms of life support.

Being transported by a CALSTAR helicopter can be costly—upwards of $20,000.  As a nonprofit community service, CALSTAR is able to offer annual family memberships for a nominal fee of $45 per year.  If a member is flown, CALSTAR will accept the insurance reimbursement – if any – as payment in full.  For more information, individuals can all 1-888-207-LIFE or by visiting the company’s web site at

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