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STAR Flight (Shock Trauma Air Rescue) is a unique public safety air rescue program that performs everything from the transport of critically ill patients to firefighting, rescue to law enforcement. Based in Austin, Texas, STAR Flight is funded to protect and serve the citizens of Travis County, but also serves 19 other counties within the Central Texas area. STAR Flight’s responds to people experiencing medical problems such as heart attacks or strokes or suffering from traumatic injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents or recreational activities. We also regularly respond to requests from rural hospitals to transport patients who require a higher level or specialized care.

As part of the EMS response, STAR Flight is dispatched through the same 911 system as other ambulances and fire equipment and is frequently dispatched at the same time. We are utilized within the Travis County system as a first-response Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance. If a call is triaged through our dispatch center as a high priority medical request, and it is estimated that an ambulance will take longer than 20 minutes to arrive on scene, STAR Flight may be automatically dispatched directly to the scene. This differs from most air programs in the country that are not requested until after an emergency unit arrives on scene and determines that a helicopter is needed. Our liftoff times average between 4-8 minutes. It is Travis County's goal to have an ALS-trained responder to the side of every patient within 20 minutes of receiving the call for assistance.

Travis County, as well as the Texas Hill Country, presents many unique challenges for EMS and rescue crews. Commonly referred to as “Flash Flood Alley” due to the swift and severe nature of deadly flash flooding events, it holds distinction as the number one area in the nation for flash flood rescues. There are also several large lakes and rivers very popular for boating and water recreation. Access is often difficult and remote. The ability to rapidly locate the scene and deploy highly trained medical personnel directly to the scene, whether in or out of the water, has proven to be a lifesaver for many residents and visitors to Travis County’s lakes.

STAR Flight also trains its personnel to operate safely and competently extricate patients from high hazard environments, including cliffs, still and swift water. All of our medical crews spend hundreds of hours training each year to treat and rescue people from these austere environments. STAR Flight rescuers can access a patient directly from the air via hoist and initiate advanced medical care and package the patient. Our program is founded on principles of flexibility and versatility – on expert care in any environment.

Scroll down to see a more specific description of our various roles and specialties.

EMS and Critical Care Transports

STAR Flight central focus is providing high quality, rapid and efficient medical care to patients anywhere, anytime and in any situation. Most requests for STAR Flight are either a “scene call” or a critical care transport.

A “scene call” is a request for STAR Flight to respond directly to where the emergency occurs. Often this is a vehicle accident or a patient’s home. Any emergency responder within our county response area can request a response from STAR Flight directly to the scene by contacting our dispatch center in Austin, Texas. Our crews will land right at the scene of the crash and begin providing advanced medical care immediately.

The other common requests for STAR Flight come from hospitals in the central Texas region. Responding with a paramedic and registered nurse, STAR Flight crews transport critically ill and injured patients requiring specialized care from outlying hospitals to hospitals specializing in cardiac, stroke, trauma, pediatric and neonatal care.

Beginning in 2006, STAR Flight partnered with specialty transport teams in Austin. STAR Flight can now be requested to transport specialty team members to outlying hospitals in the Central Texas region to assist in the care and transportation of patients requiring expertise or critical care equipment not normally available. Once the patient has been stabilized, they, along with the transport team members, are flown directly back to the hospital where specialized care can be continued. In this way, specialized care can begin upon our arrival at the outlying facility and continued all the way to the receiving hospital.

Rescue (Water)

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Central Texas is home to several large lakes, including the Highland Lake chain that include locally, Lake Travis and Lake Austin, where recreational water sports are very popular. Central Texas also has geography that makes severe flooding a fairly regular occurrence. STAR Flight has developed a program to rescue victims located in fast moving flood waters, commonly referred to as “swift water” or still water, such as our local lakes.

When a call is received for a victim in the water, STAR Flight crews prepare the aircraft and a crew member will “dress out” in special water rescue equipment appropriate for the type rescue that is anticipated. Once airborne, STAR Flight crews gather information from dispatch or crews on the scene and begin to plan accordingly. Once over the scene and a victim is located, STAR Flight crews determine the safest way to get an advanced life support (ALS) qualified rescuer to the victim’s side.

For a victim in still water, a rescuer may be deployed out of the helicopter via hoist into the water to locate, assess and begin medical assessment/packaging of the victim. If the victim is located in “swift water,” STAR Flight crews may take a slightly different approach. Due to the extreme danger and unpredictability of “swift water,” a STAR Flight rescuer can be moved to the victim’s location using the hoist or a “short haul” technique. The victim is secured and moved (with a rescuer still in attendance) to a safe location where medical care can be initiated. These rescues are typically done during flash flood events and usually result from people encountering hazardous road conditions and attempting to drive through water and creek crossings and getting stuck or stranded. Victims are most often found either on the roof top of their vehicle or found clinging to or in trees. These rescues represent some of the most challenging and time-dependent rescue operations that we do. It is not uncommon to find victims clinging to submerged roof racks mere minutes from being drowned or washed away. Water crossings can be very dangerous and should not ever be taken lightly. If you find yourself in a situation where road conditions are hazardous or unsure, especially if you see that law enforcement has posted signs and barriers indicating unsafe conditions, TURN AROUND DON’T DROWN

Rescue (Land)

mission land

 Central Texas is home to several very diverse and beautiful outdoor recreation areas. Some are remote and rugged, such as Enchanted Rock State Park, and some are close – even downtown. Austin has a large series of rugged wilderness areas within the city limits that are popular places for hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking. A number of individuals each year become lost or injured within these areas and need rapid extraction and medical treatment. STAR Flight’s ability to search from the air and then to hoist a rescuer directly to the patient’s side saves critical minutes. When the need arises, STAR Flight is also able to extract victims from within the wilderness areas or from cliff sides making an appealing and effective alternative to hiking several miles over rough and rugged terrain. STAR Flight is able to hoist in a rescuer to the patient, perform a thorough assessment, initiate treatment on all life-threatening injuries, package the patient, and be ready to extract within 10-20 minutes.

Fire Suppression

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STAR Flight is often called by local fire departments to assist firefighters on the ground with grass and vegetation fires. STAR Flight crews are able to assist in two primary operations. STAR Flight crews can assume the role of observer, assisting firefighters on the ground by providing information about the fire such as direction of travel, hot spots, threatened structures, and areas that firefighters may need address immediately.

However, STAR Flight is most often utilized to provide direct aerial suppression drop water directly on the fire and its advancing perimeter. Aerial water drops are performed using either a Bambi Bucket (EC145) or fixed tank (UH-1). The Bambi Bucket, a 125 gallon bucket that hangs from the bottom of the helicopter by several cables, is “dipped” into a body of water such as a pond or lake. After the bucket is filled with water, the water is transported to the fire, and is dropped where it is needed most. The fixed tank is directly attached to the aircraft and holds up to 325 gallons. It can be filled by a snorkel with remote pump or by ground fill from a fire engine or hydrant. These tools are particularly effective in light fuels commonly found around Central Texas. Many Central Texas houses are located in dense, heavily-treed areas which are very prone to fires and can be difficult to protect. STAR Flight’s priorities on a fire are to first save and protect life, then property and environment.

Law Enforcement

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STAR Flight assists local law enforcement agencies during suspect searches, vehicle pursuits, and by providing aerial surveillance during high-risk operations. STAR Flight personnel are not certified as law enforcement officers and therefore do not provide “on the ground” back up, nor do they carry weapons, but can be a great assistance to officers by providing a set of “eyes in the sky” both to help locate suspects or to provide and element of protection for officers on the ground.

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Charles Brotherton
County Executive

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