ANNAPOLIS — State officials are waiting on results from a helicopter basing study — which has been underway by an outside consultant since May, a Maryland State Police spokesman said Friday, July 24.
According to MSP spokesman Greg Shipley, no decision has been made concerning the closure of a Maryland State Police Aviation Command helicopter section, although a preliminary report is expected later this summer. “Upon receipt of the consultant’s recommendation and a thorough review of the findings, a decision will be made regarding the helicopter section closure,” said Shipley.
During the Tuesday night meeting of the Queen Anne’s County Commissioner’s unanimous support was voiced for keeping the local hangar open. Commissioner Stephen Wilson said, “Never have I gotten more intelligent letters about the subject of losing the helicopter. We want to continue this service. Were it to close, we would get service from Salisbury or Martin State.”
He also pointed out that it is not just car crashes that the helicopter picks up. It is also stroke and heart attack victims.
“We need to guarantee this helicopter. I got over 100 emails on this,” said commissioner Jack Wilson, who noted he used Trooper 6 twenty years ago. Regarding funding support, Commissioner, Phillip Dumenil said, “Life and safety should be important to both State and local levels.”
Jack Wilson noted that the 50/301 corridor has a lot of crashes on it. He remembered a crash that took four medevac helicopters to help all the victims. “It is western shore people coming over here...so it is good for them too,” added Dumenil.
According to one petition on Facebook to save Trooper 6, “The originating creators of this site represent three aspects of emergency service. Gene Ransom is a former President of the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners and current healthcare specialist. Sheriff Gary Hofmann is the Sheriff of Queen Anne’s County. Steve Wilson is a County Commissioner of Queen Anne’s and member of the Queen Anne’s County Emergency Services Board,” said the petition.
State Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, said Maryland’s world class Medevac helicopter system has been targeted by budget cuts during revenue shortfalls in the past and, despite the costs of the program, it remains an important priority for Eastern Shore residents.
Eckardt, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and a former member of the House Appropriations committee, said Eastern Shore residents have had to fight for the Trooper 6 station in Easton before, and that although no specific recommendation has been made, “It is essential to retain that valuable essential service for our citizens and residents.”
Eckardt said that the study of the Medevac systems comes as fiscal teams in Annapolis propose options for bringing the revenues in alignment with the spending. She said the Eastern Shore delegation of the Maryland legislature has asked to be kept informed as the independent report is received, and that the delegation could reactivate the Medevac Oversight Committee or call for a hearing on the issue before any decisions are finalized.
Eckardt joined with members of the District 36 and 37 delegations who wrote an email advocating for continued funding of Trooper 6.
State Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, and Delegates Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37A-Dorchester, Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, Chris Adams, R-37B-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, and Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s.
“Obviously losing a (Medevac) aviation unit and potentially having to depend on units from other parts of the state would not only be detrimental but life threatening to the citizens on the Eastern Shore,” the delegations’ letter stated. “Quite simply, the Eastern Shore is not the area to scale back healthcare services for the purpose of statewide budget cuts.”
“If the closure of Trooper 6 is truly being discussed, we immediately demand DBM and MSP hold multiple public hearings throughout the mid-shore to explain how the state will be able to provide a comparable level of advanced medical care to its citizens,” the letter stated. “Please know we are prepared to take all actions necessary to protect this much needed life saving resource.”
The Board of Public Works, which is waiting on more information before making a decision, considered the possibility of a cut during their July 1 meeting. Some of the savings could include $1.3 million in savings from reduced aviation insurance, maintenance and overtime associated with closing one base due to sale of a helicopter and $490,000 in estimated fuel and maintenance savings in the aviation division.
The managers of the Facebook page Eastern Shore Fire/EMS/Breaking News posted on July 23, “Just imagine for a moment how long it would take you to get Advanced Emergency Care on a Sunday afternoon in the Summer! If this does not concern you, it should. Let these people hear from you! Don’t let the Shore be forgotten! Our lives, literally, depend on this service.”
In 48 hours, the post generated 1,500 shares, 734 reactions and 240 comments. Most of the posts were in favor of keeping Trooper 6 in Easton. Peggy Thomas commented, “Time matters, keep Trooper 6 in Easton. They save a lot of lives. They (Trooper 6) saved my daughter’s life 21 years ago by getting her to shock trauma quickly.”
Others also related how their or their loved ones’ lives had been saved.
The change.org petition to the Maryland General Assembly against reducing funding for MSP’s aviation command is circulating online, and as of Saturday, July 25, had gained over 7,700 digital signatures in two days.
The petition also zeroed in on the economic underpinnings that threaten Trooper 6.
“The budget cut was presented by the State if Maryland in such a way that The Easton Base (Trooper 6) was being weighed competitively against another location, (Trooper 2). The reality is that the entire Maryland State Police’s helicopter service is underfunded; now totally deficient in pilots and maintenance personnel. We do not believe either of these operations, Trooper 2 or 6, should be discontinued. The loss of either one would transfer the caseload without alleviating the real problem which is a lack of staffing and funding” said the petition.
“Our budget authorities must recognize that this service must receive full funding as a public necessity, and that required budget cuts are are taken from more optional public services. The lives and safety of our citizens are not budget items,” the petition said.
Star Democrat Editor Connie Connolly contributed to this story, along with staff reporter Tom McCall.