Manitoba is a little safer now that it's reached for the STARS.
On Wednesday, the province formally signed a 10-year deal with the Alberta-based Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society, which will provide a shiny red helicopter ambulance with paramedics and nurses ready to fly to folks in need.
STARS has already been here full-time since last spring, and Health Department experts credit it with saving 50 lives in that time.
"Today is a historic moment for emergency care (in Manitoba)," Health Minister Theresa Oswald said at a ceremony on West Hangar Road attended by STARS executives, more than a dozen blue-uniformed STARS pilots, paramedics and nurses and their families.
The province first made use of the non-profit service during the 2009 flood, and it quickly proved its life-saving potential.
The government hired STARS again for last year's flood and quickly announced it intended to make the arrangement permanent.
That was officially completed on Wednesday.
STARS has now trained 14 -- soon to be 16 -- Manitoba-based staff to handle 12-hour shifts. Over the next year or so, it plans to approximately double its staff so it can operate 24-7.
Each helicopter crew comprises two pilots, a critical-care nurse and a critical-care paramedic. An emergency physician trained in pre-hospital care and transportation is also available by telephone for every emergency response and travels in the helicopter when medically necessary.
The service will cost $10 million a year in Manitoba, with a significant portion of the cost coming from STARS fundraising and corporate donations.
The province plans to build a helicopter landing pad on a building now under construction in the Health Sciences Centre complex. Another pad will likely someday be built at St. Boniface hospital, which specializes in cardiac care.
For now, patients brought to the city by the helicopter, which has a range of about 250 kilometres without refuelling, need to be transported from the airport area by ambulance.
Jon Gogan, an 11-year STARS employee who is in charge of the local operation, said his family will move from Edmonton this summer once the kids are done school. He and his wife are thrilled.
"She's a Winnipeg girl and we've been waiting for a long time to come home," he said of his wife.
STARS operates throughout Alberta and by the end of this year, it will also operate out of Saskatoon and Regina.