In 1976, civilian EMS was still in its infancy and most hospitals had never considered building a helipad. However, Dr. James “Red” Duke and Chief Lester “Whitey” Martin were about to revolutionize patient transportation in Houston and the surrounding areas. Their ground-breaking idea led to the founding of Memorial Hermann Life Flight, an air medical flight program that has been a benchmark for quality and innovation for over 35 years.
In the early '70s when Houston and the surrounding areas were growing significantly, there was only a handful of hospitals capable of delivering comprehensive specialty care to critically injured or ill patients. Recognizing this issue, Dr. Duke and “Whitey” Martin approached Bill Smith, the then CEO of Hermann Hospital, with the proposal to start a civilian air medical program capable of quickly transporting a patient from a distant hospital or scene to Hermann Hospital in Houston. After months of research, and a formal proposal to Hermann’s Board of Regents, funding was made available to start the fledgling air medical program.
Over thirty-five years later, Life Flight is known across the world as a highly regarded, premier ambulance program. And, it is the efforts of those people that helped to create Life Flight that define the program’s history.
Hermann Life Flight began its service on August 1, 1976 with one Alouette operated by Rocky Mountain Helicopters. A second Alouette was added to the fleet in 1977 and expanded once again in 1978 to include a third Alouette. All three aircraft were based at Hermann Hospital, assigned flights on a rotating basis and dispatched from offices below the helipad area. At that time, the service area extended 120 miles from Hermann Hospital.
Today, Life Flight completes over 3,000 missions each year and the John S. Dunn Helipad, capable of landing four helicopters at one time, is considered one of the busiest hospital helipads in the United States.
Memorial Hermann Life Flight’s pilots enhance patient care by maintaining Air Transport Pilot status, while flight nurses and paramedics sustain Certified Flight Registered Nurse and Certified Flight Paramedic status. In its 35-year history, more than 130,000 patient missions have been accomplished by the dynamic pilots, nurses and paramedics who strive to be the “best of the best.”