OSF air ambulance operational in new Whiteside County Airport hangar

An OSF St. Anthony Airbus helicopters that, along with its crew, moved into the new hangar at the Whiteside County Airport, 10950 Hoover Road in Rock Falls, on April 6, 2024.

ROCK FALLS – An ambulance flight crew with OSF (Order of Saint Francis) Life Flight now is based and operational at Whiteside County Airport, 10950 Hoover Road.

Plans to base the helicopter 24/7 at the airport, in order to save time and, hopefully, improve recovery options by transporting crash victims and other at-risk patients to Rockford and Peoria hospitals sooner, have been in the works for some time and simply were awaiting Whiteside County’s construction of a new hangar with a crew kitchen and living quarters.

That opened April 6, according to the airport Facebook page.

“Being in this area allows us to respond to hospitals in Sterling and Dixon within a few minutes, the Quad-Cities in about 15 minutes, Morrison, Freeport, Geneseo, and many others in 12-25 mins,” OSF Life Flight said on its Facebook page.

Until that happened, the Rock Falls Life Flight crew was stationed at Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, which also is an OSF Life Flight base.

About $500,000 of the cost of the hangar, which was about $860,000 all told, was paid for with county American Rescue Plan Act funds, and the rest came from airport reserves, airport manager Darin Heffelfinger said.

OSF signed a 10-year lease of the facility, he said.

The new base, which has room for a second helicopter if needed, is bringing about 16 good-paying jobs to the area – pilots, flight nurses, paramedics and maintenance workers, Heffelfinger has said.

There will be four 12-hour shifts consisting of at least a pilot and two nurses, and a mechanic based there daily.

OSF EMS, a division of OSF Healthcare, now has air bases in airports in Peru, Bloomington and Galesburg.

It’s part of a regional trend. OSF opened a Life Flight base in a new hangar at Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington in September 2021, which OSF Aviation bought, and in a new hangar at Galesburg Municipal Airport in June, which OSF built on land it owns, to be more accessible to northern and central Illinois residents.

“The idea is to be where the customers are,” Heffelfinger said.

It closed its base in Peoria when it opened in Peru and Galesburg.

Airport officials approached OSF several years ago about basing in Rock Falls, and at the time, the county wasn’t interested. Then OSF reached out in early 2022, and talks began, Heffelfinger said.

OSF Life Flight, in business in Illinois since 1984, makes more than 1,800 flights a year. It has made more than 10 from the area since opening locally.

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Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.