OSF hosts open house for new air ambulance base at Rock Falls airport

Visitors tour the Airbus EC145 medical helicopter Wednesday, July 10, 2024 in Rock Falls.

ROCK FALLS – OSF Life Flight held an open house Wednesday for its newest 24/7 air ambulance base at the Whiteside County Airport at 10950 Hoover Road.

The event started with a few comments and an opening prayer from OSF Healthcare Board Chairwoman Sister Judith Ann, followed by a little history of the Life Flight program from Vice President of OSF Aviation Kathy Devin and a blessing of the helicopter by Deacon George Schramm.

Rick Menzel from Blunier Builders said the 12,000-square-foot base features a kitchen, offices, a medical storage room, a ceiling-mounted canister fire suppression system, a common area and living quarters for the three crew members who will live there during their shifts. The East Peoria-based company won the bid to build the $860,000 facility, which airport manager Darin Heffelfinger said was paid for with county American Rescue Plan Act funds and airport reserves.

Flight nurse Zach Inskeep said crews will include one pilot and two flight nurses working three 12-hour shifts a week. A maintenance crew will visit the base daily for any repairs and upkeep.

“With our aircraft, if you fly it, you’re required to check it every 24 hours,” Inskeep said. “So they’ll do an inspection, and then these aircraft get flown so much that we do a lot of our heavy maintenance in Peru.”

Speaking of heavy maintenance, Menzel said the base features an 18-foot hydraulic door that opens to bring in the helicopter. Once wheeled inside, a crane moves across the center of the ceiling to pull the massive engine from the aircraft for repairs.

“That crane has to be able to pull two motors out of a helicopter at any given time,” Menzel said. “So they wheel the helicopter in, the crane picks up the motor, and they back out for repairs.”

According to the OSF Life Flight Facebook page, the new base officially opened April 6. Before then, the Rock Falls Life Flight crew was stationed at Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru and had to fly to Rock Falls every morning before returning to Peru in the evening. Inskeep said the new base will help save precious minutes when flying trauma victims to Rockford, Peoria and other hospitals.

“Our tracking device on the helicopter says two minutes is the estimated time to CGH, and to KSB it’s about eight to 10 minutes,” Inskeep said.

The new base also brought new jobs. OSF outreach coordinator Jennifer Wilkes said they have filled all four pilot positions and hired six flight nurses but still are looking to hire two more flight nurses.

OSF signed a 10-year lease of the facility, and Wilkes said OSF intends to re-sign once the lease is up.

“We did a lot of research on where would be the best location, and it was always going to be somewhere around this area,” Wilkes said. “We looked at where we were picking up all the patients and where would be a good spot to be closest to the highest number of patients.”

Courtney Przybyla is the medical-based supervisor for the Rock Falls Life Flight crew and one of the flight nurses. She is a Manlius native who transferred to Rock Falls from another air base.

“When the opportunity came to move and provide this to my community, I was 100% on board and made the leap,” Przybyla said. “I fell in love with emergency medicine and critical care medicine, and this was the one thing that merged both for me.”

Airport officials approached OSF several years ago about establishing a base in Rock Falls, but the county wasn’t interested. However, Heffelfinger said conversations about the project started to gain traction after OSF reached out again in early 2022.

Have a Question about this article?

Brandon Clark

I received my Associate's in Communication (Media) from Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, IL. I'm currently finishing my Bachelor of Journalism at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. I enjoy engaging the community in thoughtful discussion on current events and look forward to hearing what you have to say. Stay curious. Stay informed.