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Morongo reservation gains dedicated air ambulance
The tribal medical air unit, a twin-engine Airbus H145 helicopter, takes flight April 1 and will be dispatched to emergencies by Riverside County's CAL FIRE operations centre.
Morongo Fire Chief Jason Carrizosa, Morongo Chief Executive Officer Titu Asghar, Morongo Tribal Council Members Jeanette Burns, Mary Ann Andreas, and Teresa Sanchez, Morongo Tribal Chairman Charles Martin, and Samuel Flores, Donnie Wharton, Philip Forgione and Jeremey Shumaker of Global Medical Response.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians gathered with elected leaders and regional public safety officials to christen a new tribal ground ambulance and medical helicopter that will provide life-saving critical care and medical transport services on the Morongo Reservation, in communities across the San Gorgonio Pass in California and beyond.

The innovative partnership between Morongo and Global Medical Response companies, REACH Air Medical Services and American Medical Response, is believed to be the nation's first collaboration between a federally recognised tribe and an emergency medical service provider to provide both air and ground ambulances.

“The Morongo ground and air ambulances will save lives on our reservation and across the San Gorgonio Pass by delivering immediate, high-quality emergency medical care to those in need,” says Morongo tribal chairman Charles Martin. “Public safety has always been a top priority for our tribe, and our new ambulance programme in partnership with AMR and REACH is the latest extension of that commitment.”

Based at the Morongo Tribal Fire Department, the new bright-red ground ambulance staffed with full-time Morongo firefighter/paramedics began responding to emergencies in Pass cities and communities in early March. The tribal medical air unit, a twin-engine Airbus H145 helicopter, takes flight April 1 and will be dispatched to emergencies by Riverside County's CAL FIRE operations centre.

“We are excited to be teaming up with Morongo to launch a historic ground and air ambulance service that will bring comprehensive care to critically-ill or injured patients on the Morongo reservation and in Riverside County's Pass and desert communities,” adds Sean Russell, president, GMR Pacific region. “This new partnership stands as a nationwide model for future tribal and community-based ambulance programmes.”

Emblazoned with the Morongo tribal logo, the ambulances are being funded by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and managed by the Morongo Tribal Fire Department. The tribe plans to construct a future helipad and fire substation on the Morongo reservation in 2024 to base the helicopter. Until then, the air unit will operate from the Bermuda Dunes Airport.

“I applaud the Morongo Band of Mission Indians for its steadfast dedication to advancing public safety and emergency medical care,” says Riverside County Fifth District supervisor Yxstian Gutierrez. “Whether it's a car accident or a medical crisis, every second counts in an emergency. The partnership between GMR and Morongo will undoubtedly save lives in Riverside County.”

Morongo fire chief Jason Carrizosa said the new air and ground transport programme is expected to respond to over 1,200 calls for service per year. The air ambulance will also transport critically injured or ill patients between regional hospitals.

Morongo and Riverside County are exploring plans that would allow the helicopter to be deployed to help battle future wildfires with water-dropping capabilities.

“Our department is proud to be part of this important advancement for enhancing emergency medical services and critical care transports in the area,” Carrizosa says. “As a first responder, I deeply appreciate the opportunity to work with a forward-looking tribal council who are always pursuing opportunities to strengthen regional public safety.”

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