LEWISTON — LifeFlight of Maine, which has been providing helicopter ambulance service since 1998, plans to add three critical care ambulances to its fleet and launch a critical care ground transport program by July 1, 2024.

Started 25 years ago in Bangor and Lewiston, LifeFlight currently offers medical care and transportation to people across the state via helicopters and airplanes stationed in Lewiston, Bangor and Sanford.

It also partners with private companies and municipalities to transport patients in standard ground ambulances when weather, availability or patient comfort make a helicopter transport infeasible.

At the moment, 26% of LifeFlight’s patient transports are through these partnerships. However, LifeFlight officials said staffing shortages among those partners is causing more pressure on the system.

Emergency responders and a crew from LifeFlight of Maine load a patient injured in a March 2022 crash in Paris into a medical helicopter at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

Chief Operating Officer Bill Cyr said the service is expecting 2,650 transports this next fiscal year, up from 2,500 in the current year. Each year LifeFlight’s patient transports increase by around 5% to 10%, Cyr said, due to staffing shortages on local ambulance teams.

Cyr said the decision to purchase their own critical care ambulances is supported by everyone.


“The intent is not to take any business away from any other private ambulance or municipality,” he said. Instead, Cyr said it will benefit everyone, allowing local ambulances to stay in their communities and be available to their residents.

“We’ve worked with our partners in this, they all know we’re doing this and they’re supportive of it because it does allow their staff to stay local, and not have to commit a driver and an ambulance or two crew members to a long-distance, all-day transport,” Cyr said.

To execute the $1.92 million project, LifeFlight will hire its own EMT drivers, who will undertake a one-month specialized training next winter, and buy specially equipped ambulances, according to Cyr.

“We’re building critical care ambulances, which are much different than your normal ambulance that you see on the road,” Cyr said.

The critical care ambulances are outfitted as a mobile intensive care unit with all medical and pharmacy laboratory equipment necessary. These will carry blood, extra oxygen, as well as a second generator, heating and air conditioning systems. The vehicles are designed for long-distance transportation and take into consideration crew and patient comfort and safety, Cyr said.

“We have designed the trucks so that in their seated and belted positions, (staff are) able to do all that they need to do for the patient and reach all of the equipment without getting unbuckled as they’re driving down the road,” he said.

Each vehicle will cost about $640,000. Leaders are working to privately fund the project through the LifeFlight Foundation. As of June 21, they have raised $575,750. Officials expect to reach their fundraising goal by June 2024.

Comments are no longer available on this story