For patients waiting to be airlifted to help from a scene, time is golden, medical helicopter pilot Aaron Rauch says.
"We do have a term we call the golden hour, which is the hour after an injury has occurred that we have to transport," Rauch said.
Rauch is a pilot with TriState CareFlight, an air ambulance and medical helicopter service with bases throughout the region -- and most recently, at Taos Regional Airport.
Since competing air support service REACH Medical closed its Santa Fe base last July citing economic reasons, Taos County EMS and other medical professionals have been hoping for exactly what CareFlight began doing in December: opening a new base to serve Northern New Mexico.
Rauch, who moved from Albuquerque to be part of the small enclave of pilots and nurses based here, says the team has been busy.
"We did four flights yesterday," Rauch said Tuesday (March 1). "I think it averages out to about one flight a day."
And those flights can reach far beyond Taos County. With regional bases in Durango and Santa Fe, CareFlight is available to go directly from Taos to Denver, if necessary -- and just recently, as far as Lubbock, Texas.
With its new Taos location, Taos Regional Airport Manager Mark Fratrick said the new base is a boon for Taos.
"When minutes and seconds can mean life or death, having an asset like this here in Taos is the best thing we could ask for," Fratrick said. " Once they get the call, it's estimated that the medical heli at Taos airport can get to Holy Cross between 8 to 12 minutes."
In addition, Rauch said it's a 27-minute ride to Santa Fe and just 46 minutes to Albuquerque. That's a vast improvement for local victims, who in the past could wait about an hour for a medical helicopter to fly up from Albuquerque.
The only glitch now, Fratrick says, is making sure everyone is aware of the new service.
"It may have improved, but they're still coming up from Albuquerque and some of the calls are still going out to them from Albuquerque. Just the response time and being able to have this available is the biggest thing," Fratrick said. "But CareFlight's bringing at least five or six high-paying jobs into our community that weren't here before. And they're bringing it to the airport, which is big."
The space CareFlight leases at the airport from Taos Aviation Services serves as an around-the-clock center of operations, Rauch said. The space is equipped with an office and living quarters where an on-shift crew can sleep and be ready to go the moment they get a call.
"We're always 24/7. We never close," Rauch said. "We're really excited to be up here and serving the community."