The Maryland Executive Helicopter Advisory Committee made the right decision Tuesday when it recommended buying two more high-speed medevac choppers to give around-the-clock service to injured residents of Southern Maryland and the upper shore. The $10 million price tag is a small price for enhanced emergency medical care.
It was unfortunate, however, that Gov. William Donald Schaefer used the issue for political grandstanding in his dispute with legislators and Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg, who chairs the helicopter committee. The panel had already decided on the two new Dauphin helicopters. Tuesday's vote was a formality. Yet there was Mr. Schaefer walking into the meeting and demanding immediate action. It served no useful purpose. As one panel member put it, "It's a little like showing up at sunrise and demanding that the sun come up."
Perhaps now the posturing can end and the state can concentrate on improving its medical emergency system. All areas of the state have the high-speed Dauphin helicopters except the upper shore and Southern Maryland. These two areas are served by slower, single-engine choppers which aren't allowed to fly at night or in bad weather because of safety concerns. Backup choppers cannot always reach these areas in time to get car-crash victims to hospitals within what doctors call the "golden hour."
If the Board of Public Works approves, there could be new Dauphins in service this spring at Centreville in Queen Anne's County and at the Patuxent Naval Air Test Center in St. Mary's County. These two choppers will play a key role in the growing number of water-related rescues on the bay and its tributaries. The Centreville chopper will give better coverage to the hundreds of thousands of beach-bound motorists who might suddenly need emergency medical treatment.
Maryland's pioneering shock trauma system has served as a model for other states. But there were gaping holes in the medevac service areas. Those holes are now being plugged. When serious accidents happen in Southern Maryland or on the Eastern Shore, those choppers could mean the difference between life and death.