Office of Emergency Medical Services

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Fly or Drive Criteria

Making an Informed Decision

When a someone is seriously injured, EMS personnel need to decide whether transportation by ambulance or helicopter will get the patient to the trauma center sooner. There are several considerations in making this decision:

  • Ground travel time to the nearest trauma center (e.g., distance, traffic congestion)
  • The helicopter's estimated time of arrival (ETA), the transfer time, and flight time to the trauma center
  • Whether multiple patients are involved


Let's discuss each of these considerations separately. Generally, the factors which should be taken into account are:

  • Ground transport should be used for an un-entrapped patient who is within 30 minutes ground travel time from a trauma center.
  • Entrapped patients are an exception to the 30-minute rule, if the helicopter can reach the scene while the patient is being rescued or extricated.
  • The helicopter should generally be called to a scene which is more than 30 minutes by ground from a trauma center. You should consider factors such as the helicopter's estimated time of arrival, in-flight time, extrication time, etc.
  • Keep in mind that, while a helicopter is fast once in the air, getting to the landing zone and loading the patient can easily add 5 to 10 minutes, or more, to onscene time.
  • Consider requesting a helicopter for incidents involving more than three critical patients. Additional manpower, communication with medical control, and transport options can be obtained by using the air medical helicopter system.

Accessing NorthSTAR and SouthSTAR

Two dedicated, medically configured helicopters serve New Jersey (see related Background Information). To access the New Jersey air medical system

  • In the 609 area code, call 1-800-544-4356 for SouthSTAR
  • In all other New Jersey area codes, call 1-800-332-4356 for NorthSTAR

If the service you call is not available, the air medical helicopter dispatch center will arrange for another EMS helicopter to respond. Mutual aid agreements exist among the two instate air medical program sites and between the New Jersey EMS Helicopter Response Program and air medical programs in Pennsylvania and New York.

Helicopter Request Information

When you call the dispatch center for air medical helicopter assistance, please have the following information ready, if possible:

  • Your name and agency with a call back number
  • The county and municipality names and incident location with cross-streets (so the pilot can find the incident location on a map) and any nearby landmarks which are visible from the air (such as water towers)
  • The nature of the incident, including number of patients (with approximate age and sex), number of entrapped patients (with approximate age and sex), and the types of injuries and their extent (with vital signs, if available).
  • Local weather conditions
  • Location of proposed landing zone to incident and any overhead obstructions or other dangerous conditions (such as wires or fences), if known at the time of the call
  • If known at the time of the call, the following information should also be supplied: the original requesting agency unit number and name, as well as the VHF radio frequency of the onscene landing zone coordinator and that person's operating number and name

Important Reminders

  • Remember to call the helicopter dispatch center early in a serious incident to minimize response time. If you are en route to what appears to be a serious situation and you are unsure whether the helicopter will actually be needed, ask for it to be notified to "stand by."
  • You can call the helicopter no matter what time of day or night.
  • Always assume a helicopter is available and in operation, regardless of weather conditions.
  • Also call for a mobile intensive care (MICU) advanced life support unit as soon as you have activated the helicopter, if an MICU hasn't been called for previously.


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