A panel looking into the state's Med-Evac helicopter needs today recommended that the state buy two more sophisticated French-built Dauphins for around-the-clock service in Southern Maryland and on the upper Eastern Shore.
At a meeting at that began unexpectedly with a tense exchange between an impatient Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, Steinberg predicted that if state officials move quickly to find about $10 million in funding for the twin-engine helicopters, both could be operating in less than a year.
The state currently maintains a fleet of nine Dauphins from six bases around the state. The extra three are used for backup missions and for spare parts.
The expensive helicopters, which can travel at speeds of 160 miles per hour, are essential to the state's air Med-Evac program, which strives to deliver seriously injured accident victims to emergency medical care within the so-called "golden hour" needed to save lives.
Steinberg, who chairs the Maryland Executive Helicopter Advisory Committee, said outfitting existing bases at the Patuxent Naval Air Test Center in St. Mary's County and the state police barrack outside Centreville in Queen Anne's County with Dauphins would improve response and delivery time to the two regions.
MORE $10M COPTERS URGED
and berating the group for what he said was its failure to keep the issue from becoming a "political football."
Residents and legislators from both rural areas had been keeping pressure on the Schaefer administration to provide equal Med-Evac services ever since the Bell Jet Rangers were restricted to daytime duty.
"I don't want to play games...," Schaefer told the shocked committee as an exasperated Steinberg tried to tell him that the panel was scheduled to make a decision on the helicopter issue momentarily.
Schaefer threatened to make the panel meet weekly until it came up with a recommendation. "If you don't do it today and I read about this, I'll call you back if I'm not happy," he said.
After the governor left the meeting, Steinberg attempted to relax committee members with his signature humor.
"A lot of action today," he quipped. "We'll have to bring the governor in more often to stimulate you guys."
Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, who sits on the panel, later said the governor's surprise appearance had no effect on the committee action because a decision had already been scheduled.
"This item was on the agenda," Maloney said. "It's a little like showing up at sunrise and demanding that the sun come up."