Life in Maryland got a little more dangerous this week.
The reason: a cutback in the state's Med-Evac emergency helicopter program announced yesterday by the governor in the latest round of state budget reductions.
"In my opinion, it's going to adversely impact public safety," Major Charles R. Hutchins, commander of the State Police Aviation Division, said about the cut in funding.
His division has jurisdiction over the Med-Evac program.
Two of the state's eight Med-Evac helicopter locations were closed on Monday, one in Centreville on the Eastern Shore and one in Montgomery County. The state also eliminated the service statewide between the hours of 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.
The cutback is expected to eliminate 22 jobs and save an unspecified amount of money in the aviation division, which was originally budgeted at $17.5 million this year.
It will also mean an increase in the time it takes to reach an emergency and move the victim to a regional trauma center.
And state officials have yet to calculate the human cost.
"There will be increased response times and, inevitably, that's going to impact the outcomes of some of the people we're transporting," said Hutchins.
The politically popular Med-Evac system is considered a national model for quick-response emergency services that get critically injured people to hospitals that specialize in trauma cases.
In 1990, the system transported 4,300 patients statewide and flew 9,000 missions, including police support and rescue flights.
Med-Evac pilots and medics are bitter about the cut, and warn that the public will be hurt.
"I've got two grandchildren who live within a mile of the hangar here," said Cpl. Michael L. Ptaszynski, who until Monday piloted Centreville's sole emergency helicopter. "And I worry about them. If they're in an accident, the aircraft is not going to be available."
His view was echoed by TFC Robert Faul, who is losing his job as a medic in Centreville.
"I think the Maryland State Police is going down the tubes as a result of political football," said Faul, a 22-year veteran trooper.
Even if the state backs off the cuts, "they've destroyed the trust that I've worked for," said Faul.