Spectrum Announces Plans To Rebuild Butterworth Helistop

August 28, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Spectrum Health today unveiled plans to rebuild the rooftop landing pad for air ambulances atop Butterworth Hospital, following a fiery AeroMed helicopter crash there on May 29.

Dr. Ralph Rogers, AeroMed medical director, said at a news conference this morning Butterworth Hospital’s two rooftop helistops would be expanded to 60-by 60-feet each, moved farther from a brick elevator shaft that protrudes 27 feet above the roof, and elevated on a cantilevered deck. The renovations include a manually operated, push-button fire suppression system, which he said may be operated from many different locations, in addition to the fire hose reel already in place.

He said the number and placement of objects on top of the roof is also under review.

The changes will include a “fuel-water separator tank” to capture run-off, including any jet fuel that could be spilled during an accident. Fuel leakage into the top floors of the hospital occurred during the recent accident.

The $1.5 million project is expected to be completed by November, weather permitting, Rogers said.

“We believe that the hospital helipad on top of the hospital is the best place for us to land with our patients,” Rogers said. “Particularly in urban areas, it’s pretty common to use rooftop helistops. It’s really the safest place to be and we’re committed to that.”

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report stated that the Sikorsky S-76A helicopter’s tail rotor apparently struck an object on a radio tower on top of the elevator structure. The rotor disintegrated, the pilot was unable to control the aircraft, which then crashed and burned.

AeroMed and Butterworth Hospital are both owned by Spectrum Health.

Rogers said the helistops would be elevated four to five feet. “That’s important because that will enhance the ability to navigate winds,” which, he added, can be significant at that elevation.

The landing pads will be surrounded by horizontal aluminum safety netting that will extend beyond the platform, Rogers said.

Each helistop will have metal stairways leading to the floor below as emergency exits.

Construction is expected to begin Oct. 15. A portion of Crescent Street will need to be closed from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15 so that building supplies can be lifted by crane to the roof. Spectrum Health spokesman Bruce Rossman said the health system is in the process of seeking permits needed for the work.

Rogers said Spectrum is working with FEC Heliports, a Cincinnati, Ohio, company that engineers and installs pre-fabricated aluminum helipad systems.

After the accident, AeroMed began landing with patients at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and transporting them to Butterworth Hospital by ambulance. Earlier this month, medical helicopters starting using a parking lot at 522 Plymouth Ave. NE, between Michigan Street and I-196, which Rogers said had greatly reduced travel time for patients.

A date for opening the rebuilt helistops is still undecided. 

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