Frequently Asked Questions

San Juan County is served by two Air Medical Service companies. Why two?

San Juan County has two commercial Air Medivac companies which service our communities. Airlift Northwest (ALNW) and Island Air Ambulance (IAA). ALNW is primarily a helicopter medivac service but does have airplanes in its fleet. ALNW is based in cities along the Western coast of Washington State, the closest being Bellingham. Island Air Ambulance provides medivac services with airplanes and is based in Friday Harbor. Both companies have a history of providing services in San Juan County and come with qualified emergency medical crews.

Should I belong to both companies?

Yes, OIFR recommends that you purchase a membership with both companies.

Why?

Both companies are certified to the same level or care and can transport critical patients and severe trauma patients. However, adverse weather and the availability of aircraft are both a consideration when trying to medivac a patient off island. There is no way to predict the weather, the nature of the emergency or aircraft availability. Weather conditions (wind, icing conditions, or fog to name a few) sometimes dictate which medivac provider is able to land an aircraft on Orcas Island and then transport to a medical facility. These same weather conditions may also affect which hospital destination is chosen. There are also times when aircraft are not available because they are already transporting patients and your medical condition warrants an immediate transport. In these cases, the closest available resource is used to transport you to an emergency department/specialty center. Therefore, due to weather or aircraft availability you may be transported by either company servicing our area. Both companies offer air medivac memberships and we recommend you participate in both programs. We encourage you to visit the websites of Island Air Ambulance and Airlift Northwest to learn more about our partners in patient care.

Can I dial 911 from a cell phone or an internet (VOIP) phone?

Yes, but there are potential issues you need to know about. Please read our Calling 911 from Cell or VOIP Phones page for more information.