SARANAC LAKE - For 21 years, North Country Life Flight has provided emergency medical flights to residents and visitors of the area free of charge.
Thanks to events like PumpkinFest, held Oct. 9, at Mount Pisgah Ski Center, that tradition can continue.
Hundreds attended the annual festival, enjoying rides, games, crafts, hay rides, face and hair painting, plus great food and music. Also included were sales of baked goods and local crafts, and the Cake Walk, a popular attraction featuring the culinary artistry of local chefs and restaurants.
The event provided a big financial lift to North Country Life Flight, just a week after the organization celebrated its 21st year in existence.
"We fly critically ill patients to get medical treatment," said Mary Jane Connors, president of North Country Life Flight, "and we want them to be as comfortable as possible because we arrive on the worst day of their life."
Based out of Saranac Lake Regional Airport, North Country Life Flight utilizes helicopters from the New York State Police aviation unit to serve the area of New York north and east of Utica. Its main expenses are providing medical equipment, medications, and a combination of paid and volunteer medical personnel who are nationally-certified.
"There's been a 40 percent increase in the number of rescues just in the past year," said Connors, "so the demand for medical transport is high."
The nonprofit organization has hosted PumpkinFest for the past 12 years, one of a few annual fundraisers it relies on to meet its costs and provide service to patients for free.
"What's neat about this event is the children in the community come as volunteers," said Connors, noting how dozens of students from schools throughout the Tri-Lakes area come to help at PumpkinFest. "Last night we had members of the Saranac Lake football team here to set up."
New York State Police attended PumpkinFest, providing Child Identification cards for the many children that attended. The Saranac Lake Fire Department had its 75-foot snorkel truck on display.
Chuck Pandolph, a flight nurse for North Country Life Flight for the past 20 years, said the strong turnout at PumpkinFest year after year shows how much the community sees a need to support their rescue service.
"People give back to us because we give to them," he said. "It's neighbors helping neighbors."
"They feel that, not only is it fun to come here, but it's important to come here," said North Country Life Flight pilot Steve Orman in agreement. "We've been around here long enough that if there's not a member of their family we've flown, there's a friend or a neighbor.
North Country Life Flight has flown more than 2,000 patients, Orman said, and with many of them having extended families, the emergency service has a widespread impact.
Keeseville resident Jan Washburn was on a flight nearly five years ago as a patient. Today, she serves as a regular volunteer for North Country Life Flight.
"Since they helped me, I try to help them," Washburn said, "to help them be ready for the next patient."
Sid Ward, Jr., a resident of Jay, was selling some of his hand-crafted wood cutting boards at PumpkinFest, using the proceeds to benefit North Country Life Flight.
"I've had several friends that have been flown," he said, noting how, as a member of the Rotary Club of AuSable Forks, he helped organize some of the first fundraising events for Life Flight. "It's a great operation."
Those interested in making a contribution to North Country Life Flight may do so by calling 891-6853 or sending donations in care of the organization to 49 Helms-Mueller Road, P.O. Box 994, Saranac Lake N.Y. 12983.