What is it like to be an air ambulance paramedic?

Being a paramedic means you have so many options open to you once you are qualified. With so many opportunities, it’s going to be a lot of fun trying to decide which option to take, because after all – when deciding to become a paramedic, it’s a life-changing decision.

An article in a local newspaper in the UK, sparked our attention about a man who decided to become a flight paramedic.

Rod and his workmates who are based at the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) see themselves as a a pivotal part of the emergency response chain, but they – like their fellow workers who attend accident and emergency scenes via a road ambulance – can often make the difference between a person surviving or not.

“We see people during the worst hour of their lives,” Rod said. “But if those people survive and I get to meet or hear from them again it’s just amazing. That’s why we’re in the job and it makes you want to continue.”

Most air ambulances exist solely on public donations or by contributions from major corporations like Westpac in Australia, such as the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast chopper service.

It’s the same story in the UK, where two helicopters, based at Norwich and Cambridge airports, and the crews consist of pilots, critical care paramedics, and doctors are supported by donations.

The Duke of Cambridge started work as a pilot with the EAAA earlier this year.

The UK airborne teams can get to the scene of an accident in any corner of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire (and Essex and Hertfordshire during the night) within 25 minutes flight time. The fast-response can make a huge difference said Rod.

Adrenaline fuels Rod’s appetite for the job

Rod, who joined St John Ambulance as an eight-year old and began work with Norfolk Ambulance (now East of England Ambulance Service) at 21, said 
he began work with the air ambulance because he feeds off the adrenaline of highly-acute incidents.

“I was fortunate that before I left the road ambulance I had been to more than my fair share of trauma incidents,” he said. “But I don’t think anything can prepare you for the jobs you go out on. Despite having the opportunity to save lives, Rod does not see his role as a flying paramedic as glamorous – far from it.”

Sometimes the medical staff encounter patients “determined to die,” while on other occasions he has had to run through woods carrying heavy equipment to get to a patient due to the helicopter being unable to land nearby. The job can be very physical and as demanding as any land based paramedic response team.

“We land the rescue chopper anywhere we can,” he said. “We’ve landed on the beach, on roads or in country fields.”

Rod said he is glad the ambulance is funded by a charity because it makes the service less bureaucratic and means they have more freedom to purchase their own equipment.

Have you thought about becoming a Flight Paramedic?

As an Air Ambulance Paramedic such as with Air Ambulance Victoria (AAV) in Australia, you’ll be already a qualified paramedic with advanced training and certification such as Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support, Advanced Medical Life Support for instance. Once enrolled, paramedics will then undergo specialist ‘aero-medical care’ training.

With AAV, the initial training runs for about six-weeks and concentrates on aviation skills such as aviation medical topics, air safety compliance and regulations, essential helicopter underwater escape training, fire-fighting and of course learning how to control the winch.

Once trained as a flight paramedic, there is of course regular ongoing training to make sure the current skills are maintained.

Careflight Australia has some very good information on becoming a Flight Paramedic. See this link ‘Careflight position description for Flight Paramedic‘ for more information.

What is your career journey?

To discover how you can become a fully qualified Ambulance Paramedic or Basic/Advanced Life Support Medic, complete a personalised paramedical career development plan.