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Experiences working air ambulance

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Well-known member
Feb 17, 2005
I have never worked air ambulance before and would like to know what kind of experience people have had workng air ambulance.

The idea of doing out and back trips seems like a good aspcect of it. However I have heard bad things about waiting for patients and medical staff, and long duty times, that are drawbacks.
Let me just say that I used to fly for a regional airline and was furloughed and found this great air ambulance job in California which is probably the best job I've ever had.

I'm fortunate enough to be at home when I'm on call. I live 1.5 miles from the airport, and I can golf, ride my bike, etc. as long as I can be at the airport in 20-30 minutes.

I've been flying here for 6 months now, and I think I'm going to retire here. I hope this job lasts a LONG LONG time.

Sure, sometimes I get called out at midnight and sometimes I have to wait 2 hours for the medical crew to get back to the plane, but I just listen to my iPod and sleep in the pilot lounge. On occasion, I have 14 hour days, but I'm always back home in my own bed and I get to play around at home while I'm on call. It's like a part-time job with a full-time salary.

My wife loves my job. I love my job. It's like I'm semi-retired. I'm flying a turboprop and live in a great area for outdoor activities. What more could I ask for. I'm making about 40% more than I was as an FO flying a CRJ, life is good.

Hope this helps...
Duty days are long, usually 12 on, and you are like an ambulance driver. Waiting for the call. That's the down side. The plus side is that you are not overnight, usually have some type of schedule, it's a job where you actually see where people are being helped. The worst part is standing by unless you are fortunate to live 1.5 miles from the airport and can stay at home til the bell rings. There's usually a 30 minute or less notice of launch, so you have to be pretty aware of the weather and able to flight plan thoroughly and quickly.
Lots of free food! No overnights! Those are the good points. Bad points are for us: from the time that pager goes off we have 5 min to determine if the flight is a go or not. If you say it is a go you better be sure there is nothing that is going to stand in your way of getting the mission completed (such as notams you missed or fog developing that you missed) because someones life does depend on your decisions. The patient is better off in a hospital bed than stuck on a aircraft that is stuck in the air. From the time we page the flight a go (5 min after we get the request page) we have 15 min to be at the airport, filed and a W&B completed because the ambulance will probably be right behind us as we walk out to the aircraft. Another downer is seeing people die. No matter how well you do your end of your job you will see people that die from GSW or child abuse or cancer or attempted suicide or a car accident when the parent was driving drunk. The worst one for me was a 7 year old boy that we almost got to the hospital on time. Have a strong stomach and don't barf due to bad smells/death.
My air ambulance experience is great for now. 7 on 7 off is what they say, but with training and vacations the overtime is actually welcomed by half our pilots. Pay is 20-30% less then flying the same aircraft corporate. Our patients are always fairly stable. In 2 1/2 years I only killed one. The night shifts can take some getting used to, but it is a small price to pay for and easy job 90% of the time. My job may not be my last job just because there is always the question of is the program making $ and is it going to be cutt? Just like any other job in aviation. Unlike any other aviation job I sleep in my own bed.

Hey Fly High, where do you get your free food? I gotta look into that.
When the medical crew eats on the deadhead (no pun intended) we eat as well, all on the hospitals bill. Good food for free!
all i can say is to keep a container of Vicks (that decongestant stuff) in your flight bag...
A couple of points.

1. Never endanger yourself or your crew! The patient has to be stable enough for transport, so don't be a "hero". Remember the patient will always be better off in some 3rd world hospital than in the back of a Lear at FL410.

2. Know the difference between "Lifeguard" and "Emergency". Realize that often times you don't need to be Lifeguard (check your Opspec), it diminishes its importance, and controllers don't have to give you priority. On the other hand if your patient goes bad, don't hesitate to declare an emergency, "Center, Lifeguard123, needs direct to the numbers NOW," usually gets the point across.

3. If you need to make a fuel stop, know the FAR's and Opspecs regarding fueling with a patient onboard. Often you'll need to have the fire trucks standing by to re-fuel. BTW these Fire Departments can also save everybody's bacon if your paramedics run out of O2, or some other lifesaving drug (they usually have some onboard).

4. Don't trust your dispatcher, with anything that can't be rectified in the air or after landing. In other words don't let him dispatch you to "3rd World Podunk", with the promise of "I'll contact the Commandante, and have him open the airport at 3AM, and have everything standing by." Personal Experience:nuts: .

5. Look at your AFM, make sure you have a revised W&B that includes the stretcher!

6. Leave your licenses and medicals in a place you won't forget, and make copies that you leave in the airplane. It's amazing what you forget in your car/home when the pager goes off.

7. Stock up on rubber gloves! Seriously, if the paramedics are using gloves to move the patient, you might want to rethink touching anything in the back.

8. Be careful cleaning up in the back, it won't be the first time a syringe got dropped in turbulence. And make sure you tell the airplane cleaners/lineguys to be carefull cleaning too.

9. Figure out the order at a "vulture fest", the heart/lungs, is going to come before the kidneys, liver, eyes, skin. IOW's if the Heart/Lung team is still 2 hours from landing, you know you've got at least 4 hours till takeoff, so snooze well.

10. Remember rule #1, YOURS is the most important life, so bring yourself home, and everyone else stands a chance!

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