EMS Helicopter Pilot – Colorado

"Landing on roads, rooftops and mountains, Samantha Poirier shares insights into saving lives in the Rockies as an EMS helicopter pilot!"
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The lovely Samantha Poirier has been kind enough to give us an insight into her exciting daily life as an EMS Helicopter Pilot operating in the Colorado Rockies. It’s an absolute privilege to get behind the scenes access like this, so thank you for sharing Samantha!

Company, Position & Base?

I work for REACH Air Medical and we are a hybrid base with UCHealth. My position is Lead Pilot and my base is LifeLine 1, REACH 30 at Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Colorado.

Can you summarise your job role as an EMS helicopter pilot?

I fly an EMS medical helicopter in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado transporting patients from on scene of an accident to a trauma center or move patients from one level of care to a higher level of care. I take flights at any time of the day or night, land on roof tops, and road sides, and work with some of the highest qualified medicals professionals in the industry.

 

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Samantha operating in the Rockies

Example of a typical “day in the life” of an EMS helicopter pilot?

I work 12 hour shifts, either 0700-1900 or 1900-0700 7 days in a row.  I get to work and log in, check weather and maintenance due on the helicopter.  I go preflight and then brief with my medical crew. I am on call at the hospital where our helicopter is based on the roof.  I wait for tones from our dispatch to either send us to an accident somewhere or move a patient from hospital to hospital.

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Why did you choose this helicopter pilot job & what path did you take to get here?

I chose this career because I love flying helicopters and I love helping people.  I was never made for the typical 8-5 desk job, and with this job I can fly every day and also be home every night.  This job is helping a person out on their worst day.  I also get to fly one of the best helicopters in the aviation industry.  To get here I went to flight school, to get all my required certificates to fly.  Then I traveled all over the country to gain experience and hours to be able to meet the minimums to get hired for this job.

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2 favourite aspects of the rescue helicopter pilot job?

  • Flying in the Colorado mountains is amazing, and is hard to beat. 
  • Also the people I work with.  My med crew is like a second family to me.

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One great thing about your company

There are so many wonderful things about my company, but I have to say the management.  They are always approachable, and easy to communicate with.  

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What do you find the 2 most challenging aspects or impacts?

  • One challenge is the high altitude operations.  In the summer when it is hot and density altitude is high, it makes flight planning challenging when you have a mountain scene call. 
  • The other part that can be a challenge is not having a hangar here where our helicopter is based.  We have to always try and predict the weather and as you know it changes fast here in Colorado! We all have a fear of the helicopter getting caught on the roof in inclement weather.  

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Most surprising part of the job for you?

Getting tones at 2am! You can go from being asleep, to airborne in a matter of minutes. 

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Most memorable day on the job as an EMS helicopter pilot?

I have so many, for so many different reasons.  Patients who have changed my life for what they went through, tough landing zones, fun days.  I have so many amazing memories it’s hard to just chose one.

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If you could go back to the start of your career as a helicopter pilot and do anything differently, what would it be and why?

Start at a younger age.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do right out of high school.  I didn’t start flying until my mid 20’s and didn’t think I could even be a pilot.  I just wish I had more confidence in myself at a younger age.  Other than that, nothing.  I love my career of becoming a professional pilot start to finish.

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Most commonly asked flying question you get at a party? What’s your answer?

I don’t go to parties :p  But when I get those type of questions, I tell people I am just a glorified uber driver and my medical crew works all the magic to save the lives.

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Would you recommend your career path to budding or current helicopter pilots right now? Any advice for them?

Go out and get as much real life experience as you can.  Take the ferry trip to Alaska, move somewhere that aviation is predominant in the community and make the best of your experience.  Being a CFI is great, but real life real experience is what will keep you alive in your day to day job.

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Rough flying hours per month

Varies on the season for me with EMS, but anywhere from 10-40 hours.  I work a lot of over time.

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Is the salary competitive & how does the salary structure work? (Understandable if you don’t wish to share this!)

I feel that helicopter pilots in general are very underpaid for what we do.  We can be airborne in a matter of seconds, flying a single pilot, single engine ship at 10,000’.  What we make isn’t even comparable to what airliners make.  The difference is, us helicopter pilots do it for the love of the job.   

What do you want your life to look like in 5 years time?

I am hoping to keep moving up within my company here at REACH. Assistant Chief Pilot would be the next position for me to move into.  I am also helping Larimer County Sheriff’s Office in northern Colorado develop an Air Unit.  I want to be more involved with that and hopefully have an aircraft at that point and time for the program.  We are starting it from ground zero.

What does a “bad day at work” look like for you

A bad day is a no fly day! Sometimes we have inclement weather or the helicopter is down on maintenance.  A no fly day would be a bad day.

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What does a “great day at work” look like for you

A great day at work is any day I fly multiple scene calls in the mountains!

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What impact does the job have on your mental or physical health? 

As a crew we see a lot of stuff.  Essentially we are called to transport the patient where it’s time sensitive.  We are put in stressful situations, and we all need to have a way to handle it. 

What strategies do you have for maintaining positive mental & physical health that could be useful to other pilots? i.e exercise, social connection, eating healthy etc

Sleep is first and foremost the most important to me! But sleep, eating healthy, exercise and time off.  I have a dirt bike, a horse and a great support from family and friends that I rely on all heavily.  If you are not 100% when you come to work in all aspects of mental and physical, what good are you to everyone? Taking care of yourself is the most important.

What mental health support is available to you in the workplace? Do you think this is adequate? Any ways you think it could be improved?

My direct peers and coworkers are truly phenomenal.  We all work together and see the same stuff.  Being able to process it together as a crew is important.  We also will go out to breakfast or dinner after a tough shift.  That helps us decompress for anything that was challenging. 


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It’s extremely generous of Samantha to take the time to answer our questions, & for her transparency about her work & life. Thank you Samantha and we’re looking forward to hearing how your next few years as an EMS helicopter pilot pan out!

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To follow Samantha’s journey, check out her awesome instagram channel!

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This series aims to bring you insights into the daily life of pilots around the world in varying industries to hopefully expand your knowledge and enable you to make more suitable career decisions. If you like it, please comment!

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