Monday, August 24, 2020

A Flight Paramedic Writes...

"Coffee Talk.....or in my case Beer Talk..... Real talk for a moment and this is gonna be long so if you give zero fox or don’t have the attention span then keep scrolling, no judgment. This is just something we all need to remember, especially right now. 

My husband took me out to lunch today to one of our favorite spots for a burger and beer because he felt like doing something sweet for me. Not because he wants something from me but because I have been making an extra effort to be and do sweet things for him like making his favorite soup, getting him a Happy Day gift, and just being all around more affectionate. We talked about things we wanted for the future and plans we wanted to start working towards, which was nice and something we haven’t done in a while. 

For me, it’s hard to be vulnerable and show emotion even to my kids and my spouse. Working in public safety for so long, especially being brought up in older school public safety, you learn early that you have to compartmentalize and show no emotion....especially being a female in a predominately male field. It is drilled into you. You have to be able to turn off emotion to work efficiently in times when you see things no human being should ever have to see. You have to be better, work harder and be stronger. Working like this establishes you as a paramedic and not just a “female”, as well as preserves your mental state enough to be able to continue working. 

What you don’t realize early on though, is that this will bleed over into your personal life as well. You become closed off, reserved, and quiet. It gets harder to show emotion on your days off, and harder not imagine all the ways things could “go wrong” in any given recreational situation. It gets harder to turn off your “public servant” brain and turn on your “human brain”. Being a manager/supervisor/leader makes it that much harder because you have to be the strong one people can come to, trust, and rely on amongst all the other factors this profession already entails. In my work life, I strive to be the mom/big sister figure that my people can come to knowing that it will be without judgement but also that hard truths will be told if need be. I try to always greet my people with a smile, try to make them laugh when appropriate and be strong for them when they need me to be. 

I am also human, and what most people don’t see is the tears that I shed for them, our patients and sometimes myself. I have had my moments sobbing in the bathtub or screaming at the night air by myself. I suffer from depression, anxiety, self harm and PTSD not just from public safety but from other factors of my life as well. (Whoo that’s not easy to say out loud!) I have to remind myself that it’s ok to be emotional and show emotion at the appropriate time. 

We have to constantly work on ourselves not to get lost in the “this is just who I am now” mindset and remind ourselves to be outwardly vulnerable, sweet, loving and kind to the people that we love and care about. Luckily I have a partner that not only understands because he’s been there, but reminds me to be Jennifer and not just the paramedic or the supervisor when I get lost in it. It’s so important to be cognizant of yourself and see when you need to remind yourself to be you again. 

I have overcome a lot in this profession, from being a single mom going through paramedic school on an EMT Basic salary to being sexually assaulted more than once on duty, to having my reputation trashed for reporting one of those assaults, to having my superiors protect my assailant before me, to being told I couldn’t do it cause I wasn’t a man, to being held back from promotion for standing up for what’s right, to being told I got as far as I did only because I was pretty, to being told I will never make it in this career, to now....a 17 year veteran, a flight paramedic, being promoted to my current level after less than two years at my current job, to now out ranking that same person who tried to hold me back from that previous promotion. 

I did this while being a mother to my kids and a wife my husband can be proud of. It’s hard, it really is. I work at it every day. Some days I fail but others I surprise even myself and prevail. It’s up to you to be happy and make your life what you want it to be. It’s up to you to remember who you are and to work everyday at being the person you want to be.

“I hope you remember that if you encounter an obstacle in the road, don’t think of it as an obstacle at all....think of it as a challenge to find a new path on the road less traveled.”

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. You may now rejoin your regularly scheduled scrolling. 🤣✌🏼"

To this we say, Thanks, Jennifer for opening up and sharing your thoughts. There might very well be some young person struggling--right this instant--with the exact issues you discuss, and we hope they derive comfort and strength from this.

Thanks for everything you do, every day. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Guidance From Above...

Dan , I’m 48 years old. I’ve flown in excess of 10,000 hours. His arm still rests behind my back on every flight.

Last week, I had an epiphany. As an Air Medical Resource Management instructor for the last ten years, I have been putting out information about a well-defined hazardous attitude threatening the human-variety of pilot since manned-flight began.


My standard spiel revolves around the threat of an impulsive response to a suddenly-developing problem. Say one of your two engines catches on fire, and you see a fire-light in the cockpit. You exclaim, "crap, we gotta fire on two!" and you reach forward and smartly pull the number one engine's fire-control handle and shut that engine's fuel valve. Now you have two problems instead of one. It's happened more than once.

Acting on impulse in an emergency situation often makes a bad situation much much worse. Better to announce what you think is happening, take a deep breath, and devise (and announce) a response. "I'm looking at a fire light on the number two engine. Crew, prepare for an emergency landing and tell me if you see any other indications of us being on fire. I am going to slow down to single engine speed and put my hand on the number two fire control handle. I've confirmed the light and the handle. You see smoke. I'm pulling it."

So that's one type of threat from acting on impulse, and an example of how to fight that urge. But there's another threat of acting on impulse. Consider a beautiful day and a perfectly operating helicopter and a pilot who has an impulse to "have a little fun." This type of impulse has killed a crowd of crews too. In our industry, the most recent event took place in the Superstition Mountains. The Air Force suffered a famous and now iconic tragedy involving a B-52. And then they lost a C-17. It happens. We have to be on the lookout for it. Within ourselves and each other. Impulsivity, in any form, is bad.

So I sat down and wrote the next "Focus on Safety" column for Vertical Valor Magazine. I titled it "Neither Willful Nor Thrillful Be." And as I sometimes do with a draft, I sent it to a friend to review. This one went to Miles Dunagan, HEMS pilot and president of the National EMS Pilots Association. He's a good sounding board.

He wrote back.

"Hi Dan,

It’s always Great to hear from you!

I like it. I believe it is prevalent. I’m afraid it will always be in our business. While reading, my thoughts went directly to my pals I’ve lost. None were seeking a thrill, but their desire to achieve an outcome took them farther into the danger zone where we allow our judgment to--not necessarily be absent--but perhaps just slow to surface when we face hazards that were unexpected.

My dad and I talked about it. Of course this was before the dementia took so much from him. (Hard to believe he’s been gone a year)I simply asked him.”Dad how did y’all do it back in 1970-71?”. What were your minimums? His response, “we really didn’t have any son”. Then how did you do it I asked? He shrugged his shoulders and talked about that feeling when your hair on the back of your head starts to stick up, it’s time to turn around. I said Dad, that’s too late! He admitted that I was correct, and that he was lucky. We’ve came a long way, but that desire to produce good outcomes was powerful in 1970, and still is 50 years later.

The desire for the thrill can be overwhelming. I remember being a young pilot. I remember flying with my dad during those mid teens in an Astar. When I got my private, my dad let me swap to the right seat and he went in the left. We had the high back seats. My dad would put his right arm on the back of my chair. Kind like an arm rest. During these informative years, my dad watched me like a hawk. As these were often empty legs, I remember many times setting up for a departure. I would climb out and get set up for cruise and now we’re getting somewhere. Then , it seemed like my weakest suit was setting up for our approach for landing. I would make my turn around the LZ, assess winds, look for wires, and here we go. Dad had been instructing since the 60s. He was pretty good. He would let me make mistakes. He would allow me to get set up and start my approach. I would be lined up for what I judged as the perfect approach path and then it would happen. That right arm that was resting on the back of my chair would come to life and he would pop me on the back of my head. I would execute a go around and he would ask me 'what was wrong with that approach son?' I would look and see a pole (wire) that I had missed because I got in a hurry and was careless. Or I would re-assess the wind and realize I had lined up down wind. Believe it or not, these are great memories. I can’t help but tear up remember them.

Dan , I’m 48 years old. I’ve flown in excess of 10,000 hours. My dad's arm still rests behind my back on every flight. It makes me take an extra look. It makes me review a chart one more time. It motivates me to ask questions as we are circling a scene or a pad I’ve landed at countless times.

I can relate to your story of being thrillful my friend. Something tells me that the  Blackhawk pilot who thought enough of you to expose your shortcoming in judgement before that Black Cat departure all those years ago was riding with you from that day forward.  (added: yep!)

All this doesn’t mean we’ve never made mistakes flying. It just means we've had a little different perspective than those who let bravado and macho attitudes creep into the cockpit with them...

Sorry to ramble my friend.

Thanks for sharing.

Very Respectfully,


About Miles Dunagan's dad...

"Dad was one of the original 6 pilots to start the Memphis Police Aviation unit in 1969. He flew full time, then later as a reserve. He held an ATP and was a DPE for 14 years."

In the Army, we call a guy like that "the long pole in the tent." Today, he has been gone a year. May God continue to bless Mr. Dunagan's soul and comfort his son Miles Dunagan