Air ambulance still soaring high
PUBLISHED: 11:33 14 July 2015 | UPDATED: 12:31 14 July 2015
The East Anglian Air Ambulance is continuing to reach dizzying heights as it celebrates its 15th anniversary and welcomes the Duke of Cambridge into its team. Jilly Hurley spoke to Captain Dave Kelly
Fifteen years ago this May, the East Anglian Air Ambulance first took flight. What an incredible journey the charity has been on since then. From humble beginnings – one helicopter, one paramedic, operating one-day-a-week, the EAAA grew at a dizzying rate.
Once an organisation largely staffed by kind medics on a day off, it is now a professional pre-hospital emergency service with a doctor and critical care paramedic attending every mission. Previously a part-time service, now operating seven-days-a-week, 365 days-a-year and at the vanguard of research and clinical practice.
EAAA’s rapid expansion is testament to the vision and determination of the charity’s founders – many of whom still guide and shape it today, as well as to the hard work and generosity of its fundraisers and supporters.
This year, the charity is preparing for one of the most significant developments in its history, the arrival of the EC145 T2 helicopter, to be housed at the EAAA’s Cambridge base. Much larger than the current aircraft, it can carry enough fuel to fly for over two hours, with a range of 300 nautical miles (335 miles). Whereas its current HEMS (helicopter emergency medical service) team comprises a pilot, a doctor and a critical care paramedic, the new helicopter will be able to accommodate two pilots and three HEMS crew, as well as a patient. Extending the reach and effectiveness of the EAAA medical teams enables the charity to play a leading role in training the next generation of pre-hospital clinicians. More space also means that more can be done to help patients during the transfer process.
Captain Dave Kelly – a former Queen’s Guard – will be among the few pilots specially trained to fly the new helicopter. Originally from Liverpool, he now lives in Ipswich with his wife Jill and his children, Adam and Leah. When he first joined the army as a Guardsman in 1987, his job was to stand outside Buckingham Palace, which he did for seven years.
“It was actually quite a hard life,” Captain Kelly said.
“Shifts were 24 or 48 hours long, either standing to attention or cleaning kit. But I did get to take part in the Trooping of Colour for a number or years, which I really enjoyed,” he added.
It was from the Queen’s Guard that Captain Kelly fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a pilot. After a year of intensive training, he was posted to Wattisham, where he remained (with the exception of his tours of duty to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan), until he retired from the army 18 months ago.
Moving from the army to civilian employment isn’t always an easy step to take. Some people find it hard to adjust to the different working environment. But Captain Kelly explains that in some ways, serving as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance team is a natural transition.
“Military training is obviously very helpful for the flying and the decision making process and also for being able to cope with the unexpected,” he explained.
Less obviously, perhaps, it seems that ‘a military background also helps when it comes to coping with the banter in the crew room!’ He expressed.
In preparation for the arrival of the new helicopter at the EAAA, Captain Kelly has undergone intensive training. Training is, as might be expected, highly technical, detailing every aspect of aircraft equipment and procedure. It begins with two weeks in Germany at Ground School, learning about the aircraft from the people who designed it and from Germany, to Bond Air Service headquarters in Staverton, Gloucestershire, to put the technical principles into practice.
“Until you actually touch the buttons, it can be hard to relate all the information you have absorbed,”he said.
“It’s great when you finally get to feel how the aircraft moves and how it displays information. Initially, I learnt how to fly the EC145 in the hover and forward flight before moving on to the more complicated aspects of working with the new automated equipment on board. Flying the EC145 isn’t necessarily more difficult than the EC135, but because the aircraft is more sophisticated there is more to think about,” he added.
Back at EAAA’s Cambridge base, Captain Kelly reflects on what lies ahead, he said: “I’m really excited about putting all the hard work to good use now. It’s a fantastic aircraft and will bring enormous benefits to our service. I feel very lucky to work for EAAA and with such a dedicated group of people.”
Pilots working for the EAAA ensure the safety of the crew at all times, which means looking after the helicopter and flying, and keeping a keen eye on the weather. But they are also happy to help the crew if needed.
They are part of a small professional unit, collaborating closely with colleagues who each have their own area of expertise, which is part of what makes the demands, culture and atmosphere of the job so intense and satisfying.