For Kelly Baker, 43, helping the injured as a paramedic in an ambulance was her life calling.
But the view from the ground was not good enough, so now she arrives by air as a medic for Flight for Life, a high-tech rescue helicopter stationed at Mercy Hospital in Durango.
“I love the added aspect of flying,” says Baker. “It’s twofold: I get to help people and save lives, and you cannot fly in a place more beautiful than Colorado.”
The Dolores High School graduate works out of a Eurocopter AS350 B3 that has a range of 120 miles and can fly to 13,000 feet in altitude.
Baker describes the service as a “flying intensive-care unit” that has more medical services than an ambulance.
In addition to a paramedic, Flight For Life includes two nurses trained to provide a high level of care. Advanced heart monitoring, ventilators, medications, and blood reserves. A quick response and transport to a hospital can dramatically increase the chances of patient survival.
“We can stabilize and fly a patient to a hospital for emergency surgery in minutes, saving critical time, compared with driving there in an ambulance,” Baker says.
Ambulances are essential as well, she emphasizes, and she worked as paramedic in a high-volume district in Prescott, Ariz. for seven years.
“Paramedics make a good living, and the job is interesting and challenging. Every call is different, and you feel like you are making a difference,” said Baker, who has been with Flight for Life for six months.
Flight For Life also assists in search and rescue, wildfire monitoring and has been upgraded to find avalanche victims using a wide-ranging beacon that hangs out of the helicopter.
“It is faster than a dog team and covers a lot of ground quickly,” Baker said. “We also deploy the avalanche rescuer and his search dog then stand by for patient extrication.”
Baker recommends paramedic work for Type A personalities who care about saving lives. Critical thinking skills in pressure situations is a key component to the job, as well as handling 12-18 hour shifts.
“It is not a job for everyone, and it can be difficult working at high altitudes in extreme weather conditions,” Baker says. “I’ve always had a goal of being a flight medic, so I got the experience and training, and my dream came true.”