Longest-serving YAA HEMS Paramedic celebrates 20 years at the Charity

Sammy Wills, Yorkshire Air Ambulance’s (YAA) longest-serving HEMS Paramedic has celebrated her 20-year anniversary at the Charity.

Yorkshire Air Ambulance is a lifesaving rapid response emergency service serving five million people across 4 million acres of Yorkshire. Last year, the crew responded to more than 1,700 incidents across the region.

Sammy joined the Charity on 21st September 2002 when Yorkshire Air Ambulance was in its infancy, flying from Leeds Bradford Airport where the YAA base was a small Portakabin.

“When I started at Yorkshire Air Ambulance, no one recognised that we are a charity; they wouldn’t have thought to have put the two words together. Now we’re recognisable all over the world”, said Sammy.

Reliving her first day at the air ambulance, she said: “I finished my training on the Friday at Leeds Bradford Airport and the duty crew asked me if I had passed. Then they asked if I could do them a favour and swap my shift to work the next day. I remember my first job was a road traffic collision on a roundabout in Leeds and one of the occupants was heavily pregnant. Luckily, all the occupants were fine, and the pregnant lady was taken to the hospital as a precaution. It was a gentle introduction to the HEMS world.”

Sammy is one of the only current YAA staff members to have experienced flying on all three models of YAA helicopters. “I have always loved aviation from being a kid and I have had the privilege of flying on every single air ambulance Yorkshire has had. Initially, we rented and now we own both our aircraft, which is a credit to the Charity. A lot has changed over the years; we have really enhanced the style of the aircraft and we have a lot more space to treat patients. The first thing I noticed when we upgraded to G-SASH and G-CEMS from our first Bolkbow, was that the new helicopters didn’t smell like museum pieces! When I first flew G-PASG, it smelt like aircraft that you used to visit at a museum. It genuinely did smell of old aviation fuel and electrics.”

It is not only the helicopters that have changed over the past 20 years but also paramedics’ skillset and the equipment used on board. Yorkshire Air Ambulance is also celebrating their first year of having the largest female HEMS crew since the Charity’s inception.

“At one point I was the only female crew member and now we’ve taken over a whole corner of the locker room,” Sammy jested.

Speaking of their enhanced skillset, Sammy spoke of a recent thought-provoking mission: “It was only recently when I attended a particular job that I realised how far the Charity has come in the last 20 years. We did everything we could for the patient and there was nothing else known to man that we could have done that wouldn’t have been performed in the hospital. We had the whole team working on the patient as best we could. It was like a milestone. When I look at what we did 20 years ago to what we do now, we as a charity and as a service have made great strides forward. We didn’t even have morphine on board when I started.”

Over the last 20 years, Sammy has become one of the Charity’s most recognised and loved HEMs Paramedics, achieving fame on the hit television show Helicopter ER. “I do get stopped a lot, especially when the series is on. It’s always nice to be able to say thank-you to our supporters. What is embarrassing though, is when you get recognised in your swimming costume when you are abroad! I’ve even been on a bus in Kenya and a Scottish lady turned round and said I know you, you’re on the helicopter.”

Speaking of why she is proud to have worked at YAA for the last 20 years, Sammy said: “Because it’s a privilege to help people on the worst day of their lives and support them with the state-of-the-art aircraft and clinical training and with the best Critical Care Team available, alongside the colleagues who you have total faith in, and do your very best as a complete team. It’s not just about getting there fast or flying them quickly to the hospital, it’s the team that works together, drills together, eats together and plays together that helps that individual or whole families by performing together on the job.”

Sammy’s 20 years at Yorkshire Air Ambulance isn’t her only milestone; in January 2023 she will also celebrate 30 years of being a Paramedic at Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

Peter Sunderland, Chairman of Yorkshire Air Ambulance, said: “We would like to congratulate Sammy and express our huge gratitude and thanks for her 20 years of dedication to our Charity. Sammy’s enthusiasm for her role never falters and she is an asset to our crew and a firm part of the greater YAA family.”

Sammy can also be seen in the latest series of Helicopter ER which is currently airing on Channel Really on Tuesdays at 9pm.