For the first time in its 73-year existence, the Saskatchewan Air Ambulance (SAA) has responded to an emergency call with an all-female crew.
The mission, which occurred on August 2, 2019, was staffed by paramedic Jen Rondeau, flight nurse Crystal Lybeck, and pilots Tammie Kulyk and Carly St. Onge. The crew flew one of the SAA’s three King Air B200 aircraft from their base in Saskatoon to bring back an adult male in respiratory distress.
“This is the first time all four of our crew members have been women,” Kulyk says. “We’ve had two female pilots, or a female nurse and a paramedic; maybe three out of four, but never all four of us. This is the first time it’s happened, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
The irony is that this historic first was entirely unintentional. The four crew members reported to the SAA’s Saskatoon hangar for work, only to realize after arriving that all of them were female.
“It was quite exciting when we arrived here and realized we were an all-female crew,” says Rondeau. “We just kind of let it happen… It was a first for us in all of our industries.”
“We could have planned this three years ago,” adds Kulyk. “But it was really nice for it to happen organically. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that we’re all women. We’re just pilots and nurses and paramedics, and we’re here to do our jobs. It was just an extrafun Friday night.”
According to St. Onge, only 6% of pilots are female. At the SAA, “Tammie and I make up almost 8% here,” she says. “So we’re actually doing industry standard or better.”
The news of SAA’s first all-female crew made headlines in Canada and garnered a lot of positive public response. “Two of the most common (responses) were ‘Girl power!’ and ‘Good for females in male-dominated industries,’” says Rondeau. “That was important to us. I noticed people in aviation, and in the medical field as well, saying ‘Good for you—good for this first.’”
“It’s a proud moment,” she says, “even more so now that we’ve shared it and gotten feedback. Everyone seems pretty excited about it, both that it’s a first and that it’s all females.”
“Diversity everywhere is great,” Kulyk adds, “and we need more of it.”
This said, the actual flight to Buffalo Narrows and back was routine. “I’d say it was just another day, what we do every day,” Kulyk says. “The fact that we’re all women doesn’t change anything on a day-to-day basis.”
The Saskatchewan Air Ambulance is operated by the provincial Saskatchewan government. SAA is available 24/7 to move critically ill and injured patients across the province.
James Careless is a freelance writer and regular contributor to EMS World.