International Paramedics Day: helicopter rescue ‘real privilege’

From fashioning arm-slings for injured schoolmates to providing intensive care from the air . . . critical care flight paramedic LORRIN KELLY reflects on her career pathway as the profession marks International Paramedics Day 2024.

Growing up in Rotorua, Lorrin Kelly was always “that kid” playing hospitals, proffering sticking plasters, and offering to whip up a sling when her classmates came a cropper on the school playground.

Now, nearly two decades later, Lorrin gets to mark International Paramedics Day 2024 (July 8) in her new role as a critical care flight paramedic (CCFP).

“Since the age of six or seven I’d been interested in anything medical so it was natural for me to go on to study in that field,” she says.

“Working with rescue helicopters really is the dream job and I’m so lucky to have had amazing mentors to help me get here.”

Lorrin is this week in Gisborne offering cover for the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team in her role as relief CCFP for Search and Rescue Services Ltd (the operations company owned by five North Island rescue helicopter trusts including Gisborne’s own Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust).

“I’d only ever been to Gisborne once before and that was for a hockey tournament nearly 15 years ago,” she says.

“It’s a lovely base and a welcoming, supportive team, so I really enjoy doing blocks here.”

Lorrin was aged just 19 when, in 2016, she headed to Auckland to study for a Bachelor of Health Science, while at the same time playing high-level hockey and volunteering for Hato Hone St John.

Her last two years of study were by distance as she had secured a job with St John’s Taupo operation. And she remained in that role while also working towards a post-graduate qualification as a critical care paramedic to gain extra skills in managing complex patients from delivering drugs to advanced airway management and a number of invasive skills.

Backed by her advanced qualification and years of experience on land, Lorrin last year signed up with Search and Rescue Services (SRSL) and before becoming a sole-charge CCFP underwent an eight-month internship under the watchful eyes of experienced practitioners.

She also had to knock off flight training at SRSL’s Taupo base where she learned skills like helicopter safety, day and night winching, and hover loading and unloading.

“When we were on high-acuity jobs with the ambulance we’d often need the support of the helicopter team and that just strengthened my interest in aviation medicine,” she says.

“Working on the helicopter you are usually dealing with sicker patients and because you can’t just pull over, like you would on land, you have to be ready for anything to happen while in flight.

“The rescue side of things is also super-interesting and you have to be prepared for winching, for planning any gear you might need on the ground. It is all really rewarding work.”

The theme for International Paramedics Day 2024 is “The Difference We Make” and Lorrin Kelly says that is something that motivates her every day.

“We see people at their most vulnerable – often at their time of greatest need – so being able to help at that time is a real privilege.

“The feedback we get from patients is that it doesn’t have to be a particularly high-acuity situation for it to matter to them and to their lives, and it’s always rewarding to hear that.”

CAPTION: ON BOARD: Marking International Paramedics Day 2024 is Search and Rescue Services Ltd critical care flight paramedic Lorrin Kelly, who is in Gisborne offering cover for the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team.