A team of north-east lifesavers will be poised for action if needed over Christmas – but hope to find time to enjoy a few festivities too.
Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) will be rolled out of its hangar at Aberdeen International Airport as usual early in the morning, ready to fly a pair of paramedics wherever there is need.
But team lead Ewan Littlejohn, paramedic Laura McAllister and pilot Gav Rowley intend to make as much of the occasion as they can even though they will be away from their families on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Helimed 79, the charity’s second aircraft, launched from Aberdeen in April and has since flown to the rescue of casualties across the north-east, Highlands and islands.
Mr Rowley served with the RAF prior to the last 13 years flying air ambulances.
For them, “it’s just part of the job, as it is for all emergency services”, Mr Littlejohn said.
He added: “I’ve a young son at home so it would be good to be with the family but I thought I should take one for the team and work Christmas this year.
“I have managed to escape it for the last five years so this is the first in a long time – but I’m sure we will have a great time at base.
“My son is old enough now to understand not being there on Christmas Day is part of my job – but young enough he will probably still be up at 5am anyway.”
With no idea when they might be rushed into action, the team will forego the turkey and trimmings for a barbecue at base, also a nod to Ms McAllister’s Melbourne roots.
She said: “I would normally spend my Christmas on the beach, so in a cold Scottish winter I’ll be happy to be at work.
“Most of my family are back in Australia so I’m more than happy to work Christmas because many of the guys here have kids.”
Last year, she spent Christmas working on the Scottish Ambulance Service’s fixed wing aircraft King Air, flying an ill baby to hospital from Shetland at night.
In more normal times, Christmas is a quiet day for the divisional ambulance service, with paramedics usually tending to medical calls such as cardiac arrests but far fewer traumatic jobs such as road accidents.
However, with December 25 now the only time many families will be able to see each other before a the imposition of Level 4 coronavirus restrictions on mainland Scotland for three weeks, roads could well be busier.
While the team will make the best of it, pilot Gavin Rowley remains focused on the job, adding: “The most important thing is, despite trying to have a jolly day at base, to have our game faces on if we are called upon.
“Late December can often bring enjoyable weather challenges so we have make sure we are ready to go.”
But the father-of-five said the Christmas shift came with perks usually only afforded to Father Christmas; the view of a peaceful Scotland, illuminated by decorations.
“It is quite a privilege to be out and about, seeing the world from the sky on Christmas Day when everyone else is busy.
“Aberdeen airport will be dead and the only people flying will be us and the Coastguard.
“It’s absolutely beautiful when you’re flying back in the dark to see the effort people make to decorate their houses from the air – it’s a sight to enjoy.”
Lifesavers need your help to keep north Scotland safe
With coronavirus impacting many planned fundraising events for SCAA, the charity still has some way to go to pay for its first three years of Aberdeen operations.
The charity set an ambitious £6 million target and – at last update – had collected around half.
Lead paramedic Ewan Littlejohn said: “We are an emergency service and without support we can’t go out and help people in need.
“We are a life-saving and time-saving service in the north-east and beyond.
“We have been up to the Highlands and Orkney in our work and it’s important to reinforce the time we save.”
Pilot Gav Rowley added: “In November we flew with a team of emergency doctors from Aberdeen to Skye in about an hour and 45 minutes.
“When you think about driving that, you can’t imagine how long that would take even with an emergency ambulance crew.
“The fact we are now part of a far-reaching service bringing first class, hospital-level medical care to an incident is only happening due to donations.
“That same week we flew to Loch Muick to collect a man who was quite unwell on top of a hill at 2,000 ft.
“It wasn’t ‘oh, the helicopter is a bit quicker’ on that occasion, there were few alternatives.”
Supporting the charity can be as easy as snapping up a Boxing Day deal online, using the Amazon Smile website which sells the same products but donates 0.5% of the cost to a chosen charity.
Paramedic Laura McAllister added: “If people have the means, we’d ask them to remember us this Christmas – it will be us three here to help them if needed.”
Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance has made a huge impact since 2013, saving lives and preventing suffering.
That is why the P&J campaigned successfully for SCAA’s second helicopter to be based in our region.
The countdown is now on for the aircraft – call sign Helimed 79 – to start flying missions from Aberdeen Airport.
But this is an emergency service that relies entirely on donations.
Each call-out costs about £2,500 and SCAA needs P&J readers to help hit its £6million target and get things off to a successful start.
So please do anything you can to raise those funds and show that We’re Backing Helimed 79.
Ways to donate to SCAA
Text: Text ‘SCAA’ and the amount to 70085
Cheques: Made payable to ‘SCAA’ or ‘Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance’ and sent to: Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA), The Control Tower, Perth Airport, Scone, PH2 6PL