By Ian Croft
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
One of the key pillars that help keep HALO Air Ambulance operational is the pilots that operate the helicopters and transport individuals to medical facilities. Grant Fletcher, one of the first pilots to work with HALO, is still flying to this day and explained his experience working with HALO.
“Well, just a pilot doing medevacs and sometimes do fundraising too, but our main deal is we are dispatched by 9-1-1, you know,” said Fletcher. “There’s an ELC in Calgary, there’s a dispatch, and we just sit there by the phone in the hangar being available. Basically daylight hours, we try to work seven to seven, but then we’re available for flight till dark, if it’s necessary. Work day by day every day you just never when something is going to happen. We cover all of southern Alberta — Brooks, and then down to the Montana border over to the Saskatchewan border. I was the first pilot actually hired — the fellow that started, he had 39 helicopters and we were contracted by HALO. It was him and I — it’s a little unfortunate he ended up getting cancer and passing on. We got various different pilots since then and we began with a single-engine helicopter, so just a one-pilot machine. Now we got the BK 117 which is a two-pilot helicopter. So, the first 12 years I spent a lot of time by myself. Now there various pilots coming and going.”
Fletcher also discussed how COVID has shifted the number of calls he received while working with HALO.
“I’m kind of saying COVID may have had a lot to do with it but our calls have really been down compared to what they were. The oil patch in the Medicine Hat area, all of Cypress County, and 40 Mile, our area there are far less highway accidents and that sort of thing last year really dropped. I don’t know now, I’m not even sure how many we’ve done this year. I’ve never looked at the how many, but it’s considerably less anyway than what it used to be.”
Afterwards, Fletcher discussed his history of flying in helicopters and how he joined HALO.
“I started flying helicopters in 1974, you know for different companies. I spent a few years in Newfoundland and all over B.C. and stuff,” said Fletcher. “I did that for about 18 years and in the meantime, I was still farming. I sort of quit flying for a few years and then I sold the farm and was looking for something to do again, and around that time HALO was starting up. I heard about that and contacted them. They were looking for a pilot, been there ever since. I guess I’m the only one who’s been there from start to finish. I have a trailer when I’m on shift — I live in that thing, but my home is actually in Taber — so I have two homes, Medicine Hat and here, I guess.”
Finally, Fletcher discussed how scheduling works with the other pilots.
“We switch around with different pilots just to try and work out with everybody. There have been times when we work a week on and work a week off. Then some of the other pilots live too far away, so then we try to work with two weeks on two weeks off. Yeah, we pretty well know months in advance unless somebody gets sick or something like that. That’s pretty well scheduled out you know. We know what we’re doing anyway. Right now, we’ve got four pilots, so we got two pilots on the first shift. We work that out amongst ourselves — we might work 10 on 10 off but we just kind of do that in-house. Work it out with everybody you know — the rest of the pilots. Pretty flexible with all the rest of the guys somebody has a wedding or something to do somebody, fills in.”