Spirit Captain Named EMS Pilot of the Year

Nils Strickland, a pilot with the Spirit Medical Transportation Service of Ministry Health Care, has been named 2008 Pilot of the Year by the National EMS Pilots Association.

A native of Atlanta, Ga., Strickland has been a pilot for the Spirit since the program’s inception in 1983. His flying career started in the Navy, where he did a couple of tours in the Persian Gulf. But he’s had his eye on the sky since he was a kid. His interest in EMS was piqued at age 21, while in flight school in Pensacola, Fla. He and a buddy were on their way to the beach when they came upon a traffic crash involving a fire truck and car. A medical helicopter flew to the scene, picked up one of the victims, and took off. “I saw that and thought ‘that’s what I want to do,’” he said.

The Spirit aircraft transports patients from between hospitals and from crash sites, as well as public relation flights and search and assists. It’s the variety of the job that keeps Strickland coming back. “I like never knowing where we’re going to go or what we’re going to get,” he said. “Even though I’m not involved in patient care, it’s always interesting.”

When he found out he was named Pilot of the Year, his first reaction was disbelief. “There are a lot of good pilots out there and to have my name at the top of the list, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “But then I felt that if they went to the trouble to nominate and choose me, it made me look at it differently. It tells me more about what my teammates want in a pilot. Being part of a team is the best part of the job. I look at them as more than just passengers. There’s a trust factor there. They know I’m not going to take ridiculous chances.”

That’s one of the things that motivated Phil Doherty, a Spirit paramedic, to nominate Strickland for the honor.

“As the tenured pilot that he is, there is a sense of confidence and familiarity with the aircraft as well as with Wisconsin’s unique weather patterns that allows us to function with a great sense of safety,” Doherty said in his nomination, adding “Nils is truly the reference standard in this business and for that, our base, crew and patients are truly benefactors.”

“This is always the job I’ve wanted,” Strickland said. “A helicopter is designed to save people’s lives, and to actually use the aircraft to do what it’s meant to do is great.”

The National EMS Pilots Association (NEMSPA) is a professional organization dedicated to serving pilots involved in the air-medical transport industry, and to improving the quality and safety of those services.

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