BHS grad becomes first female pilot at MCR hospital
By Katie Harris
It all started with a single flight lesson for Samantha Poirier, who became the first female LifeLine EMS pilot at Medical Center of the Rockies (MCR) last month.
“My air traffic control professor encouraged us all to take a flight lesson at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport,” she said. “I took one flight and it was over. I knew I had to do whatever I could to become a pilot.”
While the class of 2005 Berthoud High School graduate has always loved to fly, she spent her early years soaring on the back of a horse.
“I was huge into horses,” she said. “Training, working at the barn, competing in dressage, jumping and driving.”
At age 14 Poirier began spending summers in Illinois, showing horses for a breeder. After graduating high school and attending Colorado State University, she moved to Illinois and worked full time for the breeder for the next five years.
“Training horses was a great job but not a career,” she said. “I knew I eventually wanted to do something that involved aviation, so I came home and started air traffic control school in Greeley.”
Soon after completing her training, Poirier took a job at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport fueling up aircraft.
“The MCR helicopter pilots were our clients and I would tell them every time they came in, ‘Someday I’m going to be the one to fly that helicopter and land here,’” she said. “I set my goal for that, knowing they had high requirements and I’d have to work hard.”
And work hard she did. For the next several years Poirier did whatever it took to make her dream a reality.
“I sold one of my best horses to afford flight school,” she said. “After that I went to Alaska for a summer where I was hired as a pilot and did a lot of work for the government, helping wildlife biologists in order to earn hours.”
Poirier continued to gain experience as she flew up and down the northwestern coast, conducting wildlife surveys, flying cherry-tree contracts, and piloting air tours of Hells Canyon, giving up time with family and friends all the while.
“I worked really hard and put in a lot of time and effort, spending holidays away from my family, doing whatever it took,” she said. “There are only two ways to get here, either through the military or doing what I did.”
When she’d finally accumulated the staggering 2000-plus hours she needed to work as an EMS pilot, Poirier came back to Northern Colorado to apply for her dream job with REACH Air Medical, operating through UCHealth at MCR.
“I had a lot of real-life experience, compared to many of the applicants who were instructors,” she said. “I think it helped that I really connected with the chief pilot, who was also a female in a male-dominated industry. I really wanted to be a part of their team and they saw that.”
Poirier began training in March and celebrated her first official day on the job April 12, the first female pilot at MCR. Thanks to a recent influx of female nurses working for REACH Air Medical at the MCR base, Poirier will have the rare experience of flying with an all-female crew from time to time.
“It’s a surreal feeling to break into the industry and make history in this way,” she said. “Being the first female pilot and having the opportunity to work with such a talented crew is awesome. It’s definitely an honor.”
Poirier said she’s looking forward to the challenge of working in a high-stress environment in which people’s lives are dependent on her ability to make smart decisions on the fly.
“When I get called it’s the last chance for these people to be rescued,” she said. “You’re helping them out on their worst day, giving them their best chance at surviving, and trying to get there immediately but also safely for the crew. That’s the kind of person I am; I want to give back.”
For Poirier, flying to help people, rather than just for the fun of it; having the ability to land almost anywhere, anytime; and working with what she deems an incredible crew and hospital are all perks of flying the LifeLine EMS helicopter, but the greatest reward is the chance to live out her dream close to home, with the friends and family who’ve always supported her.
“Living back in Colorado near my family, and getting my dream job is proof that, even though dreams can seem so farfetched sometimes, if you keep pecking away at them they do become reality.”
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