Emergency services are feeling the strain as they pull out all the stops to keep the public safe. Meanwhile severe travel restrictions, social distancing and lockdown has left the airline industry parked on stand until the world can begin to move again.
Amidst these worrying and uncertain times, pockets of magic are appearing.
Meet Laura Skillicorn. I met Laura in our village car park almost three years ago. It’s no exaggeration to say that from the moment I saw her beautiful, friendly smile, I knew I’d met a gem of a human being. We bonded over our children’s shared allergy to nuts – and the fact that we had both worked at Virgin Atlantic.
Laura is cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic and has been for 14 years. When she received the news that, due to the impact of COVID-19, she wouldn’t be flying for a while, it was worrying and stressful. As a glass half full kind of person, Laura soon set her sights on how she could make a difference.
When a note was sent to Virgin Atlantic employees sharing a number of partnerships the airline had made with organisations ranging from the NHS, to supermarket chains, a particular opportunity caught Laura’s attention – 999 call handler for the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb).
The job description outlines that candidates must: “have the ability to deal with stressful and emotional situations whilst being highly motivated and enthusiastic.” What a match made in heaven for cabin crew looking to support the country in a time of crisis!
Laura shares how and why she has temporarily swapped the sky for the South East Coast Ambulance Service.
How did you discover this opportunity?
Our in-house recruitment team notified all crew of a long list of opportunities that were open to us. The airline was approached by many organisations who were keen to utilise the skill and experience of our crew for roles that were in high demand because of the pandemic.
The main need was for supporting roles at the NHS Nightingale hospital, which approximately 260 of our people have now signed up for!
My attention was caught by a role with the South East Coast Ambulance Service as a 999 call handler, so I applied for it, and am absolutely thrilled to say that I can now officially call myself a 999 call handler in additional to Cabin Service Supervisor!
Why did you choose to become a 999 call handler?
It’s a role I’ve always been interested in and if there was anything else I would like to do aside from cabin crew, this would be it, so I jumped at the chance. More than anything I wanted to show my support at such a challenging time.
What will the role involve?
999 call handlers deal with all aspects of calls coming into the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). I will be responsible for providing an effective and timely communication link between the public and health care professionals by receiving telephone calls from members of the public who require medical assistance, ensuring calls are dealt with fast and efficiently, using an approved triage and communication system.
Tell us about the training?
An intensive accelerated training course was designed by the South East Coast Ambulance Service. There are approximately 12 people on each course – all Virgin Atlantic cabin crew.
To gain the license needed to become a 999 call handler, I have been attending the course daily from 4.30pm to 2.30am – I have become quite the night owl! I think the countless years of night flights has helped!
SECAmb was able to achieve this course structure due to the significant training we already have as Virgin Atlantic cabin crew. To become crew in the first place we are trained to a high standard in medical, conflict, crisis management, and people skills. Everything we have already learned is hugely transferable to the role of 999 call handler, and is the reason why we can undergo the training in such an intense way. What has really made this achievable though, is the incredible support and training we have received from the SECAmb trainers and mentoring staff. They are truly amazing.
Virgin and SECAmb is actually quite a match made in heaven I’d say!
What happens once the course is complete?
Once we have finished the intensive course, we have two twelve hour mentoring shifts in the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) based in Crawley, just near London Gatwick Airport.
Then we are live on the phones to take the ambulance service 999 calls and help support the extra calls coming through during the pandemic.
What have you enjoyed most about the training course?
As cabin crew you don’t often get to fly with the same crew. I have really loved being reunited with the wonderful crew I know, and spending time with them. It’s felt like we were together doing our cabin crew training again! We are loving being together!
Laura is now officially a 999 call handler and will be making a huge difference by taking 999 calls, and contributing towards the colossal effort to ease pressure on the NHS.
I am beyond proud of Laura. She is one of life’s good ones, and a huge asset to both Virgin Atlantic and South East Coast Ambulance Service. I can’t wait to see her again one day soon to celebrate her amazing contribution with a glass of something cool and bubbly!