Staff Profile: Aaron Grubin - Fixed Wing Captain & Training Officer
September 1, 2023
1 September, 2023
Aaron Grubin is one of our most experienced pilots at Ornge. Aaron works out of the Timmins base and captains one of our PC-12 NG fixed-wing aircraft. We spoke to Aaron about what it takes to get to his position and how he remains excited to get to work every day.
Justyn: When did you start working for Ornge?
Aaron: I started in January 2011 as a first officer here in Timmins.
What is your current role?
I am a fixed-wing captain and training captain.
What made you want to be a pilot?
My uncle was a private pilot and he took me on a flight when I was six years old. I’ve been hooked on flying ever since. I started flying back in 1989 and started professionally working towards licenses in 1994.
Can you describe your path to your current position?
I went to First Nations Technical Institute in Deseronto, Ontario. It’s a private college for Aboriginal students. I went through the Aboriginal fixed-wing training program there. I also got a diploma from Canada College and stuck around for a year after that to do an instructor rating. I then taught there from 1998 to 2011 before I joined Ornge.
I had to complete just over 200 hours to achieve my license.
What does a typical day look like for you? What do you do on your downtime (if any) between calls?
I show up to base a little bit before my shift to get dressed into uniform – around 5 a.m.. Then I wait around for the phone to ring. Usually, the first call comes in right as we start around 5:01 or 5:02. We never know where we’re going to go, it’s always a surprise and it’s a part of the reason why I love this job. If the weather is safe to fly in, we head off to pick up and drop off the patient.
In my downtime, I do a little bit of reading and fall down some YouTube rabbit holes like most people. However, another part of my position on the training side requires me to research for the simulator and other exercises to make improvements to our systems and training. I don’t deal well with having nothing to do so I’m always trying to help out around the base as much as I can.
The training department sees me training new pilots and completing recurrent annual training. That part allows me to have a direct influence and positive influence on the safety culture in the operation. It makes sure that all the pilots have the necessary skills and proficiency so that when things do go wrong, they can handle it.
We do our training in a full-motion flight simulator that allows us to throw any exercise and scenarios to our pilots. We can practice engine failures and engine fires. I can even blow up the engine if I need to. I can give pilots a career's worth of actual emergencies within two days.
How much of your job has become routine? Is there anything that still surprises you on the job?
Weather and the environment are big ones just because it’s always changing. But as for the operations side, re-routing in the air is tough. Sometimes we’re on our way to a call but a higher priority patient comes into the system, so we have to change plans and divert elsewhere.
Changing protocols and equipment always comes with a learning curve but that’s a given being in the medical environment.
Aside from training, what do you think best prepared you to become a pilot?
I want to say my time in the Canadian Forces. A lot of the time in the Army was “hurry up and wait”. I had to deal with problems and come up with solutions on the fly which prepared me for my current role.
Why did you choose to work at Ornge?
Ornge always prioritizes safety and encourages staff to do things that in their best interests. There is no shortage of support for every safety risk and they back their pilot’s judgements and decisions. Ornge is amazing for supporting their people and they don’t cut on safety.
Another reason I joined was because of the training. The training we do at Ornge is along the lines of what you’d find at an airline rather than a small charter airline.
What qualities do you think are essential to being a pilot?
Situational awareness and strategic thinking. We’re not like the airlines where it’s just A to B, we are A to maybe B, then C which might even turn into D. Things can always change along the way, so you have to plan ahead and think ahead toward a long-term goal instead of just looking at what’s in front of you right now. Adaptability is huge.
What advice would you give to aspiring pilots? Why should they choose Ornge?
Get involved in some kind of extra-curricular activities like sports, things that make you think on the fly, think fast, make decisions, and have to deal with the consequences of those decisions.
The difference between us and your typical airline pilots is that we get to go home at the end of the day. 90% of the time when I go to work, I know I’m coming home at the end of the day to see my family and sleep in my own bed. A lot of other airlines don’t give you that. You might be out for a few days or a week and you hardly ever see your family and friends. The work-life balance here at Ornge is a difference-maker for me.
What are some things you wish people knew about your role?
I come home tired at the end of the day but it’s a good tired because you know you’ve actually done something important for somebody. Someone who flies for Porter or for Jazz has moved a bunch of people from A to B, that’s fine. But the job satisfaction we get from moving a patient from where they were sick or injured to a place where they can get the help and care that they need is huge.
It's not just the one patient you help, it’s the whole family. When I move a grandmother out of the reserves in the north, it’s not just her it’s the entire family that gets to benefit from it. All that wisdom, knowledge, and skill that they have to pass on to the next generation is there because of what we do today.
When you’re transporting patients how much do you get to talk to them? What kinds of things do you say or do to make them feel more comfortable?
We do get to talk to the patients a little bit. Maybe the patient is nervous or excited to fly, so we get to talk to them a little bit about the flight and the conditions. Usually, I’ll say something along the lines of:
“Oh yeah, you’ve got a window seat for the whole way! You’re going to love the trip. I’ve been flying for longer than you’ve been alive, we’re going to be great. We got two pilots up in the front, this is my first officer and they’ve been flying for many years. We’re an experienced crew and this is the best aircraft we could use for the job. Sit back and relax we will arrive in about 40 minutes.”
How do you work with other team members, such as medical crews and maintenance personnel, to ensure successful missions?
Free and open communication. Once we accept the call and we know that it’s safe to go, we let the medics know that we’re going. From there it’s not so much of your typical communication structure. It feels like a bunch of buddies going out to get a job done. Our crews are people who are all friends, and we all share the same goal, so it makes it easier to communicate.
How do you stay motivated and passionate about your work?
The job satisfaction of what we do for moving patients and helping people get the care that they need – that’s what keeps me going. Knowing that the work that I do isn’t just getting somebody from A to B because anyone can do that. It’s about getting someone who is probably having the worst day of their life to a positive outcome.
At Ornge, our staff work every day around the clock to ensure the patients of Ontario receive the best care available. Learn more about the people behind #teamornge.