The Job You Never Knew You Could Have And The 19 Yr Old Who Does It

For most, it’s oddly comforting to know the job you have at 18 will not be the job you have at 28; that unless you’re a tech genius wunderkind, a Russian gymnast or a Justin Bieber, your career will not peak while you’re still in your teens – but climb incrementally. This is not a premise Samantha Law subscribes to.

At 18, she became the youngest rescue crew officer ever to join the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service. Sammy started in the role just weeks after finishing her HSC and now, at 19, works with the team part-time while she chips away at an Engineering Degree, too. “I didn’t even really know it was a job that existed,” she told The Cusp, “but it came up and because I’d always been involved in Surf Lifesaving; I had all the necessary first aid training and ocean rescue experience.”

Sam Law in chopper

Featuring in Channel 7’s Air Rescue, Sammy describes her work with a calm sense of humility, “You just have a job to do. In a rescue situation you’ve got to keep calm and rely on your training.” Wondering how she’s able to simultaneously keep the rescue-ee in that same state of calm, she explains, “Yeah it’s hard, people in that situation are obviously scared and not in their right minds. You really have to explain everything to them, explain exactly what you’re doing in a really calm way. It can be tricky while you’re also dealing with the actual rescue.”

“They used to make me say goodbye properly when I would go to work – like, we may never see you again, so…”

This, obviously, is a bit of an understatement. The position’s remarkable responsibility is most often held by people 15 years her senior, and almost exclusively by men. What’s that working environment like? “It’s actually been amazingly supportive,” Sammy says, “There’s a lot of similarities with the Surf Life Saving culture, which I’ve been a part of since I was a little nipper.” Sammy explains that her crew, “are there to respond quickly to any emergencies that threaten the life, health or safety of anyone, caused through medical emergencies, illness, natural disasters or accidents.”

The helicopter service began life a good two decades before Sammy did, launching in Sydney in 1973 as a basic beach surveillance rescue service run by Surf Life Saving Australia. The capabilities were limited; it was manned by volunteers and could only afford to run on weekends and summer holidays.

Since then, it’s grown into a world-class, year-round land and sea rescue operation. The teams now conduct search and rescue activity from cliffs, ravines, and ocean and bush locations. They are trained to administer medical care and provide accident transfers, plus all manner of other emergency scenarios.

It’d be natural to assume the job must come with a few Die Hard-style scenarios, so how do Sammy’s parents handle her doing a job so fraught with danger and unpredictability? “They used to make me say goodbye properly when I would go to work – like, we may never see you again, so…” she laughs.

Sam chopper rescue

While Sammy works from the Moruya base on the NSW south coast, the service covers over 84% of the Australian population during the summer months, with a national operation made up of 17 helicopters flying from 13 bases. The service also includes two rescue boats based in the Northern Territory and Victoria.

It’s the largest non-profit aviation search and rescue service in Australia and the fundamental thing is that the service has remained free to the public. Westpac’s support has meant no one has ever had to pay to be rescued by the helicopters, and while some staff like Sam are paid, the majority of crew-members on all services are volunteers.

There’s something about the whole thing that can strike you as uniquely Australian; the quiet respect and deep adoration our country has for its oceans and landscapes, and the understanding that while we may not always be able to control the conditions, we can set up contingency plans to keep people safe. As Sammy says, “The rescue culture in Australia is incredible. So many people grow up like I did, involved in Surf Life Saving and volunteering. It’s really special.”

Channel Seven’s Air Rescue series airs Thursdays at 8:00pm, beginning December 3.

Alice is an editor at Junkee Media. You can find her on twitter @awildwilliams.

(All images supplied, lead image: Emily Barton)