Bob Stolting, Pilot

Woman’s AirCare 3 – Houston, TX

How would you summarize your job?

I’m responsible for transporting high-risk obstetric patients, neonatal premature babies and children and infants who have serious health problems to Woman’s Hospital of Texas, which specializes in those areas. My job combines the thing I like most, which is flying, with actually being able to make a difference in people’s lives. I like the part that I play.

What did you want to be when you grew up, and what are some highlights from the time between then and now?

I actually wanted to be a musician. I played the trumpet. My hero was Doc Severinsen. I toured Europe for 30 days with a group of high school and college musicians, and I played at the World’s Fair in 1960. When I got out of college, I quit playing. I haven’t picked up a trumpet in 40 years.

I was born in Pennsylvania. My dad was Army Air Corp during World War II and Korea. His job transferred him a lot. I did one year of college in Ohio and then transferred. I graduated from Texas A&M. I’ve lived in Texas since 1968, and I started flying in 1974.

I was in the Army also. When I retired I didn’t want to stop working, but I didn’t want to sit behind a desk, either. I always had an interest in EMS, and I was headed that direction when REACH 3 in Houston was opening.

On the path that led to where you are today, what were your top three supportive and/or motivational influences? They can be people, institutions, life events, anything.

  1. My dad, because he’s the one who encouraged me to go to Texas A&M, which eventually led to my military career and flying.
  2. The time that I spent overseas with the military, especially in Iraq, because it really made me appreciate the things that we have here in terms of country, family, etc.
  3. Seeing my kids grow up and become the people they are, because it reinforced everything I had done for the previous 20 years. They’re just good people. So that’s really one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever experienced.

How do you feel about acknowledgment, appreciation and awards, specifically in the workplace? What role should they play? How should they be used?

I’m not a big pat-on-the-back kind of guy. I have my job to do, and I do my job well. All I really expect is support from those above me to give me the tools and the other things I need to do that job, and compensation for the job that I do. The biggest thing is support from those above me and knowing that they’re going to give me the benefit of the doubt based on my history. I have pretty much loved every job I’ve had—other than when I built houses for six months.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job right now?

I think the hardest thing for me is when we get a call and we have to say no, usually because of weather. It’s hard not being able to serve that particular patient, especially when you know it might take them two and a half hours to get to the hospital by ground versus 30 or 40 minutes by air. You have to make the right decision. And the issue is, sometimes you find out you could have gone, but you never want that to turn out the other way around.

What do you appreciate most about your coworkers?

Oh my gosh, their dedication, their professionalism and their attitudes about the jobs they have. It’s obvious that they love to do what they do and that they take every patient very seriously. Our base is so completely unique; it’s like no other place within REACH. The hospital people have been really, really great. They’re very enthused, it’s a good bunch of people. A lot of times in helicopter EMS, there’s a conflict between the aviation side and the medical side. At our base, we respect each other’s skills. The hospital staff members trust our flight crews implicitly. It’s a really good relationship. I think that comes from the culture in Santa Rosa.

What do you consider your leading contribution to the REACH mission of “always do what is right for the patient”?

I think because I’ve had such a diverse range of experience, I’m able to empathize and relate to a lot of different people. I think that helps my job.

Who’s in your family?

  • Wife: Jean (married 43 years in December)
  • Daughters: Jennifer (40) and Amanda (30)
  • Grandson: Braydon (almost 2)
  • Golden Retrievers: Dixie, Oakley, and Richie

Open mic regarding safety:

One of the most likely causes of an accident or incident is success because success breeds complacency. You think things are going right, you’ve never had an accident, and not intentionally but just because of your success, you become complacent. So for me—and I see it in myself and I’ve brought it up to other people in the base—it’s up to us to bring up any complacency that we observe. There’s nothing that anyone would do intentionally that would put anybody at risk, but we have to stay alert.

Here’s a perfect example from when I was in the military. I flew with the same person for a few years. We were out doing an exercise one time, and both of us thought the other one was flying the craft. Turns out no one was flying the craft. We had failed to follow specific procedures. The military no longer lets people fly together as partners for too long. That’s kind of built in here; I fly with different people all of the time.

Here’s my outlook: it doesn’t matter how good a job the people in the back of the helicopter do, how proficient or professional or successful they are, if I can’t get the patient from Point A to Point B. Unless I do that, their work doesn’t matter. I took over the Base Safety Rep position when we opened. I did it for three and a half years. Because I was a Safety Officer in the military, I knew about the Aviation Safety aspect. Aviation Safety is 90% common sense. If it looks unsafe, sounds unsafe or feels unsafe, it probably is unsafe. There are things you have to look at from a more pessimistic point of view, like, “We can do this, but, what could be the possible repercussions if it’s not done correctly?”

There is no one thing that “is” safety. An accident is the result of a series of events that occurred. No accident is caused by just one thing. It might seem like one thing, but when you drill down, you’ll find a series of events or attitudes. You don’t want to leave any questions unanswered, so you have to look at more than the one obvious thing.

Moral Courage

WHoT-Bob-Stolting-Sisney-Boy-Demi-WilkesBy Bob Stolting, Rotor-Wing Pilot, REACH 14/Woman’s AirCare, Houston, Tx

We, as HEMS professionals, witness examples of courage every day, be it in terms of patient care or flight operations.  But what is the definition of COURAGE.  One definition states COURAGE is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” I believe we all understand that basic definition, and see this every day in our work, with our peers, on the news, and in the world around us.  All of us can easily recall many examples of people who showed courage.

Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.

But, what about MORAL COURAGE? Is it different?  Can one be exclusive of the other?  There are several definitions of MORAL COURAGE.  One is “the COURAGE to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.” My personal definition of MORAL COURAGE, which I believe is so pertinent to our profession is, “The COURAGE to NOT do what we have the courage to do!”

How does this apply to us?  Have you ever partied the night before a work day, or you were up all night long with a sick child, or you were extremely busy on your second job?  So you showed up to work feeling exhausted, mentally unprepared and just NOT fit for duty.  Does it take courage to fly missions on a day when you feel this way … perhaps!  But it takes MORAL COURAGE to admit that you are not ready and to accept the consequences to tell your lead and your crew that you are not fit for duty … either because you made unsound decisions the night before or due to circumstances beyond your control.

And what about the decision to go or not go based on aircraft conditions, weather, risk assessment, etc.?  We must take numerous factors into our decision-making process.  However, the ultimate factor is not necessarily the consequences of a successful outcome.  Rather it should be the consequences of an UNSUCCESSFUL outcome.

What if a flight can result in delivering care to a patient in 30 minutes, vs 90 minutes if that care has to be delivered utilizing ground-based assets?  On the surface, the decision is easy.  As type “A” people, we all want to get it done, and hate to say “I can’t do that!”  But what if the decision means that we push our limits, push our weather, push our abilities? What if we demonstrate that “can do” COURAGE to “venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”?  And what if we FAIL?   What will be the consequences?

In this case, utilizing ground assets vs flight may delay patient care by as much as an hour, but the patient will eventually be cared for.  However, accepting a flight because we have the COURAGE to risk the adverse conditions may have two very negative outcomes.  At the very least, the patient pick up is delayed by whatever amount of time it has taken us to reassess the situation, and then return to base.  At the very worst, the outcome can be the catastrophic loss of property, and more importantly … the tragic loss of lives! All because we had the COURAGE to persevere!


You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right. Rosa Parks

So what should we take away from all of this? We know the most basic REACH principle … “Do what is right for the patient!” This involves our every action and our every decision, from the time the call is initiated until the time the patient is accepted by and delivered to the receiving hospital. And it involves considering not only the consequences of success but, perhaps more importantly, the consequences of FAILURE!

Do you have the moral courage to not do what you have the courage to do?