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Parents who hover — figuratively — over their children are often characterized as helicopter parents.

For Kelsey and Aaron Penner, they actually are helicopter parents, and their young children are perfectly fine with that.

The Penners are a unique couple. Not only are they both first responders, they both work on aerial platforms. Kelsey is a STARS flight nurse, and husband Aaron is a constable with the Winnipeg Police Service assigned to the service’s helicopter, AIR1.

The desire to protect and care for others comes naturally for the Penners, who met while serving together in the Canadian Armed Forces.

“It’s nice to have a job where we can both really relate to one another and speak some of the same language,” said Kelsey, who joined STARS in 2019.

“It’s a cross between rewarding, stressful, and exciting,” added Aaron, who has been working on AIR1 since 2016. “The work is great. I love my job, but the stressful part is balancing that with everyday life.”

Although they are on board two different helicopters carrying out two different types of missions, they do occasionally cross paths when they are both on duty.

“I’ll be on the roof offloading at Health Sciences Centre and, if AIR1 is in the area, they’ll come do a little loop of our helipad,” said Kelsey. “And I know Aaron’s watching, so I’ll give a little wave.”

“Every time STARS lands at the hospital, we’ll do a lap if we’re nearby,” added Aaron. “It’s a bonus when Kelsey is on board because it’s nice to see her important work.”

They both admit their shifts overlap less now that they have a family.

“When Aaron was a police officer on the streets and I was a nurse working in emergency, we saw each other at work all the time,” said Kelsey. “Now we live a different life with a young family where we often work opposite shifts. It is definitely a different experience than your traditional Monday to Friday family with evenings and weekends together.”

For the Penner’s young children, the sight of a helicopter is a familiar one.

“From the time they were little when they would see the helicopter and say: ‘Mommy! It’s your big red helicopter’,” said Kelsey. “And our son’s first introduction to AIR1 was at an airshow when he was about six weeks old,” added Aaron.

Although balancing their careers can be challenging, the Penner parents take great satisfaction in their work as first responders.

“It’s one of those jobs where there are so many elements of it,” said Kelsey. “There are moments when it’s stressful or it’s challenging, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t do anything else.”

Sisters in service
All in the family: On International Women’s Day we recognized Karla Armstrong and Gina Slaney for their work as first responders. Karla is a STARS pilot and her sister Gina is an RCMP Corporal.