By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

When “Take Your Child to Work Day” rolls around every April, Oggy Hontz will unquestionably always win the award for “mom with the coolest job.” While the rest of his friends will spend their day of career exploration sitting in mundane offices, Oggy will tag along with his mom, Amber Hontz, to the LifeNet 7-8 base at the Sidney Municipal Airport. And instead of watching his mom respond to emails from a cubicle, he will watch her ascend from her office, an EC-130 helicopter.

Right now, as a bright and curious 18-month-old, Oggy is simply in awe of the LifeNet of New York helicopter. (And even more dazzled by the Kubota tractor that taxis the aircraft to the runway.) But as he grows, Oggy will come to understand the magnitude of his mother’s work as a flight paramedic. Soon, it will sink in that his mom’s life’s work isn’t just to fly in a helicopter but to use that EC-130 as a tool to travel to often inaccessible locations to deliver expedited, life-saving care to patients in critical need.

Amber sits in position in the LifeNet’s EC-130 helicopter. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

Amber and her small but highly trained team of flight and medical professionals participate in over 300 flights annually, ranging from triaging on-the-scene care, to stabilizing hospital to hospital transportation.

Amber Hontz was born and raised on a third-generation dairy farm in Montrose, PA. When she wasn’t doing her part to contribute to her family’s farm, Amber commuted to and from Binghamton, NY, to complete her K-12 education at Central Baptist Christian Academy.

After graduating from Central Baptist Christian Academy, Hontz enrolled at SUNY Broome as a student-athlete, studying Visual Communication Arts: A.S. with a focus on photography. When Amber realized that she would have to expand her photography portfolio to niches beyond country landscapes, she decided to pivot to her other career interest of providing emergency medical care to those in need.

With a degree program switch to Paramedic: A.A.S., Hontz began to navigate the unique balance of her SUNY Broome experience. During the day, Amber hopped between volunteer shifts with the Broome Volunteer Emergency Squad and her security job at UHS. Then, she rushed to campus for soccer practice before heading to her EMT/Paramedic classes at night.

Amber gathers medical supplies at the LifeNet 7-8 base. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

“I definitely experienced a collision of worlds,” Hontz reflected. “One minute, I would be working to help save lives in the back of an ambulance, and then I would have to quickly transition back to being just a 19-year-old student-athlete, helping the women’s soccer team to bring home the 2007 NJCAA National Championship.”

On the first day of classes, each future paramedic was asked to share their professional goals. Amber knew then that she wanted to pursue a career as a flight paramedic, but got discouraged after receiving advice from a professional in the EMS community. She temporarily tabled her dream and instead spent the following decade working for the Broome and Vestal Volunteer Emergency Squads as a paramedic, supervisor, and coordinator of outreach and education.

Just as she contemplated entering the Broome County Law Enforcement Academy, a flight paramedic position became available at the LifeNet of New York 7-8 base. While she worried that she was too late in her career to pursue such a specialized field, which far exceeds the traditional scope of practice for a ground paramedic, Hontz’s worries dissipated thanks mainly in part to the overwhelming encouragement that she received from her family and EMS colleagues. That was in 2019, and the rest is history.

A typical workday for Hontz ranges from responding to back-to-back flight cases ranging from pediatric, to cardiology, to trauma, and collaborating with both ground EMS teams and hospitals across the northeast, to the quieter days where the crew devotes their time to maintaining the rigorous continuing education requirements needed for practice.

Amber & Jeffrey Hontz were honored as Southern Tier Real Heroes – Good Neighbors by the Red Cross in 2021.

Interestingly, it was Amber’s decades of dairy farm experience that proved to provide the best prep for her career as a flight paramedic.

“I had the farm life advantage of always being accustomed to a 24-hour workday, 365 days a year. Farmers don’t work 9-5 Monday through Friday, so I was definitely prepared for the unconventional hours and shifts that we keep here at the base,” Hontz explained. “Given our rural community, we are often sadly called to respond to farm-related accidents. It’s a big help that I am familiar with the equipment involved.”

Whether Amber is in the midst of a 24-hour shift with LifeNet of New York or is jumping to action with her husband and fellow first responder, Jeffrey Hontz (LACM ’06), to assist a neighbor in cardiac arrest, she never forgets the humility of healthcare. She notes that even with her experience and education, “I always need to be ready and willing to seek more training, acquire new techniques, and to devote my time to ultimately improve the outcome of my patients.”

The new BROOME is hot off the press! Read more inspiring stories about SUNY Broome’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni via the digital edition of the magazine!

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