“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
Piloting and Health Care may seem like two completely different career paths but Allison Bennett has discovered how one can lead to the other, and actually relate the two together.
The North Bay native says the former started when her mother found an article in the newspaper about a commercial pilot program.
“I had been talking about flying and the article said ‘commercial pilot, one year program’ and that’s when the light went on,” says Bennett.
“I started to think, ‘wow, I can be a commercial pilot? That’s crazy.’ And I looked into the Algonquin Flight Centre in North Bay and I was able to do that at my own pace and my own time. It was an excellent school. Ron McDonald was the owner and he put together an excellent program to train under and start getting your basis in aviation and the confidence to go forward in the industry.”
After nearly 20 hours of flying with an instructor, Bennett was allowed to control a plane by herself for the first time. She says, “They send you out by yourself to do a take-off, circuit, and land. You just do one the first time but it is a pretty big deal that first time you go up there. You then do a little bit of instructing and then you’re off by yourself.”
The West Ferris and Nipissing University graduate would then spend the next several years training to become a water bomber pilot for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
But it is not a straight path to that landing point.
“I was flying the bird dog missions over the forest fires,” says Bennett.
When we get dispatched, a bird dog plane flies overhead of the fire and they are in charge of giving the bomber pilots the details about the fire's behaviour and coordinating the crews on the ground, they also tell us where to drop the water.”
Bennett says while that was a great part of the job she was looking to command the bigger planes, but she says, “I didn’t have any float time. In order to fly the water bomber, you must have a certain number of hours of piloting a floatplane. I looked all over northern Ontario to try and find jobs that would lead to that, but I also knew of someone who was flying in the Maldives.”
Bennett says the small Asian nation which lies 700 kilometers from the coast of India was a place where she could get the training she needed.
“I applied for a couple of years and eventually they let me go over and co-pilot which they don’t normally do, but they hired me and I flew for about 1,000 hours as a co-pilot and then they upgraded me to Captain and I stayed and also got my 1,000 hours in water bombing. Over the last 10 years I have gone back and worked on two other contracts in that area and it’s been a tremendous experience,” Bennett says.
She returned home to work for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry based out of Sudbury.
“We’re available April to October, 12 hours a day and can be anywhere in the province and we’re essentially waiting to get a call that a fire is burning,” says Bennett.
“On our way out we look for water sources near to where we have been dispatched to and when we get there we look at the lake, make sure we can safely scoop a load, and get it as close to the fire as possible. We do it as many times as it’s needed. We’re so focused on flying the airplane, and it's always safety first but you can’t think about what could happen because you have that job that you have been sent to do.”
Bennett says for the most part they are dealing with remote areas, which makes it unlikely for people to be in danger. However she says, “A couple of years ago we had fires around North Bay and up in Temagami. When it is near a city, that’s when it gets real and the fire is pointed toward a town and people are being evacuated from their homes. That’s when your heart starts racing a little more and every little thing you do becomes that much more important and we really need to get those drops where they need to be.”
Bennett says having a calm presence and focusing on the job is a skill a lot of young pilots need to learn.
“When it comes to flying an airplane you have to take the thought out of all the negative things. You can’t think about being so high in the sky or what could go wrong, you just have to be in the moment and know that you are prepared for something if it were to happen.”
Bennett says the idea of exploring the region was something that always appealed to her.
“Just something about remote lakes in northern Ontario was what I was always drawn to. I wanted to go camping and exploring that region and I wanted to do it in a floatplane, but it just so happened to be in a much bigger floatplane than I originally expected,” she says.
And while she got to accomplish that professionally, it was a career in health care that Bennett originally had her sights set on.
“I always wanted to be in health care and I thought that I would get a job that would allow me to fly a floatplane around northern Ontario for fun, but I sort of did that backward,” she says.
So when the snow starts falling and the water bombers are housed for the winter, Bennett turns to Osteopathy.
Dr. Andrew Still is the founder of osteopathy and in the 1800s he believed that the medical field of prescribing someone with opioids and alcohol wasn’t solving the problems but just masking the symptoms and allowing the person to just get by, but not getting to the true cause of what was happening. Bennett says, “He looked a lot at the laws of nature and sort of put all that together to see how that worked in the body and applied that to what we do today in this field.”
Bennett has a clinic in North Bay and Sturgeon Falls and says, “The science behind the movement of the body with recovery from injuries or pain was something that I was always interested in. I was a student-athlete and so growing up and being active and then dealing with my own stress and pain led me to Osteopathy. Anything to do with the body anything that feels sort of out of place, well there’s a reason for it and that’s part of what we do is finding out the why, so that when you do get to an older age you are moving better, everything is functioning better, the body is working the way it's supposed to.”
Bennett says looking at the body within the laws of nature is something she can do while using that piloting knowledge.
“I’m using my mechanical background with airplanes to look at the body as a machine and follow the schematics of the electrical and plumbing and fluid dynamics of the body, just taking what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years with airplanes and replacing that with the anatomy of the body. Although it is a machine, it is a machine of nature and there are natural aspects that have to be considered but there are laws of nature that we follow too.”
For now, Bennett says she isn’t keeping her feet completely planted on the ground.
“I’m going to try doing both. Flying is during the summer so I’m going to use the winter to do this. Right now it's part-time because people don’t know too much about Osteopathy. It’s just about letting the community know that there are other options for pain relief and healing of all types of discord within the body.”