The West Coast celebrated local lifesavers during B.C.’s Paramedic Services Week last month.
“It’s not a declared holiday or anything like that, it’s just one of those things that comes up to pat yourself on the back for doing a good job,” Tofino’s BC Ambulance unit chief Bill Craven told the Westerly News.
To celebrate, Craven collected as many members of his team as he could and took them out for ice cream cones at Chocolate Tofino where owners Cam and Kim Shaw assured any paramedics who couldn’t be there would still be set up with ice cream.
“Kim and Cam were kind enough to provide gift cards for each of them,” Craven said.
He said paramedics in small communities juggle their life-saving schedules with full time jobs and family obligations and it’s important to find time to fit some team bonding in.
“It’s just nice if you can get an opportunity to get together…just for a few minutes of relaxation and to enjoy each others company without actually working,” he said adding the crew received positive accolades from passers-by.
“We were out in the public eye, we had our uniforms on, we had a couple of ambulances there and people came and chatted. It was a nice little friendly half-hour get-together on a Friday afternoon.”
He said Tofino’s paramedics enjoy solid community support.
“The paramedics in Tofino love working in their community and the community loves them and it’s absolutely the same in Ucluelet,” he said.
Ucluelet’s unit commander Rachelle Cole hosted an appreciation pizza party for her crew.
Cole told the Westerly she was wearing her uniform when she walked into the Cedar Grill to order the pizza and was greeted by a server who thanked her out of the blue.
“He said, ‘I just want to say thank you’ and he held out his hand and shook my hand,” she said.
“It was just very coincidental. Here’s somebody shaking my hand saying, ‘Thank you,’ for something that I’m just about to be appreciative to my staff for. It was a really awesome moment.”
She said Ucluelet blankets its first responders with warmth and support and the community fills her with pride during orientation ambulance rides with freshly graduated, out-of-town, paramedics.
“BC Ambulance hires people who have just come out of paramedic school…and they are tasked with picking a rural or remote community that they are willing to travel to. They come and stay at the station for $2 an hour,” she said.
“We cruise all over town so they can practice driving the ambulance and they get to see the area they could possibly be responding to and I could not tell you how many homes we drive by where people come out and wave and clap and yell, ‘Thank you guys’…I get all puffed up and proud because here’s somebody not from my community and they are witnessing my community coming out of their homes just to say. ‘Thank you.’ It’s an awesome feeling.”
She said although an ambulance is not perpetually cruising through town, paramedics are always ready to respond.
“There are people in our community, and who travel from outside our community, who lend their support to our stations at $2 an hour,” she said. “These are the people that, in your darkest hour, will get out of bed, put on their uniform and take the call.”
She said the pizza party was an important opportunity for her crew to spend time together outside of emergency situations.
“It’s not like you start a shift and go down to the station and see the people you work with,” she said.
“You see them in the moment of emergency situations and you don’t ever get to really spend some lighthearted moments appreciating each other for the hard work you do together.”
She added these lighthearted moments provide a valuable contrast to the experiences paramedics go through on the job.
“What they say with paramedicine is, ‘It’s not about if witnessing trauma and dealing with trauma will affect you, it’s when,’” she said. “Over time, it wears on you.”
Cole added West Coast paramedics love what they do.
“We enjoy what we’re good at and we’re good at what we enjoy,” she said. “it’s challenging and extremely rewarding.”
Cole said she has hired five new local paramedics since taking Ucluelet’s helm in September 2015, and the local team has members who have served the community for over 20 years.