Despite rigours of job, N.B. paramedics say they love their profession
It’s the second call of the day for Heaven White and Shane Poore. The paramedics started their 12-hour shift at 8 a.m. and they’re two hours in.
They’re allowed to drive 20 km/h over the speed limit. While CTV can’t reveal where the call is, we can say it’s for someone who’s fallen, and their medical alert bracelet warned the first responders.
"The paramedics themselves are doing the best job possible out there," Poore said, after successfully completing the call.
"You can only work so many hours, and if they could be there, they would be there. We don’t do this job because of the money we’re getting out of it, we do it because we like to help people."
New Brunswick paramedics have been in the news a lot over the last year and it’s not because they want to be.
The province's efforts to address a shortage of bilingual paramedics became a heated issue during the 2018 provincial election campaign. Advocates have said that any move to change the requirement to provide equal services in both English and French, could violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the province's Official Languages Act.
There have also been a number of public complaints about ambulance delays, especially in rural areas.
Ambulance NB answers about 110,000 calls for service a year. Last fall, there were over 100 vacancies. Of those, 82 had a bilingual requirement.
"I believe changes really need to be made in this province," said Poore.
He’s a 10-year veteran, having served Deer Island, Chipman and Fredericton, among other communities.
"I believe we really need to be re-classified," Poore said. "It will put us in a different standing with the province. They’ll have a better idea of what we can do. I believe that bilingualism, it’s here to stay, but I think the government’s got to come around and look at translation devices instead of trying to teach everybody to speak French or English because in this province, it’s not only French or English."
Poore said lots of calls he gets are for people whose first language is Arabic.
"Even though we don’t speak their language, we can get through to them, and if that person’s unconscious, I don’t know what language they’re speaking," he said.
The response standard is 22 minutes in rural areas and nine in city centres. Poore says if an ambulance doesn’t meet that time, it’s because of understaffing across the system.
White says she knew growing up she wanted to have a career in health care.
"I definitely love the job," she said. "I love going to work really not knowing how the day’s going to play out. Every day is different and there’s always something new to learn. It doesn’t matter where you are or what kind of situation it is, there’s always something you can take from it, which I really enjoy."
White works part-time as a primary care paramedic, and says her favourite part is interacting with patients.
She said the issues have taken a toll on moral among paramedics.
"I just want the public to know that we really do try our hardest and we really do our best, and it’s just the politics of the job that’s definitely more stressful," White said. "I think that you wouldn’t meet a paramedic that doesn’t say that they love their job. It’s the politics that come with it that has a toll on morale."
Fredericton’s operations manager said the same:
"We have a great group of paramedics in this province that work hard every day, day in and day out, night and day, and they do serve the province to the best of their ability," said 20-year veteran Curtis McIntyre.
Back injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder remain very common among paramedics.
Poore said he has transported patients who weigh 750 lbs. Paramedics are lifting stretchers, equipment bags, and sometimes people off of floors.
Relatively new equipment has been installed in New Brunswick's ambulances to alleviate stress on their backs.
McIntyre said he’s been teaching future paramedics ways in which he’s dealt with the trauma of some calls.
"Over my 20 years, I’ve had my fair share of not-so-great calls," he said. "One of the things that I’ve always told myself when I first started was -- it’s not my emergency, and I’m trained to do a job. That’s something I’ve told my students all along: 'do your best, do what you’ve been trained to do.'"
Another call comes in – this time a person in medical distress. Poore and White take off, their third call in as many hours.