If you were paying attention while watching the grim pictures of the recent terror attack in London you should have noted small groups of paramedics quietly carrying out their duties. Their ambulances stood in orderly lines, back doors open wide awaiting the victims, some with horrendous injuries, a few with minor cuts and bruises, all in shock.
The paramedics were easy to spot. They were the ones moving calmly through the chaos. They carried no guns, only a quality of well-trained mercy. Among the victims were three French children, thankfully among those with minor injuries. Among the adults were two Romanians, four South Koreans, one German, one Pole, one Irish, one Chinese, one Italian, one American and two Greeks and 12 Britons. They all received the same level of highly professional care from the well-trained first responders.
We see similar response team reactions on a daily basis in British Columbia as our teams of paramedics respond to mayhem on our highways. The last full year of statistics (2015) listed 300 fatal highway accidents. Paramedics would have attended most if not all – plus the hundreds more which did not result in death but produced injuries as horrendous as those on Westminster Bridge in London.
And, as we watch local television stations bring us pictures of tangled cars and blanket-shrouded victims, our local paramedics, policemen and firemen calmly go about their business of attending to the injured and attempting to restore normal traffic flow. It is what we expect from our first responders and consequently we hold them in high regard for the dedication they take to their often unpleasantly bloody, highly stressful tasks.
We appreciate them, but our appreciation is not reflected in what we pay them – especially the paramedics. Still, they answer our cries for help whenever and wherever we make them, from highway crashes to strokes or heart attacks to simple falls at home at high noon or midnight when the rest of the world is asleep.
As the father of a paramedic, I have an interest in such things – and a possible bias. So, I turn to ex-Saanich policeman Bill Turner for evidence which might be suspect just coming from me. Bill has been active in recent weeks collecting signatures on a petition asking the provincial government to declare BC Ambulance Paramedics an essential service and thus group them with other key first responders – police and fire department personnel.
In a recent blog (http://mytruths.ca/?p=415) Bill wondered if people were aware that newly qualified BC paramedics are paid $2 an hour when they are on standby, usually “in a remote location … Only if they get a call-out are they paid a real wage … Often the cost of travel (they have to pay their own way from home to their station) exceeds the pay received … This near slavery condition can go on for years (about five years is the average) then if they are lucky they can land a slightly better ‘on call’ job where they receive minimum wage on standby …”
It is no wonder, Bill reflects, that after training and being treated like poor relations, many young people, their high ambition stifled, “seek work in other fields … It is a terrible situation for paramedics and bad for the citizens of BC” to lose a force of highly trained, dedicated first responders.
Within hours of the attack in London, BC Premier Christy Clark issued a “shocked and saddened” statement on “the tragic events.” She recalled that an earlier generation of Londoners when under attack “kept calm and carried on and I have no doubt this one will too.”
Her final thoughts were “with the victims, and the emergency and security personnel who risk their lives to keep us safe.” Even as I murmur “amen” to those well-chosen words, I wonder if the Premier would care to go one conscience-propelled step beyond and declare that if re-elected in May she will grant her paramedics, who stand shoulder to shoulder with others who keep us safe, the recognition they deserve and the pay and working conditions they have more than earned.
It could be a win-win promise, a voters’ popular choice: Paramedics finally promoted and formally recognized for what they have always been, a highly-appreciated essential service. But I don’t expect miracles. Government insiders say the move to pay paramedics would be too costly. It can only be the thinking of bureaucrats or politicians who have never had to call an ambulance and have no concept of what our first responder services would cost citizens with urgent need if left to free market forces.
It’s a public need for a public service as part of humanitarian health service. And it should not need a petitioners’ plea to bring it into being.