Not all Lights and Sirens: A Journey with Three Paramedics

In Nova Scotia, there are over 1,100+ paramedics who dedicate their lives to public service. To help better understand what daily life is like on the front lines of health care, we went behind the scenes, capturing the experiences of these first responders in their own words and photos.

Jody Porter

It’s a cool, sunny day in mid-August, and Jody Porter is making last-minute checks before leaving the Coldbrook station to begin his shift.

Scott Hamilton, Paramedic, Emergency Health Services
Jody Porter, Paramedic, Emergency Health Services

A paramedic in the Annapolis Valley for more than 20 years, Jody has spent much of his career working in two-person crews.

But on this day, the advanced care paramedic is doing something a little different ― he won’t be in an ambulance, but in an SUV as the sole paramedic.

Introduced more than a year ago across the province, the SPEAR (Single Paramedic Emergency ALS/BLS Response) model sees one paramedic respond to the least urgent calls.

One of the goals of the unit is to ease the strain on the system by taking on these less urgent cases, reducing the number of people being sent to emergency departments, and ensuring that two-person ambulances are available to respond to emergency calls.

For Jody, he has adapted to working some shifts without a partner.

“Over the years, I think we’ve already started to rewire the way we think when we go to calls as a two-person crew on an ambulance because we’ve gone from a system where we just assume we’re going to transport someone to the hospital every time we go to a system where we don’t always do that,” he says.

“So, I think we’ve already started to do that, but as a SPEAR medic, I think you have to add some knowledge and some experience because now our focus is keeping people at home if we can, coming up with a care plan that they can follow to hopefully make themselves feel better without spending hours at the emergency, maybe unnecessarily. “

Once he arrives on the scene, depending on the presentation of the patient, Jody will do everything from the physical assessment, asking all the questions, and consulting with the Clinical Team at the EHS Medical Communications Centre, which comprises of a physician, registered nurse and clinical support paramedic.

“There’s quite a bit more to it, and the cognitive load is quite a bit higher with some calls,” he says.

Since the program is still relatively new, there’s been a learning curve for the public, who are used to ambulances responding to all calls, regardless of urgency.

“I would say sometimes they’re surprised but still thankful that someone is there, and I’ve gotten actually really good response from patients and families,” he says. “They’re not always aware that we have this unit on the road and that someone can just come and maybe just check your vitals and tell them that their blood pressure is OK, and even that is enough to make them feel better and say ‘maybe I don’t need an ambulance anymore’.”

Scott Hamilton

Over at the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville, Scott Hamilton is waiting to offload his patient, spending the time chatting with other paramedics and the nurse.

Jody Porter, Paramedic, Emergency Health Services
Scott Hamilton, Paramedic, Emergency Health Services

The son of a firefighter, Scott has always been around first responders, but opted to go into paramedicine after meeting his wife, Samantha, and became a paramedic in 2000.

In his 23-year career, Scott says he has seen a shift in the opportunities available for paramedics to serve their communities in a variety of ways.

“There’s been a lot of big changes, whether that be from medications to scope of practice, to the system itself,” he says.

Over the course of his career, the intermediate care paramedic has also seen his share of challenges in the system, including increasing offload delays, staffing, and emergency department closures.

But despite those challenges, Scott says what keeps him engaged in his job is his love for his neighbours and new opportunities to do different things, including becoming an alternate with the EHS Emergency Preparedness and Special Operations (EPSO) team in Yarmouth and a senior operations paramedic.

“I think part of it is I’m in my own community where I grew up, so I know a lot of the people. The other side of things is I’ve taken on a few different roles,” he says.

“So, I think those changes helped me, it provided some of that variety, which I think has helped keep me here ―something different, some small, slight changes that keeps me engaged in different ways.”

Peter Trites

Also at the Valley Regional on this day is fellow paramedic Peter Trites. However, Peter isn’t in uniform or waiting to transfer care of a patient, instead he’s working in the emergency department as part of his clinical studies to become an advanced care paramedic.

Peter Trites, Paramedic, Emergency Health Services
Peter Trites, Paramedic, Emergency Health Services

Peter, originally from Berwick, has about six to eight months left in his ACP studies at Medavie HealthEd. He’s enjoying his clinical work so far.

“Right now, working with the nurses…I’m administering medications I wouldn’t normally get to see, seeing patients I might get to follow up with in the field, doing different skills,” he says.

A paramedic for almost 12 years, Peter says he would recommend the profession to anyone interested in entering the medical field and who has a sense of community.

“I really like to see that we can make a difference. I really enjoy some of the complex calls we get to where they make you think where you’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” he says.

“You’re never going to see the same presentation of a patient twice; you’re going to be mentally involved, mentally stimulated — it is rewarding in certain aspects, especially when you see you made a difference in somebody’s life.”

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