Danielle Hynes | Special to MuskokaTODAY.com
When you call 911, we are the individuals who arrive. We are Muskoka’s paramedics. We respond when the unthinkable happens and what some would describe as the worst day of their lives. We start our shift at the crack of dawn or at dusk and travel to one of five Paramedic stations in Muskoka, Bracebridge (headquarters), Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Port Carling, and Mactier.
Our shift always starts the same way; with our typical morning (or night) ambulance inspection, where we thoroughly check our equipment (radios, stretcher, cardiac monitor, batteries), ambulance, supplies, and medications to ensure we have all the necessary tools and equipment to respond to any call.
We also call Muskoka Ambulance Communications Service (Dispatch) to sign on for the start of our shift.
The public may know dispatchers as the individuals who answer the phone when calling 911. Dispatch is the vital link between the patient and paramedics prior to paramedics arriving on the scene.
Dispatch aids in ensuring the proper resources are sent to a scene or patient, whether it is police, fire, paramedics, or air ambulance (ORNGE).
Throughout a shift paramedics are in constant communication with dispatch, primarily via radio, to send us where we are needed most.
Sometimes our shifts start right as we walk in the door with what paramedics refer to as the “tones.” The tones are a distinctive alarm that alerts paramedics that a 911 call is in progress, which paramedics are required for.
On a daily basis we can respond to calls such as shortness of breath, chest pain, falls, car crashes, strokes, drowning, overdoses and cardiac arrests.
Some days we can spend our entire shift in the ambulance responding to calls, never going back to base until the end of the shift, or driving to other bases to provide coverage for that zone. Oftentimes we never know when our next meal or bathroom break might come.
Once we arrive on the scene, calls can vary from meeting a patient in their home to rendering aid to a patient on the side of a highway, to extricating a patient from remote access locations such as hiking trails, snowmobile trails or an island on Lake Muskoka.
Critical calls require that we provide life-saving medications and treatments, including defibrillation, CPR and airway management for cardiac arrests, nitro-glycerine for individuals experiencing a heart attack or IV fluids. And medications for patients suffering from severe fluid loss.
Some calls require a different kind of treatment, such as something as simple as communication. Sometimes just talking to a patient to alleviate their concern and unease can be just as helpful as providing life-saving medications and treatments.
Throughout a shift, paramedics restock the ambulance and complete a detailed call record after each call. These records detail the patient’s condition or injuries, past medical history as well as any care, medication, or treatment administered.
At the end of each call, we clean the ambulance interior to ensure we continue to be response ready. And at the end of each shift the ambulance is cleaned again inside and out.
Despite the fact that our shifts are scheduled to end at a specific time, it doesn’t mean emergencies follow that schedule.
We are here to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and every holiday in between.
In addition to responding to 911 calls, Muskoka Paramedic Services also operates a very robust Community Paramedicine Program, which sees especially trained/educated paramedics visit residents in their homes, with an expanded scope of practice.
Community Paramedics can initiate a wider range of medications, draw and analyze blood, and work closely with primary care providers, among other things. The goal of this program is to help people stay home longer, with a better quality of life and reduce the need for calling 911.
What to do when you call 911
There are a number of ways you, the public, can help when calling 911.
Make sure your blue 911 sign is clearly visible to us; not being able to see this could result in delays in finding you.
Ensure the driveway or access to the patient is clear. This may involve moving vehicles or furniture temporarily while we access and care for your loved one. Sometimes paramedics require extra assistance in locating a patient, especially in busier, crowded public places.
You can help by having someone meet paramedics outside and direct them to where the patient is located.
When Paramedics arrive on the scene, they need a patient’s health card and any medications that a patient may take. You can assist by having these items ready when paramedics arrive.
The life of a paramedic is a busy one. Shift work is challenging. Treating critically sick and injured patients is stressful.
But, despite this, the Paramedics of Muskoka Paramedic Services are dedicated to the community they serve.
Please help celebrate Paramedic Services Week from May 22 to 28 by listening to a variety of announcements on local radio stations and news channels.