Henry Stubbs has responded to many emergency calls and has seen many changes in ambulance work over the years.
On Sunday, he will mark 41 years as a paramedic.
In the mid-1970s, while working at the Similkameen Mine in Princeton, he took an industrial first aid course and became interested in paramedic work.
In the years following, he worked in Penticton as a full-time paramedic for 31 years. He was later transferred to Summerland, where he has spent 10 years in a part-time role.
When he began his career as a paramedic, in the days before B.C. Ambulance, each district was run differently.
“When I started, there was no dispatch. There was no 9-1-1 service,” he said. “It was pretty basic.”
Those who needed an ambulance would dial a number, often to a private home. In some communities, a motorist with a station wagon would respond to pick up patients.
“Clearly, that couldn’t continue,” he said. “We couldn’t keep up with the increasing demand.”
Today, with a 9-1-1 service in place, the dispatch system is excellent.
Other changes are coming, in order to speed service and response times, and Stubbs expects more improvements in the response times.
Stubbs said quick responses are essential, especially when responding to accidents, strokes or cardiac issues, where time is critical.
However, he adds that paramedics are not needed for some of the calls they receive.
For instance, he said one call, at 2:30 a.m., came from a person who could not sleep because of back pain. However, the back pain was not a sudden change; it had been ongoing.
“The public has demanded the absolute best of everything, but it’s not sustainable,” he said. “We can’t be everything to everyone.”
He added that television and movie portrayals of paramedic work provide a distorted picture of the job.
“With some of those shows, you’re looking at a career’s worth of highlights in 60 minutes,” he said.
While Stubbs, 65, still enjoys working as a paramedic, he also tells young people the career is not for everyone.
The career can be stressful and in Canada, paramedics have a suicide rate almost twice as high as other emergency responders.
“The key is to find some sort of balance in your life,” he said.