Everyday Hero: What it's like on the frontlines as a Canadian paramedic

Jun 11 2020, 4:29 pm

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Our healthcare workers have been putting their lives at greater risk in recent months to save our communities.

For paramedics, being in an emergency is part of their everyday lives. But since COVID-19, these frontline workers have experienced a different set of challenges.

Andrew Yaremchuk is an advanced care paramedic who has been working with Alberta Health Services (AHS) since 2014. Throughout the pandemic, he’s continued to commute to Bow Island from Medicine Hat, to save lives.

One of the biggest challenges he has faced since the onset of the pandemic is the responsibility to look out for his own safety now as well as others — in ways he didn’t have to before.

“We all have the mentality in EMS that when a really bad call comes in and we’re going to the scene, we want to get in there as quickly as possible,” says Yaremchuk.

Now, crews need to be more cautious. “For instance, if someone’s in cardiac arrest, we can’t just rush in and start doing what we’ve been taught our entire career to do. We have to take time, step back, and protect ourselves,” says the 32-year-old dad of three.

Part of the paramedic’s new approach to protecting himself and others includes wearing more PPE and taking extra time to be more cautious around patients when on the frontline.

Andrew Yaremchuk

“It takes a little bit of time to get on our gown, our appropriate masks, our hair net or face shield, our gloves, and then be able to enter the scene,” he explains.

Yaremchuk’s weekly routine sees him working on Bow Island — four days on, four days off. He has a crew house there where he stays while away from his wife and sons in Medicine Hat.

“My busy, busy, awesome wife — she stays home with the boys because she’s still on mat leave. So I go there, do the best I can, and FaceTime with the boys every day,” he says.

Yaremchuk’s team covers a vast area of Bow Island. Their work extends west to Grassy Lake and even Brooks when they’re excessively busy, east to Seven Pearsons, and south all the way to the American border.

“Anything that requires advanced life support, we typically get called out for in that zone. If something really bad happens, we usually rely on having a medivac like HALO come because it is such a short response time,” says Yaremchuk.

Andrew Yaremchuk

He’s obviously seen a lot of dark things in his work, but Yaremchuk says there’s also the positive, including a story from a colleague who recently assisted a woman in labour before she could get to a hospital.

“When babies want to come, they want to come, and they ended up delivering a very healthy baby in the back of the ambulance,” says Yaremchuk.

Yaremchuk explains that even though there’s so much negativity going on right now, it’s also really meaningful to see a silver lining in this kind of work. “The ability of something so pure to give so much joy, during such a dark time, it’s awesome to see,” he says.

But although he’s able to see the positive side, he’s also human. “We’re in the same boat as everybody else. We’re everyday people,” says Yaremchuk. “We took on this career path because we enjoy helping people. We love being able to make a difference in people’s lives.

But at the same time, “we’re everyday people. We’re scared too. But, we wake up […] and we keep going. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

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