Paramedics honoured for commitment to others
By Jenn Watt
Published Oct. 17, 2017
Three local paramedics were honoured, one posthumously, for exemplary service at a special ceremony in Ottawa in September.
Dwight Thomas, Brad Robinson and Gord Riddle were given the Governor General’s Emergency Medical Service Exemplary Service Medal recognizing their dedication to the job and their community service during long careers helping others and saving lives.
The medals were presented by Major General Richard Rohmer on behalf of the governor general at the annual meeting of the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs Sept. 28.
Brad Robinson has been a paramedic in Haliburton County for 29 years. He and his family moved to the area when he was in Grade 4 and after he returned home from the military, Robinson said someone suggested the ambulance service.
“Back in those days, nobody knew what, at the time an ambulance driver was,” he said.
Robinson stepped into the role without knowing much about it, but soon found it was a career that suited him well.
Training was grown “in leaps and bounds” since he first signed up. In 1988, he was required to have CPR certification, a Class F driver’s licence and first aid. Today, paramedics complete a two-year program and many have a year of pre-health sciences. Once you’re hired, there is constant training and certification.
One of the most important parts of doing the job well is to offer compassion to those going through stressful, at times frightening and traumatic, situations.
“It’s one of those jobs they don’t call us because they’re having a good day. It’s always their bad day and we show up and do what we can to help them out until we can get to more advanced care,” he said.
Over the years, Robinson has also volunteered in the community, as ski patrol at Sir Sam’s, on the volunteer fire department and as an auxiliary staff sergeant with the OPP. He has also worked in City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough.
Receiving the honour was meaningful to Robinson.
“It’s gratifying to know you’re nominated and got accepted,” he said.
For Dwight Thomas, who retired June of last year, the honour put the finishing touch on a 42-year career.
“I was pretty well overwhelmed. It was so nice,” he said.
Thomas was first hired in 1974 to work for the Minden ambulance service. At the time he was juggling a couple of part-time jobs, including copy editing for the Minden Progress, when the then-fire chief suggested he think about being a paramedic. Thomas was hesitant – he had none of the necessary training – but took the training and got the job.
“Throughout those 42 years I’ve been part of the service in Haliburton County,” he said, though he has worked in other places, as is common in the profession.
Being a paramedic never lost its lustre for Thomas, who said he was motivated by helping others.
“I think the most rewarding thing of the job is you’re helping somebody,” he said. “That’s always been very satisfying for me.”
In 1980, Thomas was honoured with the Dr. Norman McNally trophy for service above the call of duty. The recognition was for his efforts to help a woman trapped in a burning car.
It was a summer morning around 6:30, he remembers, when two cars collided on Highway 121 between Kinmount and Fenelon Falls. The driver of one car had died, while the other was stuck under the crumpled dashboard in her car.
Thomas got into the car through the backdoor and began to help the woman. Simultaneously, firefighters were trying to cut the car apart to get her out when a spark created from the saw lit gasoline under her car on fire. Thomas was able to get out and after the fire was put out, he returned to continue helping the woman. Unfortunately, a few days later she succumbed to her injuries.
Thomas said the woman was conscious when he arrived and he tried his best to keep her calm in the frightening situation. It’s one of the hallmarks of a good first responder.
“You have to be compassionate. You have to be cool headed: go about your job in a calm fashion,” he said. “You have to be as calm as possible because that assists the patients. If they see you all freaked out, what are they going to think?”
But even though paramedics are cool under pressure, they aren’t immune to human suffering and the effects traumatic scenes can have on the psyche. Thomas said after he retired, he had to deal with the emotional toll of the job.
“After I retired, I did have some difficulties with sleep. Nightmares and remembering things,” he said. He got in touch with his doctor and was able to work through the issues.
Receiving the exemplary service medal is recognition of a job well done, Thomas said. It indicates the effort he put in was appreciated.
“It’s humbling. There’s no question. I certainly appreciated it. Put a cap on the whole career, you know?”
For many of the years Thomas worked as a paramedic, he shared an ambulance with Gord Riddle.
Riddle, another recipient this year, was months away from retirement when he died suddenly in November of 2016.
His widow, Elizabeth, said attending the ceremony on her late-husband’s behalf was a bittersweet experience.
“Back in June I get a phone call saying that Gord is going to be receiving this award. I’m still trying to pull my life back together. I didn’t honestly know if I could go to this event or not but I did and I’m really, really glad I did. I’m so proud of him,” she said.
Elizabeth first met Gord when she was working at Peterborough Regional Health Centre as the admitting clerk. She saw Riddle come in with a patient and wait for hours with her on offload delay.
“I watched him … for about three hours as he cared for this lady on the stretcher. I was so impressed by his kindness and his concern for her. He really stood out,” she said.
“He loved people. He loved his job. He liked to help people and he was very good at his job,” she said.
Riddle started his career in Sutton, Ont., ending up working in Haliburton around 2000. He and Elizabeth got together about eight years ago and lived in Bancroft.
He excelled in his field because of his natural interest in others and his desire to help.
“He was genuinely interested in people. ... He felt very strongly about helping people,” Elizabeth said.
Along with Riddle’s son and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth attended the ceremony and received the award on his behalf. Before he died, Riddle had talked about the award and what it would mean to him.
“He wasn’t there to receive the honour, but I was very proud to receive it on his behalf,” she said.