For more than two decades, South Shuswap First Responder volunteers have provided professional paramedic services to a rural area in the interior of British Columbia that does not have its own ambulance station.
“We are a pre-ambulance group so we are dispatched by BC Ambulance/911 dispatch and we basically go with all our equipment and training and help to the emergency scene before the ambulance arrives,” explained the president of the South Shuswap first responders. Debbie Edwards.
However, with just eight volunteer responders, the group has had to scale back its services in recent weeks. He no longer answers at night and only answers the most serious calls.
Ideally, the group would have 15 people trained to respond.
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“I don’t think we serve the community the way we could because we don’t have the people,” Edwards said.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years now and it’s really hard to see things play out the way they have and to see the difference in what the word volunteering means to different age groups.”
The group is now issuing an urgent appeal to the community for new volunteers over the age of 18 living in the Regional District of Columbia’s Election Area C Shuswap service area.
“I hope people will step up and volunteer to be first responders because they’re going to do tremendous good for our community,” said Paul Demenok, Regional District of Columbia Shuswap manager.
The training of new volunteers is scheduled for September but is only partially complete.
If more volunteers are not recruited, it will mean more burnout for existing members, fewer people answering calls and a bigger gap in services for those living in the South Shuswap.
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Currently, the nearest ambulance stations are outside the region at Salmon Arm and Chase.
So, Demenok says the volunteer group provides important early response to emergencies in places like Blind Bay, Sorrento and Tappen, with practices like triage and administering oxygen.
“They are regularly there several minutes before the ambulance arrives,” Demenok said.
“They really do provide a very, very valuable and essential health care service.”
Edwards said with the ambulance service’s own shortages, “it’s critical” that the volunteer pool is available.
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