When one thinks of an ambulance attendant, different images arise. Flashing lights, sirens, men and women in uniform working quickly to attend to the sick and injured. All of these images are correct, but for the thousands of paramedics across British Columbia, there is even more to the job than rushing to the scene of an accident.
Tumbler Ridge BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) Unit Chief Bill Hendley is just one example of a paramedic who views his job not only as the occasional adrenaline rush, but a way to give back to his local community in a positive and meaningful manner.
14 years ago Hendley was a rookie part-time Tumbler Ridge paramedic with only one year of service and 40 calls under his belt. ?I?d been doing a lot of patient transfers,? he says. ?But I hadn?t really decided if I wanted to make the ambulance service my career.?
That would soon change. On May 14, 1992 Hendley received his 41st call ? the call that would define his career. A small plane had crashed shortly after takeoff from the tiny Tumbler Ridge airport. Six people were on board ? a local pastor and his two young children, another man and his young child, and the pilot.
The scene was chaotic ? luckily, the wreckage hadn?t caught fire, but a plane had not crashed in the area before, and this kind of scene was new territory for Hendley. One of the men on board had died on impact. But the five others, including three children, all survived with various serious injuries. Further, a Baptist minister himself, Hendley knew the pastor and his family. Regardless, he and the rest of the BC Ambulance crew sprang into action.
?It was amazing that so many had survived ? it was a terrible crash,? says Hendley. ?Our unit chief had laryngitis. She was whispering instructions ? and we were having radio problems as well.? Using all of the tools at their disposal, the paramedics who attended the scene – seven units in all including a private ambulance from the local mine ? worked with a local search and rescue group, using the group?s helicopter to transport patients.
Once the patients were treated and stabilized, the most seriously injured were flown to the local health clinic. The rest were taken by ground ambulance. Numerous community members, including 22 paramedics, doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, and search and rescue Ranger members showed up at the clinic to pitch in. Paramedics even helped clinic staff take x-rays of injured patients.
?There was no ego ? the community came together and we all did what was necessary. It felt like I stepped outside of myself and knew instinctively what to do, even though I had never done many of these things before. I counted 17 procedures that I performed that day for the very first time,? says Hendley. As he comforted and helped treat the children, he also found himself in a duel role as pastor. ?I was asked to inform one of the families that their husband and father had died in the crash. I comforted the widow and then went back to helping those who did survive.?
Hendley recognized that, as a paramedic, it was important to not become emotional about the situation, instead focusing on the patients. But he also realized that his job was about more than providing medical treatment. ?This job is a way for people to demonstrate compassion and caring for their fellow community members by helping them on their worst days. And the people of Tumbler Ridge stepped up to the plate and came through with flying colours.?
After the crash, Hendley decided that being a paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service was indeed the career path for him. ?As we are a remote community, all of our paramedics are part-time. This allows us to contribute to our community, while still maintaining our other jobs. I?m still a pastor, a member of the business community, and a unit chief with BC Ambulance. It?s a great balance.?
On call paramedics are required in the Tumbler Ridge area. If you are interested in joining the BC Ambulance Service team, please contact Bill Hendley at 250-242-4176.