Nova Scotia

Paramedic who died in Juan left deep legacy

Sunday is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Juan. It also marks the tenth anniversary of the death of John Rossiter, the paramedic who died in the line of duty during the storm.

Sunday is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Juan. It also marks the tenth anniversary of the death of John Rossiter, the paramedic who died in the line of duty during the storm.

Rossiter was responding to a call as the storm lashed Halifax. At about 1 a.m., a huge tree was blown into his ambulance from Camp Hill Cemetery, crushing the cab and killing him. His partner in the ambulance survived. 

Rossiter, who was 31, moved to Halifax from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. He worked as a paramedic in the city for ten years. He was a prominent activist for paramedics and came from a line of public service: his father was a firefighter and his brother a police officer. 

$30,000 in scholarships

Reached Sunday, his mother Brenda Rossiter said much good had come from her son's death. Several university scholarships are given out in his name. Since 2005, they’ve totalled more than $30,000.

“Everybody remembers him as a very outgoing, helpful person,” his mother said. “He was born with a smile on his face.”

Rossiter was an active proponent of paramedics’ rights and improved working conditions. In 1999, he was part of a demonstration where paramedics parked an ambulance outside of Province House.

They turned the lights and siren on, locked the empty ambulance and walked away. He was eventually invited to come inside Province House, where he gave a speech about the issues.

He explained his decision to pursue a career as a paramedic. As a casual, he made $7.50 an hour, he said. “But I loved doing what I do,” he told the members of the Legislature.

He spoke about the horrifying car accidents he had attended, the lives he had saved, and the people he saw die. Sometimes, he was the one in danger.

“I was at a call on Young Street and a young man pulled a gun in my face. The three police officers behind me pulled their guns. I felt a trickle down my leg,” he said.

“You have no idea — when you go to the backyard of a school and see a 13-year-old hanging by a phone cord,” he said.

He told a hushed Legislature how one week, he saw six dead people in five days.

Medic Monday

His mother brims with pride when she remembers the work her son did.

“He has done a lot for the paramedics of Nova Scotia, and apparently he’s still doing it,” she said.

Monday will be Nova Scotia’s first Medic Monday, a day to honour the bravery and professionalism of paramedics across the province. It came about in part in memory of Rossiter.

A plaque on the corner of Summer Street and Veterans Row in Halifax marks the spot where he died. A booth at his favourite restaurant, Jack Astor's, and a room in the QEII Hospital where he served are named for him. The Hammonds Plains fire department planted a tree and created a plaque to honour him.

His mother says she still gets calls from people who remember her son and are sitting in his booth or in his hospital room. Often, they’ve just lost a loved one themselves and find solace in her strength.

Artist Kathleen Flanagan saw his monument on Summer Street and was inspired to create an exhibition in 2012. Called Sacrifices on the Job, in honoured Nova Scotians who have died at work.

His mother still lays flowers for him. She says the work her son started in life has continued long past his death. 

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