PEI

P.E.I.'s first responders look to bridge language gap with newcomers

First responders on P.E.I. are looking for new ways to bridge the language barrier with newcomers to the province.

'Suddenly we realized that we weren't able to communicate quite as well as we’d wanted to'

Advanced care paramedic Jeremy Measham says Island EMS has invested in a language service with interpreters who speak 240 different languages. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

First responders on P.E.I. are looking for new ways to bridge the language barrier with newcomers to the province.

Cindy McFadyen, fire prevention officer for the Charlottetown Fire Department, says firefighters ran into a situation last year where they couldn't tell a family to evacuate their home during a propane leak.

"We were trying to get people out of the area. We were going door to door asking people to leave, we came across a family that didn't quite understand us," McFadyen said.

"Suddenly we realized that we weren't able to communicate quite as well as we'd wanted to. So I ended up going and looking for an app to put on our phones."

McFadyen said Google Translate has been helpful in communicating with some newcomers but is just one possible solution to bridging the language gap.

Fire department recruiting newcomers

Charlottetown's deputy fire chief said the department is actively looking to recruit newcomers during its annual recruitment sweep.

"Newcomers are a big portion of our community these days so obviously we're looking for those numbers to step up," Tim Mayme said.

'We’re looking for as many qualified applications as we can find,' says Charlottetown deputy fire chief Tim Mayme. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Mayme stressed that every second counts during an emergency situation and having newcomer recruits would help tremendously.

"Depending on where we may be responding, there may be newcomers living in the area having difficulty with our language barrier," he said. 

"Having somebody on scene to be able to break that down for us is obviously very good to have."

'It's something that's essential'

Advanced care paramedic Jeremy Measham says that while language gaps have been a problem in the past, Island EMS has invested in a new language call line to help.

"We have more and more newcomers on Prince Edward Island, so we're excited about the fact that we have a language service available to us now," he said.

To access the service, a paramedic can call their dispatch service and ask for an interpreter from the language line.

He said the service is "instantaneous," and paramedics can access 240 languages around the clock 24/7. An interpreter on the other end will translate what both the paramedic and patient are saying while on speaker phone.

"It's something that's essential," Measham said. "If you're not able to communicate with a patient who's presenting symptoms, then you're not able to treat that patient effectively, nor are you able to relay information about that patient's condition to the hospital."

With files from CBC News: Compass

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