Thunder Bay paramedics taking extra training to help them be 'safe at all times'
Union representing paramedics says it has asked for protective instruction for 10 years
Paramedics with Superior North EMS are taking extra training to ensure their safety in violent or potentially-violent situations as one long-time first responder says he and his colleagues now face those dangers on a daily basis.
The training, called Street Smart, is a "threat-based situational awareness program that focuses on de-escalation and self defence," according to the latest annual safety report prepared by Thunder Bay city administration for city council. The report also stated that changes have been made behind the scenes to better relay information to paramedics to prepare them for what they may face on a given call.
The job comes with a much greater threat of violence now, said Rob Moquin, the unit chair for the union local that represents Superior North EMS paramedics. Moquin said he's also been a paramedic himself for about 15 years.
"The job is an ever-changing job, the street isn't what it was 10 years ago," Moquin said, pointing to the rise in violent gang activity in Thunder Bay, as well as a large volume of calls where drugs and alcohol are a factor.
"We're in a lot of situations that we have no control over, we're walking into things that we don't know what we're into until we're already in."
The training itself is more than just self-defence, Moquin said. The day-long session also consisted of instruction in how to approach a home, for example, or how to recognize and deal with people that may be violent "in a very safe manner that not only protects ourselves, but protects the patients that we're trying to treat."
It also included training in how best to safely leave a situation if it becomes out of control.
Front-line staff have been asking for improved situational-awareness and self defence training for about a decade, Moquin said, in addition to other protections, like stab-proof vests. 2019 marked the first year the defence training was offered, he said, adding that there's still no word on whether Superior North EMS will supply the vests.
Thunder Bay's 2018 corporate safety report identified 11 incidents in 2018 involving Thunder Bay paramedics that resulted in injury. The report said that emergency services is one of two city departments, along with community services, where the number of injuries and reported incidents are rising the most significantly.
"I certainly want to see all my members go home safe at the end of the day," Moquin said.