Manitoulin Island paramedics ride for fallen brethren

The Manitoulin contingent of supporters included, standing from left, Sarah and Ben Quackenbush, Pete Finlay, Jessica Begin, Jennifer Legacy Hamilton, Steve Mackie and Alie Thompson, and front, Valerie Breen-Dion and Amber Hayes.

OTTAWA – A contingent of 10 Manitoulin-area paramedics and medical professionals recently took part in the annual Ontario Paramedic Ride, a four-day bicycle ride from Toronto to Ottawa raising money for the Canadian Paramedic Memorial Foundation.

“The reason for the ride is honouring our fallen, paying tribute and raising awareness. Because of those things, it sort of makes the distance easier because of the of the reason you’re doing it. It brings the community of paramedics together,” said Alie Thompson, a primary care paramedic with Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board Paramedic Services.

The roughly 40,000 paramedics in Canada are four times more likely than the average Canadian to have issues with their mental or physical health and are more vulnerable to negative mental spaces such as suicidal thoughts, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Paramedics are often called to attend scenes of human casualties and have to treat victims in extreme situations.

Their line of work also means they undertake long hours, shift work, higher physical and psychological stressors and are frequently exposed to contagious or infectious diseases. Numerous paramedics have fallen in the line of duty or as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); the names of those who have passed while on the job or in training since 1980 are listed at the Paramedic Ride website.

When asked whether that issue has impacted her directly, Ms. Thompson’s response spoke plainly to the extent of the issue.

“I don’t think you could ask that to anyone in the profession and not have the answer ‘yes’,” she said. “It’s a daily occurrence for us to struggle with those kinds of calls. That’s why I think it’s such a big deal. I’ve been lucky but I’ve had a lot of support. I’ve also had lots of co-workers … who’ve struggled with PTSD or who couldn’t return to work.”

Over four days, the riders travelled the distance from Toronto to Ottawa, riding as many as 170 kilometres per day. When the Ontario ride arrived in Ottawa, they joined forces with the Quebec ride for the final trip to the finish line. More than 400 cyclists were in the final group.

Paramedic Jennifer Legacy Hamilton took part in her fifth ride this year and said she was happy to have more people from her home service attending.

“This year was our biggest turnout from our service which was nice to see. I also came out uninjured this year,” Ms. Legacy Hamilton said with a chuckle. Last year, her wheel jammed and she was thrown off her bike on the first day of travel. She ended up off work for some time following the incident.

Ms. Legacy Hamilton said that although she has never had to attend any call that has impacted her to the point that she needed to take off work, she also knows many co-workers who have struggled deeply with these issues in the past. However, she said that these tough situations are tied to the work of a first responder.

“It just comes with the territory,” she said.

The ultimate goal for the fundraising is the National Commemorative Paramedic Monument Project, an Ottawa-area installation that will recognize “the dedication and sacrifice of our fallen paramedics and be a place for family, friends and colleagues to mourn and remember.”

A sea of paramedics, and their supporters, drive the route of the Ontario Paramedic Ride in support of paramedics who have been lost in the line of duty.

Ms. Thompson stressed that even though the ride is over for this year, donations are still appreciated toward the project. She said the family members of those who have fallen are active supporters of the memorial and often take part in the ride.

“It’s just knowing you’re there to support them and working on giving them a place to go and remember, pay tribute to everyone,” she said.

Those from the Manitoulin area who participated in the ride in addition to Ms. Thompson and Ms. Legacy Hamilton were Valerie Breen-Dion, Amber Hayes, Steve Mackie, Sarah and Ben Quackenbush, Bill Slaght, Dilyn Gilbert-Leduc and Jessica Begin.