(Brennan Phillips - Western News)

(Brennan Phillips - Western News)

‘It keeps you coming back’: Okanagan man reflects on 27 years as paramedic

Larry Bate retired this year from BC Ambulance, after serving for 27 years in Summerland

Helplessly watching as his daughter was struck by seizure while sitting in his lap, changed something in Larry Bate.

It was this fateful day in 1986 that spurred him into pursuing a career as a paramedic. And, 27 years later, he’s finally hanging up his jacket.

“I had no first-aid training whatsoever at that time, and it scared the hell out of me,” said the now-retired Summerland paramedic.

The 60-year-old is looking forward to a life of rest and relaxation.

A part-time paramedic in the South Okanagan town for 27 years, Bate has gotten to know many people and has been inside many homes.

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It was also by chance that he landed in Summerland. In the early 1990s, Bate was seeking a transfer to the Penticton RCMP, until the opportunity unexpectedly fell through. However, an opening in Summerland with the BC Ambulance Service was available. As soon as he switched, he was hooked.

That being said, many difficult moments and situations throughout the years brought him to the point of quitting more than once.

“You kind of think about it every two or three years, where you’re ready to quit. And then you get a call where you actually make a difference, and it kind of just sucks you back in,” he explained. “The part about the job that’s the best is being in that car with that one other person, you’ve got each other’s backs, and you can make a difference.”

A challenging time for B.C. paramedics

Bate leaves the industry at a challenging time. On top of ongoing salary debates, Bate explained BC Ambulance workers have faced immense pressure since COVID-19 hit communities.

March, was a frustrating month for the Summerland paramedic. After hurting his back, he was forced to watch his co-workers struggle to deal with the increasingly-worsening pandemic.

“I was so upset for at least four months, that I wasn’t there to help. It almost drove me nuts. It’s really hard to make that decision to quit,” said Bate.

Now, he explained, is the most physically and mentally demanding time for frontline workers. He said workers on the scene not only worry about the patient and themselves, but they also worry about the possibility of taking something home with them to the family.

Since the pandemic began, some paramedics have chosen to not go home to their families. Sleeping in camper trailers and hotels, for some, has become a reality.

With cases escalating again, Bate said it is frustrating for paramedics to watch.

“They kind of get mad at the people they see who aren’t listening to what we should be doing,” he said.

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Bate said the suicide rate within the paramedic community is far too high. Although he isn’t exactly sure why this is, he said, it’s likely because of the things they see. Often, they’re first on the scene.

“I had a brother in the armed forces. I’ve seen more death than he has. There’s bad one where you’re actually there and trying to help them when they go and that’s really hard.”

Reflecting on 27 years of changes

Years ago in the ‘olden days’, Bate explained, paramedics were placed in extremely difficult and potentially dangerous situations. Any calls in Summerland after 2 a.m. that required medical and police intervention, would be first assessed by ambulance workers as first on scene. RCMP at that time were paid on-call only.

However, as of five years ago, the industry adapted and policies changed, dictating RCMP would be first to arrive on the scene and call upon ambulance workers once it’s safe.

Also within the last five years, Post Traumatic Stress Injuries have become more accepted and more widely discussed, within the ranks. Now, there is a support line paramedics can call to work through situations. Bate has been able to process difficult moments with the help of his wife, a nurse, however, he said not everyone is as lucky.

“In the old days, everybody just kept it inside if they didn’t have someone to talk to.”

Despite the challenges, Bate will miss his work, and the people he worked with. He stressed as it’s a hard industry to leave behind.

However, he admitted it’s time for a break.

“You hit 60, the warranty’s up on your body. (You) can’t get new parts. It’s time for a new car, so time for a new paramedic. This one’s broken.”

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Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: phil.mclachlan@kelownacapnews.com


 

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