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Always on call: fire department, ambulance service 'deal with it all'

Lt. Meagan Netser, left, and firefighter Troy Innukshuk prepare their self-contained breathing apparatus during a fire department training course on donning and doffing personal protective equipment in Rankin Inlet this past week. photo courtesy of Mark Wyatt

Having a solid fire department and emergency services that people have faith in can play a definite role in the overall health of a community.

Rankin Inlet fire Chief Mark Wyatt said most people only see the department as being there for people when they're not healthy or in peril but, in terms of taking care of people when they are healthy, they also teach things like first aid and CPR so they can, hopefully, deal with some of the things that could happen in their family and help to increase the survival rate of those they care for.

Wyatt said for the most part, his department responds as an ambulance service to people who are in distress, very sick, or who have to be taken to the airport from the health centre to be medevaced.

He said a solid emergency services department does contribute to the overall mental health of a community when people know that service is there for them.

“In so many communities up here it's not and I don't even know how someone in those communities gets to the health centre when they're in distress,” said Wyatt.

“I mean there's a lot of communities that don't have an ambulance service. They might have a guy with a vehicle who drives them to the health centre, but they don't have anybody who can actually respond to a scene and perform the necessary emergency interventions that may be necessary to help save that life before they get to the health centre.

“So, from my perspective, I think we play a real valuable role in what's going on with the health and wellness in this community.

“We do 500 to 600 ambulance calls a year in Rankin and maybe 10 per cent of them border on life and death. We've dealt with everything from gunshot wounds to the face, to cardiac arrests, a babysitter choking who survived and everything in between. We deal with it all.”

Wyatt said the department also deals with numerous calls to the health centre for medevacs.

He said it doesn't matter the time or how miserable and cold the weather is, the department makes sure they are on the medevac plane and hopefully treated successfully in the south.

“We're absolutely one piece in the puzzle to having an overall healthy community here.

“A lot of people might complain about the health care here, but I find every time I go to the health centre I get someone who sits down, listens and really pays attention to what the problem could be and they seem to really work at it.

“If they're seeing someone with a problem that's beyond their level of expertise, they will refer them to people who can help them and that's why people are getting medevaced out all the time.

“In a small remote community like this we're not going to have a health centre that does everything. It's just not going to be there.”

Wyatt said when it comes to having a healthy community here, one of the biggest pitfalls is mental health and the inability to properly treat people.

He said you have such a cyclical number of mental health professionals that come and go so often that it becomes really frustrating for anyone who has an issue. They see someone for a month or so and then they're seeing someone new and telling the same story all over again.

“It's mind-boggling that mental health is one of the biggest problems in Nunavut and proper care for that specialty is just so lacking.

“It's frustrating to me. I deal with people in my fire department all the time who have mental health issues, post traumatic stress disorder and all sorts of different things.

“I also have people in the community who approach me because they're not getting anywhere with mental health. It's frustrating.”