BC’s longest serving paramedic, Greenwood Unit Chief Ken Riddle, celebrated 50 years of dedicated service earlier this month, and he has no plans for retiring any time soon.
Riddle was 17 when he started providing emergency patient care as a member of the Greenwood Fire Department, and although many things have changed since then, including more ‘bookwork,’ more advances in equipment and technology as well as changes in the scope of practice, he says the job remains essentially the same.
“We’re there to help people,” Riddle said. “I always tell my guys if the patient is better off when you leave than when you arrived, you’ve done your job; you’ve made a difference.”
Riddle grew up in Greenwood the smallest incorporated city in Canada with a population of around 700. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone and community involvement is second-nature.
“People know us and are very appreciative of the work we do,” Riddle says. “Every time I go out for a walk with my wife we get stopped by people who want to thank me for helping them or someone in their family. I haven’t bought my own cup of coffee in years!”
As a well-known fixture in the community, Riddle often finds himself explaining and advocating for the ambulance service even when he is off duty. Sometimes he has even had neighbours call him before calling 9-1-1 so he can get ready and head to the station.
“This is a good service and it helps my community,” he said. “This is something that I love to do so the extra questions or calls don’t bother me.”
Riddle finds it hard to believe he has been working as a paramedic for 50 years. It was 1967, and he still remembers his first call vividly.
“Someone had fallen onto a concrete slab. We weren’t able to airlift him out so we ended up driving him to Vancouver. It cost me $25 (in gas) and I still haven’t gotten reimbursed for that,” Riddle said with a laugh.
It’s unclear how many patients Riddle has helped save in the last half-century, but he credits his family and his ‘hard skin’ for his career longevity.
“This job can be difficult. Here when we lose a patient it’s sometimes your friend or neighbour,” he said. “I’ve very compassionate on the job but I don’t take it home with me.”
The pace of life in Greenwood is a bit slower than in more urban areas, and Riddle believes that slowed-down approach even extends to ambulance calls sometimes.
“Sometimes all the patient needs is a smile, handshake or a pat on the shoulder to calm down so you can do your job. If you treat the patient with respect they will respect you, too.”
Riddle believes the community paramedicine program, which is expanding to Greenwood this spring, will make a big difference. As a community with many people living with chronic health impairments, he believes the introduction of community paramedicine will help these patients get the right care they need and reduce the number of unnecessary 9-1-1 calls.
As a veteran paramedic and unit chief, a big part of Riddle’s job is mentorship. He makes sure to thank his partner and all first responders after every call and tries to take the time to talk through any issues or questions that arise.
“We have each other’s backs,” he said. “I never want anyone to leave a call feeling uncomfortable about anything. This job is already hard enough.”
Congratulations Ken on reaching this impressive milestone and thank you for your 50 years of service.