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Documentary series shines spotlight on BC paramedics, dispatchers and call-takers

Poignant, gripping, humorous and most of all – real. This is what British Columbians are getting as they tune in to a new television series about BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) paramedics, dispatchers and emergency medical call-takers.
Paramedics: Life on the Line
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Paramedics: Life On the Line is a 10-part documentary series that gives an honest, unfiltered glimpse into the work of our dedicated employees as they care for their patients.

The journey to here has been years in the making, and this ambitious project began as anything worthwhile often does - with a meal and a good long conversation. 

Beginnings

It was spring 2017 when Knowledge Network’s President and CEO, Rudy Buttignnol invited BC Emergency Health Services and PHSA executive vice president, Linda Lupini, to lunch, to explore the idea of a documentary series. 

“After years of getting to know what our paramedics, dispatchers and call-takers do every day to serve patients in this province, I knew that we had to find a way to make this happen,” says Linda.

The public broadcaster had already been successful with two documentary series - Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH and its sequel. Both Linda and Rudy knew however this would be an even more challenging project, with paramedic care being in the less-predictable public realm rather than inside a hospital. 

For many months after that lunch, BCEHS and PHSA representatives met with teams from Knowledge Network and Lark Productions (the same production company that produced the VGH series) to talk through the many logistical considerations that would be needed. Together with legal and privacy advisors they took test runs to work out safety and privacy protocols. Ultimately they came to an agreement, and found a way to show the public what happens in the biggest and busiest provincial ambulance service in the country. 

Primary care paramedic Tara Williams, who appears in the series, is hoping the public will get a much better idea of what happens inside an ambulance and what people can expect when they call 911 for a medical emergency.

“This show is going to give the public a really good view of what we do,” says Tara. “We’re not a driving service…we’re an emergency medical service…it’s going to be an education.”

All hands on deck

The documentary project was a significant investment by many at BCEHS to make it work. It involved more than 130 days of filming. Close to 500 BCEHS staff were filmed doing their work. That meant that those employees willing to be filmed had cameras on them, sometimes for their entire 12-hour shifts. A BCEHS liaison was with the camera crews at all times to ensure both patient care and patient privacy were protected.

BCEHS and PHSA are profoundly grateful to those patients who consented to having the production crew film their journeys. Those who did not or could not consent were treated with utmost respect. 

“I was somewhat surprised by how keen some were to take part,” said Kris Erickson, a paramedic specialist. “Patients and family members were really open to it.”

Unsung heroes

While there are many serious moments in the series, it also takes a look at the lighter side of paramedics and dispatch staff. Linda Lupini is glad to see that side captured.

“I think we should celebrate the moments captured in this documentary series that illustrate our employees’ ability to have a laugh or two to ease the stresses of their days. We have ramped up our mental health supports in the past few years, yet we ask an awful lot of our paramedics, dispatchers and call-takers - they really are the unsung heroes.”

Accolades and public interest

The show has been nominated for Best Documentary Series, Best Direction for a Documentary Series and Best Cinematography for a Documentary Series for the Leo Awards – the top accolades for the BC film and television industry. 

The final episode, No Occupation for Old Men, was singled out in the Best Direction category. The episode features paramedics Carol-Lyn and Sean dealing with a parent’s worst fear, while paramedic teams Nick and Dave, and Chris and Marco respond to calls that take them from birth to death.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I’m hoping to make it to retirement in about six years if my body holds up. It’s no job for old people,” says a paramedic in the Old Men episode. 

“We’ve had people coming up to our paramedics on the street and mentioning the show, plus increased interest in people wanting to become a paramedic,” says paramedic specialist Andrew Mills, who is featured in four of the 10 episodes.

Currently, Paramedics: Life on the Line is the strongest performing show on Tuesday nights in terms of audience viewership for Knowledge Network.

Paramedics: Life on the Line, a 10-part series, premiered on the Knowledge Network on April 2, 2019 and will continue until June 4. The show airs Tuesday nights at 9 pm. Episodes can be streamed free online at www.knowledge.ca/paramedics
BC Ambulance Service; BCEHS; 9-1-1 response; dispatch; patient care; staff stories
 
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