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Paramedics: Life on the Line…What’s Really Going On In The Back Of That Ambulance?

<div class="ExternalClass28CC0A245AA44A8681AD3328844B9019">Opinion editorial by Linda Lupini, Executive Vice President, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS).</div>
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In every city and town in this province, you can’t travel the roads without spotting one: the distinct white and red vehicle with the words “BC Ambulance Service” on the side. BC Emergency Health Services operates the largest ambulance service in Canada, and it is truly provincial in nature. While our vehicles are iconic and everywhere in BC, what I suspect many of you will not have seen is what occurs in the back of that ambulance.

A new 10-part television series called Paramedics: Life on the Line will change that.

When I started my job as executive vice president five years ago, one of the first things I did was to take a ride with paramedics in an ambulance. I also sat in on emergency medical calls being handled by dispatchers and call-takers. As a result I have been witness to incredible moments of calm compassion, expert paramedic care, smart decision-making and teamwork, in the context of sometimes-chaotic situations. I have been awed every day since. I knew it was a world that needed to be shared. 

That’s why, when Knowledge Network’s president and CEO Rudy ButtignoI approached me with the idea of a television series, I knew we’d need to find a way to make it happen. After we discussed the possibilities, and the challenges, we shook hands on the partnership. Then the hard work began. 

For many months after that handshake, our team met with teams from Knowledge Network and Lark Productions to talk through the many logistical considerations that would be needed. Together with our legal and privacy advisors we took test runs to work out safety and privacy protocols. Ultimately we 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. 

In many ways, this series is ground-breaking. While it is made by the same production company that produced Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH and its sequel, this new series by Lark Productions offers an unfiltered, unscripted look into what’s known as the “pre-hospital” care involved in a medical emergency. The medical care paramedics are now able to provide has evolved over the years, and in many ways, an ambulance brings the emergency department to you. The range of skills, training, and personal fortitude that paramedics must have to meet the physical and mental demands is incredible. In BC, paramedics respond to 1400 emergency calls a day, 500,000 calls per year and yet paramedicine is largely unknown to the general public. 

You will also see that paramedics and dispatch staff often have a good sense of humour - very important given the trauma they deal with every day. We as an organization have increased our mental health supports and training in recent years to boost their resilience, and we know we still ask a great deal of these unsung heroes. I celebrate the moments captured in this documentary series that illustrate their ability to have a laugh or two to ease the stresses of their days.

As I encourage you to watch this series, I also want to thank every BC paramedic, dispatcher, call-taker and other staff members who took part. In the context of 130 days of filming, with the cameras on you sometimes for 12 hours straight, I know it was not easy. You gave a part of yourselves and gave up some of your own privacy, so that the public can get a better understanding of what you and your colleagues do. I am also very grateful to those patients who consented to having the production crew film your journeys. Lark and BCEHS took steps to painstakingly protect the privacy of those who did not or could not consent.

I also want to offer my sincere gratitude to Knowledge Network and Lark Productions, for what can only be described as a stellar partnership.

Please join me in watching this unique 10-part series. I have little doubt you will learn things, laugh, and cry, and come away with a better understanding of what these amazing professionals do to save lives each and every day.

Editor’s Note: Paramedics: Life on the Line, a 10-part series, premiered on April 2, airs Tuesdays at 9:00 pm Pacific on Knowledge Network and streams online at
BC Ambulance Service; BCEHS; 9-1-1 response; dispatch; emergency response; patient care; staff stories
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