A majority of registered paramedics work in ambulance services, however there are some that don’t. Kyle is one of the paramedics that do not work in an ambulance service. In this story, Kyle draws a distinction between the roles of ambulance service paramedics and industrial paramedics, correcting the widely held misconception that paramedics are all about emergencies and ambulance services. Kyle describes the key challenges he faces in his line of work—the hazardous environment, minimal resources, large distances, and workforce shortages—but also talks about the satisfaction he gets from his work.
On a mine site in a remote area, a siren fills the air. The radio is abuzz with chatter after a worker calls “Emergency, emergency, emergency”. Answering the call is a team of four officers heading towards the scene, red and white lights flashing, with a plume of smoke on the horizon.
If I were to ask what the term ‘paramedic’ means to you, I’m confident that a high percentage of responses (if not all) would refer to ambulances and emergencies in one way or another. I’m not here to argue—it’s true that the role of an ambulance paramedic is often filled with lights, sirens and ambulances. It’s a service relied on by many members of the public. The purpose of this article is to shed a little light on the many paramedics out there that don’t respond to triple zero calls or work on an ambulance.
I will often attend social functions with my wife and, as we have all experienced when meeting someone new, one of the first questions that is asked is “So, what do you do?” For most people it’s a straightforward answer: social worker, marketing, the list goes on. I find, however, that when I respond that I am a paramedic, people will flood me with questions relating to life on an ambulance. The general knowledge of what a paramedic is, and the various roles we perform, is virtually nonexistent.
I have spent nine years in various roles within the ambulance and pre-hospital industry—first working within the ambulance service of Western Australia (WA) and then moving on to the private sector, working with aeromedical services, critical care services, and spending some time with non-emergency services.
Let me break the ice by saying that I am a paramedic and I do not work on an ambulance. Now let me turn your attention to the remote areas of Australia. You have no doubt experienced or heard of the heavy industrial areas, gas plants and mining operations. From the iron ore deposits in WA through to the coal and coal seam gas deposits in Queensland’s Bowen Basin. This is where you will find me, hidden away inside one of these massive operations.
Each operation will have a team of four to five individuals whose sole purpose is to protect the people on that mine, and to maintain every worker’s fitness for work. Most of these team members will be fire and rescue officers, one will be a paramedic. This team will become very much like a family.
The day-to-day operations of a mine site paramedic are fairly straightforward and they sometimes involve running a medical clinic on the site of these industrial powerhouses, for any member of the workforce to come and report an illness or injury. Like any ambulance service, a high percentage of cases simply require first aid treatment or some additional reassurance and referral to a GP. Unfortunately, as we all know, medical issues can simply happen seemingly out of thin air and, in remote areas of the country, this is not ideal. Which is where we come to a crucial problem... Industrial paramedics, at least in my region, can’t transport to hospital.
It is here that the traditional role of an ambulance paramedic differs from that of an industrial paramedic or remote paramedic. Our challenge now lies in keeping someone alive and stable in a hostile, dirty and hazardous environment. Often this is with minimal resources, minimal backup, and large distances separating you from a hospital or an outside emergency service. You are the sole medical professional in that situation and all of the workers, including the casualty, now look to you to fix everything. The truth is that this may not always be possible, but we are prepared for this.
Similarly, there are those paramedics, like myself, that are fortunate to hold qualifications in both medical and rescue skillsets. This provides a higher scope of responsibility. You are now expected to respond to all incidents as they arise, including fire, hazardous materials, and confined space. Again, the challenge here is responding to and controlling a potentially lethal situation far away from any suitable additional resources.
This role is challenging, exciting, and full of adventure. You travel the country, meeting new people every day. Sometimes you may even live with these people for weeks at a time. You are the sole emergency service for the particular area for hundreds of kilometres, and you must be prepared to handle situations as they arise.
If you cast your mind to the word ‘paramedic’ in the future, don’t just think about the ambulances rushing around the city doing the fantastic work that they do. Don’t just think about the TV shows. Remember that somewhere out in the remote areas of Australia is a team of five people trying their hardest to keep people safe in often dangerous situations.