Local EMT enjoys helping people

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles featuring members of the Brookline Ambulance Service.

BROOKLINE – Tall and unassuming, Bob Canada is a 33-year veteran of the Brookline Ambulance Service, who typically drives the ambulances.

And he’s 78 years young – that phrase perfectly suits Canada’s youthful appearance.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he said.

Canada is an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) Basic. The next level is EMT Intermediate, then EMT Paramedic.

A former electrical engineer before he retired, he can’t quite put his finger on why he chose this particular vocation.

“I’m trying to remember, it was that many years ago,” Canada said. “Basically, I enjoy helping people. Like most of us, I don’t like seeing people suffer. I enjoy helping them when they’ve got problems.”

Back then, he said, it was strictly advanced first aid. Community volunteer responders were just starting EMT classes. And the organization was surprisingly large at 40 or more volunteers.

“There was no pay. It was all volunteers, day and night,” Canada said. “Of course, down the road, it got tough to get people for volunteers for the day and then that’s when they hired two full-time day-timers.”

For Canada and the rest of the current 20 or so volunteers at BAS, EMTs or paramedics will typically respond directly to the scene of a call.

“It sometimes depends if the call is on my side of town,” Canada said. “Then I usually go to the call. But then there are times when I’ll come to the bay and get the ambulance.”

The schedule is demanding and the time commitments are considerable. For Canada, he’s on Wednesdays for a 24-hour on-call shift.

“And each of us serves one 24-hour day in the course of one month. And occasionally we’ll cover for each other. Plus as far as continuing education is concerned, we have to have two hours a month for two years, and then we have a refresher course which is 24 hours in order to get recertified,” he said.

Canada said he’s not surprised that he’s remained with the volunteer organization for so long; he’s also very active in other aspects of the community.

“I’ve been involved in my church for many, many years and for about 25 years with a youth group,” he said. “I enjoy this, like I said, I enjoy helping people. Now that I’m retired, this takes up some of my time.”

Canada has three grown daughters and six grandchildren that can also occupy his time.

“One of my daughters lives up north. She’s got a good business up there so I go up there and help her out,” he said.

Canada praises the Hollis-Brookline community and their appreciation of the BAS volunteers.

“This area has been very, very appreciative,” he said. “A lot of people will let you know that. And of course, through the years, you get to know a lot of people and they get to know you. This is a small town, with something like 5,000 residents. You run into people at the post office or the bank or anywhere. And most of us are involved in other things in town. I go to the historical society or the American Legion and places like that.”

Another important aspect, besides volunteerism, is the Brookline Ambulance Service is a free service to the community, Canada said.

“We do keep a pretty steady number of people in here. Most of us have been here for more than 10 years. And of course, some will try it for a couple of years and discover that it just isn’t for them because of the time commitment. It is pretty high. And I think some people would like to come but they don’t have the time, he said.

“Occasionally, I’ll hear about a young mother who would love to do it but she can’t because she has children. Or quite often, they have another job. There is a lot of commitment.”

Canada said certain calls such as automobile accidents or cardiac victims will warrant four or five volunteers to respond.

“In cases like this, you really need more than two people in the back of the ambulance.”

Part of being an EMT means monitoring calls on the radio.

“Pretty much,” Canada said, “when I get up in the morning, I put the pager on – everybody does. And when we’re on call, we’re in town. You have to be in town. We have the portable (radio) as well as the pager.”

Canada will probably remain a fixture in Brookline for a long time. So if you happen to run into him in town, follow the crowd and offer a thanks.

“I do get that,” he said. “I really like what I do.”

For information about becoming a volunteer, contact the Brookline Ambulance Service at 672-6216.