December 26, 2013 at 5:37 PM
While some people will be unwrapping presents on Christmas Day, Williams Lake paramedic Steven Rupp will be wrapping up a 38-year career as a paramedic.
On Dec. 25, Rupp, 57, will work his final shift with the BC Ambulance Service.
Boxing Day he will hand in his keys and walk out the door.
“It will be a teary day,” Rupp said recently during an interview at the station. “I can remember my first day. I’ve had hundreds of partners in all these stations.”
During Rupp’s career he’s been stabbed and shot at.
One time the brakes failed on the ambulance he was driving and he had to ride it out by driving into a fence and a field.
Three years ago he fell down a flight of stairs transferring a patient and has never completely recovered.
He injured both knees, an elbow and had a concussion.
He would have liked to work until 65, but said being a paramedic is a young man’s game.
“I think we should be getting people in at 22 when they have some maturity and plan on a 25-year career,” he said.
Rupp, however, is leaving something he’s loved with a passion.
“I have a lot of emotions going through me right now,” Rupp said. “I have been lucky to have had this career.”
The one thing he is most proud of is that he has never been late for work once.
“I never use the word job, it’s been a career and more than a pay cheque.”
Recalling some of the “wreckage” he’s observed in emergency situations, Rupp said you can never un-see what you’ve seen.
“It gets better with time, but it never goes away.”
Many times he has witnessed pain and suffering, he said.
“You see people with body parts missing, copious amounts of blood, and you always want to treat them like your mother, your father, your brother or your sister, with compassion.”
There but for the grace of God go I, he added.
Rupp has met people in horrible situations and years later will run into them somewhere.
They will ask if he remembers them, he will nod and tell them they look great.
“People trust us,” he said.
When a mother walks up, she doesn’t know the paramedic, but she sees the uniform and hands over her newborn, un-breathing child, expecting the best for her child.
One of his keepsake photographs depicts Rupp riding in a helicopter en route to Nemiah Valley to help a woman in labour.
They flew out there, waited, and when nothing happened, left to fly back to Williams Lake.
Moments later her water broke, so they turned around, went back and delivered the baby on the chief’s desk in the band office.
“That was number 14,” Rupp said of helping deliver babies.
Distances can be a challenge in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
The BC Ambulance station in Williams Lake covers the second largest geographical area in the province.
Distances include Tatla Lake down to Nemiah in the west and out to the Cariboo Mountains, Yanks Peak and even up to the highlands looking over to McBride to the north east.
It covers as far south as Black Dome, the old gold mine, to Lac La Hache and all points south east.
“If we go to Nemiah it may be four hours before my partner and I see our patient,” Rupp said. “As paramedics we alway talk about that first hour being crucial.”
Normally they travel by road, sometimes by a twin-engine chopper out of Kamloops, and occasionally on a jet plane out of Vancouver.
“I have the ability to use a floatplane, dog sled, snowmobile or helicopter. Whatever it takes to get to my patient or get my patient out.”
Once he attended a plane crash at 108 Mile where two planes collided in mid-air and fell into a building supply centre.
On another occasion, he attended a bus crash in the winter.
People were injured, but not seriously, and within five minutes there was another bus crash where the injuries were more serious.
“I’ve done five bus crashes,” he recalled.
Originally from Kelowna, Rupp has lived and worked in Williams Lake for 30 years.
In the last 16 he has been assistant chief and is finishing off his career as the acting chief.
“The guy I trained 12 years ago will be my replacement,” he smiled.
Not that he’s going to be singing the theme from the Lion King, but it really is about the circle of life with young people coming through, he joked.
“I’ve been privileged. We’ve had three young recruits come through here in the last six months.”
Praising the Williams Lake fire department, Cariboo Search and Rescue and the RCMP, Rupp said all the agencies paramedics work with are exceptional.
“We’re very blessed in Williams Lake,” he said. “If the average person knew how the people in Horsefly or Likely will come out in the middle of the night to help the BC Ambulance service.”
It takes an hour to get to Likely, and if someone’s bleeding or having respiration problems, having someone there to guide the paramedics in is crucial.
“They aren’t trained to the paramedic level, but they are trained to the help-people level.”
His generation of paramedics is the first of their kind, he suggested.
The next generation will be the second generation.
“You have to be a Type A personality to do this job. You can’t be the one asking questions, you have to take the lead.”
Rupp said his wife Susan has been an absolute blessing.
She’s kept the phone by the bed at night in case something happens, like it did the night he was stabbed.
“My retirement is about her too,” he said.
The Rupps plan to stay in Williams Lake and will figure out how to continue caring for the community.
For sure he’ll do some guiding, particularly with the Wounded Warriors – soldiers who have served in the Afghan war, and he loves fishing, hunting and woodworking.
“I’m turning in my paramedic’s license, I’m not going to do this part-time,” he insisted.
Rupp has seen “huge” changes in the BC Ambulance Service and none of them are good, he added,
“I’ve made a conscious decision I don’t want to be part of those changes,” he said.
It won’t be easy financially for him and Susan, but they have made the decision and are at peace with it. he added.