Fifteen men and women wearing paramedic uniforms were at North Island College in Port Alberni Monday morning and they weren't responding to an emergency.
Instead, the group are students in the inaugural Justice Institute of B.C. primary care paramedic course being taught at North Island College.
The seven-month course started with online study in August and with paramedic classroom training on Sept. 19. A practicum in which students have to meet specific competency standards starts in January.
Certified graduates are eligible to apply to be licensed as B.C. paramedics through the Emergency Medical Assistant Licensing branch when the course finishes.
The course is like a regular work day and has performance standards like a real job, said course regional training coordinator Greg Wright. “They're here Monday to Friday eight hours a day,” Wright said.
Wright has been a regional training coordinator for the past three years and is one of seven instructors for this course.
But he is a veteran with the B.C. Ambulance Service, and spent 16 years as a paramedic in Port Alberni.”I was excited when I heard about the opportunity to do something here,” he said.
The new Port Alberni program fills the training void left when the JI closed its satellite paramedic training centre in Parksville last year, Wright said.
The paramedic class is made up of 10 men and five women, and 10 of the group appear to be in their 20's to early 30's.
Seven of the 15 candidates are from Port Alberni; two are from Vancouver Island and five are from out of province.
Richard Adams had to travel to Arkansas in the United States to get training as a firemen, so the former Port Alberni resident was pleased with the opportunity to advance his paramedic training at home.
“I found out about it when a friend told me about it from a news article, I was surprised it was here,” Adams said. “It's in my home town and I've already got a place here.”
Adams, 33, was a volunteer with the Cherry Creek Fire Department and worked at at Tidebrook Motors with his father for ten years before the business was sold.
Adams works as a medic in Fort Nelson, B.C., and wants to become an industrial fire medic. He already did his hazardous materials training at the JI. “This course is another component of it,” he said.
Paramedic student Lianne Saunders also volunteers as a fire fighter with the Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department.
The camp ground owner wanted to be a paramedic after watching first responders do their jobs at fire scenes she worked at. Her aspiration took a back seat to logistics and family life though until the course offering in Port Alberni.
“This was the only way I could do it,” Saunders said.
A mature member of the group, Saunders says that this has its advantages. “I've got a lot of life's experience and more understanding of life skills,” she said.
Port Alberni City Coun. John Douglas watched the class intently after addressing the students. The moment seemed surreal for the man who became a paramedic in 1989. “Looking at them brought me back to when I first started,” he said. “It doesn't seem that long ago but it was.”
Douglas is regarded by course officials as the driving force behind bringing the initiative to Alberni. “It's consistent with the city's development strategy, which includes a focus on the educational sector,” he said.
The city has had cursory talks with the college and JI about securing land for a campus to deliver other JI programs. “This is just the first in many steps to getting more educational opportunities here,” Douglas said.