Do you remember when ambulance services were provided through funeral homes? Paramedic Dave Woodcock does. That’s where he started his 40-year career. In that time, Dave watched the profession grow, was part of the response to the Mississauga train derailment in ’79, and witnessed and treated many tragedies.
Back in 1971, Dave wasn’t even 21 when he decided he wanted to help people in an emergency – especially medical emergencies. At that time, the Region known as Peel didn’t exist and paramedics were known as ambulance drivers.
Education now and then
In the old days, you needed a chauffeur driver’s license and first aid certification to drive an ambulance. “At the time, CPR was thought to be high level medical care and giving oxygen was controversial; it was considered a drug,” says Woodcock.
Dave’s education on anatomy and physiology began at Skinner and Middlebrook funeral home down in Port Credit, Mississauga. There he watched and participated in many an autopsy that took place right in the embalmer’s prep room. After about a year, his employer sent him to a one-month Fundamentals of Casualty Care course taught by the Ministry of Health and military instructors at Camp Borden. Living there for the month, he learned the basics of patient care – some assessment skills, splinting, giving oxygen and rescue techniques.
The first community college program for what would become the paramedic profession was held at Humber College in 1972. By 1975, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care then required those in the profession to be certified as an Emergency Medical Care Attendant. In the late 80s, the service was aligned with the medical field. Paramedics work under the direction of base hospital physicians and receive ongoing training annually. With more and more specialized programs and equipment, Dave has watched how far symptom relief and advanced care has come. “The medical and technical advancements in the last 20 years have been phenomenal,” says Woodcock. “I can’t wait to see what they’ll let us do next.”
Answering the call
Dave has spent most of his career working out of Mississauga, Oakville, Milton and Burlington and recalls the days when there were four ambulances with a paramedic crew in each to cover all of Mississauga compared to the 26 ambulances with paramedic crews today. In any one 12-hour shift he responded to eight to 12 emergencies and has helped people through some of their worst times and some of their best.
“I’ve lost count of how many babies I’ve delivered over the 40 years,” says Woodcock after retelling the time he walked into a Mississauga home where a woman was literally delivering her own baby near the front door. Seeing both baby’s legs coming out first, Dave knew it wasn’t going to be an easy call. After what seemed like an eternity and some creative intervention, the baby was delivered and Dave and his partner managed to get the baby boy, now in his 30s, breathing again. Dave even delivered two of his own daughters at home; it was his wife’s idea.
Secret to survival
Having a work-life balance is important. Dave’s spent the last 32 years living in Flamborough, Hamilton with his wife and three daughters. “You need to leave work behind and get involved in outside interests so you can shut off the stress that comes with the job,” says Woodcock. Never stop learning is another principle that has allowed him to stay in this career for 40 years. He’s taught CPR in several communities, worked as a medic for a private air ambulance company, run a travel agency for scuba divers in his spare time. His interest in scuba diving led to the opportunity to make a tourism video for about it for Jordan in the Gulf of Aqaba connected to the Red Sea.
Dave is currently a Superintendent with Peel Regional Paramedic Services who supports and manages the professional growth and development of the 30 paramedics on his platoon.
Dave receives symptom relief training in the mid-to-late 70s at Joseph Brant Memorial hospital in Burlington.
Before symptom relief, there was MAST training. Military anti-shock trousers put pressure on the lower part of the body to prevent blood from pooling in the legs and abdomen and to stabilize fractures.
Dave was one of many paramedics who provided emergency care during the 1979 Mississauga train derailment. Once fumes began to hit the hospital, patients needed to be transferred to neighbouring hospitals.