Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ottawa Paramedics Receive the Medal of Bravery. Just Doing Their Duty?

On October 28, 2011, Governor General David Johnston awarded the Medal of Bravery to two Ottawa paramedic despatchers, Tara Josey and Nadine Leduc, for their courage during a shooting incident on January 7, 2008. The two despatchers were off-duty and were just finished enjoying a coffee at a Tim Horton’s outlet in Ottawa when a series of gunshots rang out in the parking lot. A car sped away leaving a young man lying on the ground. While onlookers raced away in fear, the despatchers ran in the opposite direction – toward the victim and covering him with their bodies in case the attacker should return while they applied pressure to his wound. These two despatchers were among 58 Canadians awarded Medals of Bravery by the Governor General that day.

These two despatchers were the latest in a series of bravery awards earned by Ottawa paramedics. These included Christopher Bugelli who received the N.H. McNally award for rescuing a man from a flooded creek in below-zero weather in March 2011, and four paramedics –Craig McInnes, Virginia Warner, Patricia St. Denis and Amanda Walkowiak – who attempted to save the life of Ottawa Police Constable Eric Czapnik while fighting off a mentally disturbed attacker in December 2009.

In all these incidents, the paramedics showed their professionalism by coming to the aid of someone in trouble through immediate instinctive action that is a result of their training. It is not surprising that Bugelli disclaimed any display of courage by his action: “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but everyone else did…. Preservation of life is what we do, right? … Any one of the other crews would have done something similar.”

Simply doing their duty – what they are trained to do while on-duty but which becomes part of their ethos even off-duty. It is a refrain that comes up from all emergency services personnel – medical services, police, firefighters – and from members of the Canadian Forces, all who place their lives in danger when their mission requires it. The risks they take was highlighted by most recently by the death of Sergeant Janick Gilbert, an experienced Canadian Search-and-Rescue technician in the Royal Canadian Air Force who lost his life on October 27, 2011 while carrying out a rescue mission in the Canadian Arctic.

Courage is most often defined by the observer and, if that observer is a civilian, he can rightly give credit to all those policemen, firemen, paramedics and Canadian Forces personnel who indeed may simply be doing their duty. The people in these special occupations accepted the fact that, when they chose their professions, the bar of courage would be raised higher for them than for most other people. As a result, simply doing their duty will be considered admirable by others in times of special crisis.

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