Andre Ledoux, 61, loves his job. He has been a paramedic with BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for 35 years.
“I mean how many jobs can you think of where over time the job becomes more and more attractive, where you enjoy it even more, where it not only draws you it becomes better over time,” he said.
Over those 35 years, he has seen changes in the profession over time, his role has evolved and his love for the work keeps growing. But he didn’t always want to be a paramedic.
Born in Montreal, Ledoux started his working life in the Canadian Armed Forces as a radar technician stationed in Kingston Ont., and moved to Esquimalt to become a signals seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy.
“It was important in the sense that I was just starting out in my career and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and of course I wanted to have something I could take with me for the rest of my life.”
He persuaded his mother and siblings to join him in B.C. in 1979. Shortly after that, an accident changed his career trajectory.
“Unfortunately I ended up going back to Ontario to pick up some of the radar training that I had started and I had fallen off a freakin’ radar tower and broke both of my feet, and that had me back in the hospital for six months, I was only in the army for three years as a result,” he said.
He spent that time in a very large hospital that was designed for large disasters, and was one of only two or three people ever on the same floor.
“It was the same year the movie or the book came out — The Shining — and it was very interesting and a little bit spooky in some sense to be in a hospital where you have the entire floor to yourself other than a [registered nurse] and these long foreboding dark corridors, it was very interesting.”
Ledoux was granted an honourable discharge and returned to Vancouver Island where he studied forest technology for two years. Ledoux realized it wasn’t the career for him, so he decided to take some first aid training and got certified in industrial first aid, which is now called occupational first aid level three.
“It was a very difficult course and it was a great course to take if you are looking for jobs in industry because you’d be one of the first people that would be hired, and it’s still true to this day.”
In 1985, Ledoux was living in Courtenay with his fiancee when he had a stroke of luck.
“There was an ad that came in the paper, the one and only time that the local ambulance service in Courtenay ever wanted hire people through the newspaper, I happened to see it and I was one of 11 part-time people who got hired there,” he said.
“I had no desire to pursue first aid, in fact it kinda freaked me out a little bit like a lot of people that took industrial first aid, and it wasn’t until I was in it a couple of months with some good full time employees who became mentors that I realized how interesting and fascinating and challenging it was and I rapidly became attracted to the type of work and the challenges it presented.”
Back then the training required to become a paramedic was nothing like today. Now, potential paramedics have to go to a college or agency to get six to nine months training which they pay for on their own. Paramedics usually have to move to a small community and work for several years part-time to get enough seniority to get full-time work. Then they have to move to the lower mainland and brave high housing costs and long, strenuous shifts.
“What kept me persevering with all the challenges required to eventually become full-time was the love of the job itself. I can compare it to someone who finds a love in investigating or in crosswords or solving puzzles, a big part of the job that I really found attractive was trying to find out what’s going wrong with a person who is ill or injured,” he said.
“It’s that lure, it’s that desire that really draws most paramedics because the amount of challenges that exist for a young paramedic today to get through the system are almost very discouraging for young people who come into it being fully aware of all the barriers, all of the challenges, all of the obstacles that exist before they get full-time.”
Ledoux eventually got full-time work in Surrey, where there were more calls and different challenges which allowed him to refine his skill-set and become involved in teaching. In 2008 his wife encouraged him to bid for a job in Terrace.
Now he’s working with junior paramedics and taking on a mentorship role. Ledoux said that teaching makes him better at the job and it is almost as satisfying as patient care itself.
Over more than three decades as a paramedic, Ledoux has seen many changes and thinks that due to staffing shortages there are more opportunities opening up for young paramedics in places like Terrace. He’s also seen the opioid crisis unfold over the past few years. He said there are more diverse and dangerous drugs than there used to be and compared to his early years he said that there are more users beyond ‘street-level.’
Ledoux said that it is positive to see drugs like Narcan become more available and accessible, but doesn’t see the crisis abating anytime soon.
“I don’t think it’s really going to go away, so should we continue to call it a crisis or is this just the way it’s going to be for the next while, because we now have of course COVID, COVID’s taken front and centre to a large extent.”
In July, Ledoux took the role of interim northwest manager after Michael Sorensen passed away.
“I’ve got another two months to do this before I go back on-car again which I’m looking forward to, and again this has been another enjoyable aspect of the job, I’ve been able to be involved in most facets of activities around being a paramedic,” he said.
At 61, Ledoux plans to retire within the next few years but is happy with where he’s at for now.
“I do want to stick around for a while because I’m still healthy enough to work and to be honest, no exaggeration, I truly love the job, and to me to continue to work in a capacity where I’m working full time four days on, four days off feels to me like semi-retirement,” he said.
“I’m blessed and very fortunate and I remind myself of that all the time.”
When he’s not working, Ledoux likes to walk and cycle and says he’s a very social person which is a struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic. When travel is permitted again he plans to visit his two daughters in Wash. and Fort McMurray Alta., as well as eight grandkids scattered around western Canada.
Before he retires, Ledoux wants to see more opportunities for new paramedics, something he said is being helped by the fact Terrace now has two additional ‘surge ambulances,’ which better serve the area.
“That’s all turning around now and I’m really happy to see that because myself, having been in the ambulance service for 35 years, I want to see that there’s a legacy of growth where it’s becoming easier and more affordable and more opportune for paramedics who really enjoy the job to come into it with the tools they need to succeed.”