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Firefighter’s death inspires daughter to become first responder

Miranda McNab-Shewchuk's father was killed in a propane explosion at a Woodstock trailer park inspiring her to serve the community as a first responder

Outside the city resides a training and research facility for Waterloo Region's emergency services. And on that same freshly paved street, you will find the Paramedic Services headquarters; Fire Tower Road is where everyday superheroes clock in.

Miranda McNab-Shewchuk is a Primary Care and Community Paramedic with the Region of Waterloo. Her calling to serve the community was revealed after losing her father, a volunteer firefighter with the Shakespeare Fire Department.

Down a spotless hallway lies the entrance to an oversized garage that stores the fleet of ambulances and emergency services vehicles, eager to be let loose.

Small talk illuminates McNab-Shewchuk's steadfast devotion to first response, an occupation many find too large of a burden to fathom.

"[As a single parent], my dad raised me; he was a firefighter and was always so proud of that role," she shares.

Later, she works herself up to sharing a part of her entry into the emergency medical services (EMS) narrative – one that, even decades later, requires a level of restraint, or the tears will flow. When McNab-Shewchuk was just 17, her father (who also worked for Superior Propane) was killed in a propane explosion at a Woodstock, Ontario trailer park.

"He was in a coma for about 48 hours after that, and during that time, I had my first exposure to emergency medicine."

A month after his death, the orphaned high school student would find out she was pregnant. And despite the stigma and her grief, she managed to graduate high school.

"Two years later, I [was] expecting again. I didn't think I would ever go to college," she admitted. "But I suppose I wanted to make him proud; he was always so proud of his work."

Moving in with her grandparents allowed her to enroll in the two-year Paramedic program at Conestoga College.

"A lot of [the] program is working on the road; you're doing shift work, and you're going to school. So, there's absolutely no way I could have done it without my grandparents," she explained.

Becoming

She remembers her first shift "like it was yesterday."

The paramedic she was paired with closed the ambulance's back doors, and for the first time, it was just her and her patient.

"You work on getting confident with your decisions, and over time you get comfortable. [Although] everyone is unique, you see many of the same calls. And a lot of it is about compassion and making people feel comfortable, no matter what comes your way," she said.

Today, she's a mother of four and admits that some of her toughest calls were the ones that involved children.

"It's always hard when you have someone's child and [the parents] aren't there. You have their most prized possession, and when they come running into the hospital, you must learn to control your feelings – because you just automatically put yourself in their situation."

When asked how she walks away from a shift without bringing it home, she shares that her husband (also a paramedic) provides a sounding board, as do her two adult children, who are now nurses.

"We all sort of debrief with each other. Often, when you do a call, you never know what happened to the person," she shared.

Focus on Community Care

Community Care allowed her to build intimate relationships with those she cares for.

According to Ann Bettles, Supervisor of the Region of Waterloo Community Paramedicine Program, the Community Paramedic Program "began in autumn 2018 with a goal of minimizing unnecessary 911 calls and reducing the number of subsequent transports to hospital."

The program was introduced to assist seniors "wishing to remain safely in place, choosing to have care delivered within their home."

McNab-Shewchuk's recent transition into the Community Paramedic role was precisely what she needed.

"I am there to help, and I can do more. I ensure that the person is receiving the services they need, whereas, on the road, I am with that person for an hour or so, and then you never know."

Admitting to liking people "to a fault," she often finds herself donating her time to performing duties outside of her call of duty - dishes, folding laundry and calling after hours to check in.

Often, she receives accolades in the form of a "thank you" from those she's provided care to.

She added: "My love language is words of affirmation, so it's always really nice to get feedback that what you did made a difference because we don't always get that in [the paramedic] role."

Through "community-based referrals," the Region of Waterloo Community Paramedicine Program helps identify "gaps in care and individuals who require support."

"Community Paramedics receive specialized training in chronic disease management, geriatrics and elder care." McNab-Shewchuk is one of "two members delivering direct client service, seven days a week."

Referrals come "from local hospitals and clinics; family health teams and primary care offices; local allied agencies; and front-line paramedics."

For more information, email communityparamedine@regionofwaterloo.ca.

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