In Whitehorse, the hospital is usually mere minutes away from most corners of the city. However, in the Yukon communities, residents don’t have that luxury.
Fortunately, there is a support system.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are available across the territory, thanks to 15 active EMS stations and approximately 150 volunteers.
Doug MacKay is one of these volunteers.
The 43-year-old Destruction Bay resident has been on the Destruction Bay EMS Services for more than nine years.
“My best friend and mentor, Kel Sax, came into the hotel one night, grabbed me by the neck and said ‘You are the newest member of Destruction Bay EMS,'” MacKay says. “I wasn’t doing anything that week, so I thought, ‘What the hell.'”
Destruction Bay has a population of approximately 50 people. It is a lakeside community along the Alaska Highway that touches on the edge of the Kluane National Park. From this community, a trip to Whitehorse takes close to three and a half hours.
The EMS station there has a program in which two crewmembers are on call for 24 hours at any point of time.
“We try not to travel or do anything that keeps us more than 40 minutes from the ambulance station at any given time,” MacKay says. “You go about your daily routine without interruption, but in the back of your mind, you have a plan of how to leave everything you are doing at a moment’s notice.”
To be a good volunteer in standing, he has to be available to be on call, and attend two team meetings a month.
Though summer calls often involve helping out a tourist in distress, the winter is when it’s often a call from someone you do know.
“The moment the call comes in it is usually a mix of butterflies, excitement, nervousness, and feeling like I want to vomit,” MacKay laughs. “On the ride to the site of the call, you spend time going through what to expect, what to do, what you may find, what to do if the unexpected happens, and what to do if everything goes sideways.”
When he arrives, there’s a list of questions that goes through his head. Is the scene safe? How many patients? Is there a deadly bleed?
“Once you step out of the ambulance, there is only one thing to remember—trust in your training,” he says.
After that initial two-minute assessment, the call breaks down into a number of similar steps.
“It is usually at this point that as medics, we are misjudged as being aloof or cold,” he says. “One can show compassion for a person without giving into excessive emotion.”
MacKay acknowledges that rural Yukon EMS is different than in the bigger cities.
“We do not have a 911 service, nor can we offer a seven-minute response time,” MacKay says. “In our community, we can conceivably drive an hour and a half to reach the outside of our call area. Other communities have response times of up to three hours.
“There is no glory in what we do. There are no real perks other than our training. We do what we do because we believe in our people, our communities and our territory.”