When Jim McIsaac began working as an ambulance attendant in 1974, he was part of a private ambulance service with four full-time staff serving the Carleton Place and Beckwith area.
In May, after 39 years in emergency health services, Mr. McIsaac will retire as Chief of the Lanark County Ambulance Service, which has 42 full-time staff, about the same number of part-time employees, and 12 vehicles serving all of Lanark County.
“What really stands out for me are the advancements that have been made in paramedicine over the past 39 years,” says Mr. McIsaac. “When I started, we weren’t even called paramedics, we were called ambulance drivers or ambulance attendants.”
At the beginning of Mr. McIsaac’s career, ambulance attendants provided only basic care and transport to medical facilities. “The biggest step, which took place in the 1980’s, was permitting paramedics to perform cardiac defibrillation,” recalls Mr. McIsaac. “Defibrillation saves lives.”
Mr. McIsaac, who was born and raised in Carleton Place, came by his attraction to a career in emergency services naturally—his father was a member of the RCMP who served as the Carleton Place police chief for 42 years.
“When I was in high school, I was a member of St. John Ambulance and did first aid at public events,” Mr. McIsaac says. “When the local ambulance operator was looking for staff, he was looking for people already trained, so I got the job.”
At that time, the Carleton Place ambulance service was operated by local funeral director Alan R. Barker. Mr. McIsaac received his initial training at Canadian Forces Base Borden, and subsequent training at Algonquin College.
In 1978-79 Mr. McIsaac became a supervisor for Mr. Barker’s ambulance service, which had expanded to also cover the Richmond area. In 1991, Mr. McIsaac bought the ambulance service from Mr. Barker.
Major changes to area ambulance services took place in 1997, when the provincial government decided to download responsibility for land ambulance services to municipalities. At the time, Lanark County had four ambulance services, operated by the Almonte General Hospital for Almonte, the Perth/Smiths Falls Hospital for Perth, the Ministry of Health for Smiths Falls and Mr. McIsaac for Carleton Place.
In 1999, the Almonte General Hospital submitted a proposal to Lanark County Council to operate the County’s ambulance services. The proposal, which consolidated the four existing licences into one, was accepted in November 1999. The Lanark County Ambulance Service (LCAS) was launched September 1, 2000, with Mr. McIsaac hired as Chief.
Almonte General Hospital continues to operate the LCAS, in partnership with Lanark County. Since 2000, ambulance coverage in Lanark County has expanded and new bases have been constructed in Almonte and in Lanark.
“Jim McIsaac has had a long and distinguished career in emergency medical services,” says Almonte General Hospital President and CEO Mary Wilson Trider. “He has been part of many changes and advancements in ambulance service in our community. We are grateful for his dedication and service, and we wish him a happy and healthy retirement.”
Mr. McIsaac’s retirement takes effect May 24, 2013. The new Chief will be Ed McPherson, who is currently LCAS Deputy Chief/Manager of Quality Assurance and Training.
During his career, Mr. McIsaac has been active in the Ontario Ambulance Operators Association, now known as the Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs (OAPC), and the OAPC Eastern Chiefs group. Both the provincial and Eastern Ontario bodies have invited him to remain involved in the organizations after he retires.
In 2012, the Governor General presented Mr. McIsaac with the 30-year bar for his Emergency Medical Services Exemplary Service Medal. The medal recognizes those professionals who have performed their duties in an exemplary manner, characterized by the highest standards of good conduct, industry and efficiency.
“I will miss the people, not just the LCAS staff but the friends I’ve met across the province and throughout Eastern Ontario,” Mr. McIsaac says.
As for retirement plans, Mr. McIsaac and his wife are motorhome enthusiasts who will now likely spend their winters in Florida. The couple has two adult sons.
“Fortunately I have lots of interest,” says Mr. McIsaac. “My wife also runs a seasonal campground in Ladysmith, Quebec, so I guess I’m her new handyman there.”
Asked what else he might miss about his job, besides the people, Mr. McIsaac says he is grateful to have had a long and enjoyable career in Carleton Place and Lanark County.
“But I’m going to miss the lights and sirens,” he jokes. “That’s what all paramedics say.”